In this week’s episode of Forty Drinks, Stephanie talks with Erik DeRosa about his profound midlife transition and struggle with mental health. Erik grew up with severe anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder, masking it under a facade for 25 years while pursuing a high-pressure career on Wall Street. At age 33, a dissociative episode forced him to confront his mental health issues and seek therapy. His life took a transformative turn when he discovered skiing, a passion that ultimately led him to leave his finance career and become a ski instructor in Colorado. Eric’s story emphasizes the importance of recognizing and addressing mental health struggles, and how following one’s passion can lead to a fulfilling and happier life.

Guest Bio 

Erik DaRosa, known by friends as “Yoda,” is the Founder and CEO of From Survivor to Thriver, a mental health advocate, speaker, author and Co-host of the popular From Survivor to Thriver podcast. Through his work and his own lived experience, Erik is upending the front-end of the mental health space and building a bridge between those who seek resources and those who provide both help and hope. Each week on his podcast, he tackles different mental health topics through honest and relatable “kitchen table” conversations with real people who are helping to shatter mental health stigmas and find their voices. He aims to normalize discussions around mental health topics and remind his audience they are not alone, there is strength in community and “it’s perfectly ok to not always be ok.”

In 2011, Erik traded in a successful career as a NYC finance executive when he moved to Colorado with his wife and two cats. Erik spent twelve winters as a ski instructor for the Aspen Skiing Company before retiring in the Spring of 2023.

Born and raised in New England, Erik earned his MBA from the NYU Stern School of Business and his BA in Economics from Brandeis University. He lives in Colorado with his wife Amy and two cats, Lincoln and Taylor.

Turning 40 and Changing the Things that Muck with Your Mental Health

This week, Stephanie sits down with Erik DaRosa, a former Wall Street banker who found solace and a new beginning in the snowy mountains of Colorado. Erik shares his compelling story of battling severe anxiety and OCD from a young age, and how a midlife pivot at 40 led him to a transformative journey in skiing and mental health advocacy. Join us as Erik opens up about the challenges he faced, the revelations in therapy, and how skiing became not just a hobby but a lifeline.

Highlights of the Episode:

  • Erik’s early struggles with severe anxiety and OCD, and how these challenges were masked during his youth and early professional life.
  • The pivotal moment at age 33 when a dissociative episode during a drive forced Erik to seek help and begin confronting his mental health issues.
  • How a therapist’s unusual suggestion to try skiing led Erik to discover a passion that was transformative, both mentally and physically.
  • Erik’s transition from a high-pressure finance career in New York to becoming a ski instructor in Snowmass, Colorado, embracing a healthier lifestyle and community.
  • The launch of Erik’s mental health podcast, “From Survivor to Thriver,” and his upcoming program, U-MOST (Unlocking Minds on Snow Together), which combines skiing with mental health healing practices.

Today’s episode is a profound look at how midlife can be a turning point for profound personal transformation. Erik’s journey from the trading floors of Wall Street to the ski slopes of Colorado is not just about changing careers; it’s about discovering and embracing a new way of life that prioritizes mental health, passion, and community. His upcoming U-MOST program is set to offer others the therapeutic benefits of skiing, showing that it’s never too late to find your true calling and heal.

If you enjoyed this episode, please consider rating, following, and reviewing the podcast. Your feedback helps us bring more inspiring stories like Erik’s to light!

Guest Resources

Connect with Erik on Instagram 

Changing the Face of Mental Health – From Survivor to Thriver

Do you have the Midlife Ick? 

Download Stephanie’s guide to the Ick to diagnose whether you or someone you love is suffering from this insidious midlife malaise. www.fortydrinks.com/ick  

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Sponsor

The Forty Drinks Podcast is produced and presented by Savoir Faire Marketing/Communications

Transcript

Stephanie: Hey, Eric, thanks for being here today.

Erik: Hi, Stephanie. Thank you so much for having me on your show. And as I mentioned to you when we first spoke, I absolutely not only love the name of the show, but the entire concept of the show and that whole idea around 40 being such a critical time in so many people's lives. And I'm really looking forward to sharing my 40 story with you today.

Stephanie: Oh, thank you for those kind words. You know, it's so interesting. I didn't realize until I had been through it and through my 40 drinks project and through, to the other side that there was something about 40. And then I got so curious about it. I started, digging into it and doing some research and found out, most of us don't know that there's a transition that comes, sometime around our

40th birthday. So I thank you for your kind words. Cause I, I love doing this. So, all right, well, let's jump into your 40 story. when we start with the prologue, the kind of what comes first, what sets us up for our story. I love that you have, a local link for me. So you grew up in Massachusetts, just next door to me.

Right.

Erik: I did, so I grew up in Somerset, Massachusetts, and for your audience who may not be familiar with that part of New England, it's, pretty much as far south as you can get. And in terms of relation to Rhode Island, my town was about 15 miles to the east of the Rhode Island border. And it's about 45 minutes south of Boston.

And I grew up there and spent the first 21 years of my life. Between Somerset and then going to undergrad at Brandeis just outside of Boston. And so still have incredibly deep connections. Love that you have your 617, on your cell phone. I ended up having to change mine to, 646 living in New York, but, I still have deep roots in the New England community.

Stephanie: Oh, that's so funny. I got my phone number, I think it was like 1996 or 1997. And, and I did move back to New Hampshire in 2001 and I, but I had been freelancing and I had done lots of great work in Massachusetts. So I thought, oh, people have this number and people all over the world have this number. number. So I've always kept the number and I just love my six, one, seven, cause you can't get them anymore. It's like the old two, one,

Erik: No, it's like the two and twos in New York. And it's, it's funny. There are certain are a codes, which as soon as somebody sees it, they know exactly where you're from. And not six one seven is one of them.

it's just really fun when you meet other people and they see that and it's an instant

connection.

Stephanie: It is. It is. I love it. All right. so let's start with, childhood in Massachusetts and tell me what were some of the forces that formed you into the human being you were in your early thirties when kind of our story really starts.

Erik: Sure. I love how you put that, cause we were talking mainly about the transition at 40. But for me, there's a whole backstory into 30, and then the real transformation came another 10 years later. So growing up, as I always like to say, as far back as I can remember to around age seven, I was struggling with severe anxiety.

I had severe obsessive compulsive disorder, which as I went into therapy in my thirties, I learned that there are different manifestations of OCD. And for me, it was these terrible intrusive thoughts. And I always felt as though I was different, that I was broken, that I was unfixable. I didn't know how to actually communicate it with anyone. Of course, growing up in the seventies and eighties, mental health was not something that was ever talked about in the home. unlike today, we didn't go to the pediatrician. They didn't ask us, how are you feeling? Are you feeling anxious? Are you feeling sad or depressed? So I could never.

Stephanie: the same thing at school too.

Erik: Oh, exactly. Exactly. And the way I acted out in school, now that I look back on it, I still have some of my old report cards from elementary school and middle school and the grades were always straight A's. But the comments were always around my personality and my behavior. Eric needs to learn how to get along better with others. Eric needs to learn how to quiet down in class. And, again, looking back now, I recognize those are all the signs of someone who was struggling.

Stephanie: So in the seventies and the eighties, there was no discussion of mental health and the school nurse was not somebody you really went to. The school nurse was somebody when you went to when you fell down on the playground or you had an upset stomach or you threw up, right?

Erik: Exactly. And I remember to those health classes and they were often either black and white movies or they were cartoons. And I remember there'd be one day when the boys would come in and they'd watch their movie. And one day when the girls would come in and watch their movie.

When I think about the school nurse, and it's interesting, you bring that up and I'm thinking back now, not only to me, but other friends of mine who I've had conversations with, from growing up and remember so many kids would end up showing up at the school nurse. I have a stomachache. I have a stomachache. I have a headache. And it always used to just be seen as some physical manifestation of something, but I'm realizing now, having this conversation, that those are all signs and symptoms of anxiety and stress. I'm thinking it's not uncommon that so many kids in those days were showing up that way.

I think the other thing too, were guidance counselors. I remember my guidance counselors their only focus was on academics and what college you were going to get into. So you never really saw a guidance counselor unless you were in real trouble in school, until you got to junior year and they started to tell you the schools that they thought you were going to get into, not the schools that you actually wanted to get

Stephanie: That's exactly

Erik: believed you can get into. So amazing how little support there was at all, or any kids struggling with mental health issues and how much that has changed in the last decade.

Stephanie: So let me, let me circle back a little bit. You said that you had, OCD, and I'm curious to know how that manifested for you. what was that like?

Erik: I wrote about this I know a bit in my book, Scars To Stars. And for me, it really began to manifest in terms of sleep issues. I would have this tremendous fear of going to sleep, falling asleep. Once I would get into bed, it would take me quite a while before I would fall asleep. I recognize now that was because I didn't have the ability to shut my brain off.

And so we all know when you try to go to sleep and you have lots of thoughts ruminating in your brain, that we don't have the ability to quiet and shut down. I would often then get up in the middle of the night. I'd be crying. I would be just afraid. I didn't know why I would be pacing the house, hoping, and I remember just sometimes saying out loud, why won't this go away? what is this? What's wrong with me? Again, not being able to pinpoint it at all and not being able to actually describe what was happening. And that would then extend into my waking hours. and so I would be in school and I would begin to obsess about that night to come. Was I going to be able to fall asleep? Was I going to be awake all night? Were these, again, I didn't know about intrusive thoughts at the time, but were these Horrible, scary thoughts going to come back. And it,used to really manifest itself more and more as day started to turn into sundown, started to turn into night.

And I remember walking around the school hallways, both in middle school and in high school, not wanting to actually go home because going home was signaling the end of the day. And that meant that evening was coming. And I also found that it was much worse in the winter months, especially, as you know, Stephanie growing up, and living in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

I always call it the pewter colored sky. It's very rare that we have lots of sunlight. It gets dark really early. and in the summertime, it also stays light much later. And so for me. It used to happen much more in the winter months. I remember when the month of February would roll around and I would notice that it was staying lighter for longer, that some of those symptoms for me would start to abate. And very often in the summertime, when I was out of school, again, lots of stress, was being, put upon me in terms of academics, within my home, and also within the school. That helped to alleviate a lot of the symptoms. And I used to sometimes go through the summer months and I used to feel, I'm going to use air quotes here because I don't believe there is a normal, but I used to feel much more normal. And so that pattern for me continued all the way into, you know,my freshman year in college.

Stephanie: in one of your, the pieces that I read that you wrote, you said that you had routines that you would do to try to create safety or bargain safety. And these are the things that I certainly more, obviously, , associate with OCD. So did you have some of those rituals.

Erik: Oh, I absolutely did. I'm so glad you brought up that piece. As we know, OCD is, I'm going to call it, an offshoot of anxiety. And so it starts with obsessive thoughts. And I often describe these as, a bright, shiny object, which, is kind of dangling and spinning around in your head, sort of like a disco ball.

I know I liken it, in some of my writing to thinking about a song or an earworm, which you can't get out of your head. But it's not something that you want to hum along to and sing along to. It's like baby shark on repeat 24 seven. And so the more you try to push that song or that thought away, the more it comes back.

And that is the obsessive piece of obsessive compulsive disorder. For me, it manifested in intrusive thoughts and, a very specific form of intrusive thoughts called Harm OCD. And in my case, it was my fear of either harming myself or harming others. Again, OCD often takes a form of something that couldn't be any more different from who you truly are on the inside.

And for me, it was terrifying to think that these thoughts of me harming someone I love, harming myself, when it wasn't who I was at my core. And,so anyone with OCD in a way to gain again, I'm going to use air quotes control, because we can't actually control these thoughts, but what we try to do is we try to give ourselves comfort in that, if I do a certain something, that will give me control and whatever the intrusive thought I'm having won't happen. And so, as you said, the rituals for me, it really all centered around counting and numbers and everything I did had to be done in threes. And so imagine you leave your room, you turn off the light. I would turn it on again, turn it off, turn it on, turn it off. I would have to do that three

Stephanie: Mm hmm.

Erik: Once I had done that three times, I would say to myself, you're safe. Nothing is going to happen to you or to anyone. If for some reason I left my room and I forgot to do that, suddenly the obsessive loop would start.

It would become terrifying. It would become overwhelming. And I would think, what have I done? Right? I didn't do this in threes. Something horrible is going to happen. There were also lots of other rituals. I'd be constantly checking doors and locks. My room to, anybody who would have seen it, would have been somebody who's just extremely neat. And that's one of the myths of OCD is people think people with OCD just love to have everything neat and have everything straight all the time. The reality is that's our sense of control. We know exactly where everything is. It has its place. If we move one thing, we put it back. So that again, bad things won't happen.

The other is I was very into having things organized by color and by size. imagine if you will, your, for your audience going into the library, I would have to see all of the library books. They would have to start from, left to right. Biggest to smallest. And of course, we would we know people just put things back in a random place. I would if I would see that I would then have to rearrange it and move and make sure everything was in its place. And so, looking back now I realize how much time in my day that actually took up. Having OCD again, 24 seven, because clearly that was part of my sleep issues and the anxiety that came with it. And the physical feelings of dread. I talk about the bubbling cauldron of dread. Living with that took up so much of my life. And now looking back, I don't know how I was able to get through each and every day, in that existence.

Stephanie: Well, that, and that brings up a question for me because you said that, you know, from when you were seven, you never told anybody about any of this stuff that was going on inside of you. My question is how could nobody have noticed all these rituals? I

Erik: I have a younger brother. I have a younger brother who's five. Nope. He never noticed. And interestingly enough, so, I've talked to a lot of people who have younger siblings. And so that five year age gap is a very interesting age gap because at least growing up when I did. We were never in the same school at the same time.

Stephanie: All right.

Erik: Four year difference, right? One's in fifth grade, one's in eighth, one's a freshman, one's a senior. We never traveled in the same friend circle. We were never in the same school at the same time. It seemed as though it happened very quickly. I moved through high school and I was away at college.

And then I moved to New York City. And so we never really saw each other that much. And so he never noticed. I always tell people I could have won an Oscar for the acting job that I portrayed throughout, throughout my life until as you had noted into 33.

Stephanie: Yeah.

Erik: My wife, so my wife and I started dating, it was my junior in college. She was a sophomore. We both met at Brandeis. She didn't know. My parents didn't know. I made it a job to show to the outside world, this smiling face. And I also used, which I've discovered is not uncommon for a lot of people with OCD. I used humor and sarcasm as a defense mechanism. In high school, I earned the nickname Ego Man. And I played into that very well. I thought, well, if people are going to give me this name I'm going to create this character and I'm going to hide behind this character. And so people didn't see me as somebody who was worrying, somebody who was afraid to be out in public. I actually did the exact opposite. I pretended as though I was an extrovert. I pretended as though I was happy all the time. And, so yeah, nobody knew. And it's interesting, I've heard from lots of, high school friends, and some others who I might not have had a direct relationship with, but who have either read the book or listened to the podcast and have found out about my story. And they've all said, I had no idea. I had no idea what you were going through. And interestingly, many of them have now also said, I had no idea that you were going through that too.

Erik: And so, so many of us were struggling, but we all thought at the time that we were alone.

Stephanie: Yeah. All right. So let's let's leap forward a little bit. So you meet your wife in college, you graduate, she graduates, you guys go to New York. You end up on Wall Street, I believe, in a, in a finance job.

Erik: Yes.

Stephanie: pretty low pressure, kind of chill environment, I'm guessing.

Erik: It was, you know, it's it reminds me of like lying on the beach in Maui. It was very chill. There was no stress. You know, at the time, especially in the early nineties, it was an incredibly inclusive environment. So lots of, lots of women and, it wasn't a boys club at all. And it was a perfect place for meto go off and start career.

Stephanie: Yeah. And thrive.

Erik: And thrive. Yeah. What better way to thrive? And I learned very quickly that just because I loved the subject of economics and finance in undergrad didn't mean that working on a Wall Street trading desk was the appropriate environment for somebody that was struggling with mental health in the way that I was.

You know, again, I, so I start in August of 1993. I was, 20, let's see. Yeah, I was 21 at the time. I was turning 22 in October. And so there I was. And again, put on the costume, pinstripe suits, beautiful ties and showed up every single day. I was a turmoil and a wreck on the inside, but on the outside people just saw me as one, somebody who was super type A. And also somebody who couldn't stop talking and humor and sarcasm, to the point where it actually a couple of times almost backfired on my career. But it was the only way that I knew to not let people see what was happening with me and to really keep people at arm's length. You

Stephanie: Yeah. For you, I'm guessing this was like, I want to say, I thought of saying like from the frying pan into the fire. But it's not, it's actually from the fire into like the nuclear explosion. Cause you were already in the fire, right? And through high

Erik: Oh, I was already in.

Stephanie: Right? You weren't, this was no frying pan situation for you.

Erik: And to use our New England reference, like it every day in my life was like the Salem Witch Trials. I was burned at the stake every single day. and so then, yeah, then I went into like a nuclear reactor, which was melting down in 1993.

Stephanie: So, you worked on Wall Street for what?

Erik: So I was on wall street from 93 until, 2003, so 10 years. And then, interestingly, I

Stephanie: Through, oh wait, through 9 11, which was also another super chill time to be in New york.

Erik: 9 11, I can't even tell you how relaxing New York City was on 9 11. Again, it was like being on a lounge chair, had no impact on my mental health at all. I was working for this small firm Midtown. So, September 11th, 2001. I'll never forget. My wife was about five blocks away. We were both, on 6th Avenue in Midtown in the fifties. And I was in the office that morning and I was trying to get on a conference call and I didn't know at the time all the cell lines in New York had gone down with many of the towers being on top of the World Trade Center. And as part of anxiety and OCD, you know, anger and frustration are two symptoms that,can very easily manifest. And I would often go from zero to a hundred when it came to both of those. And I just remember I had a meeting coming up at nine. I had to open up the conference call line and I couldn't, and I was getting so angry and so frustrated.

I ended up coming back to my desk. I was looking, at Bloomberg at the time and it said, you know, small plane. They didn't know what had happened at first. They thought a small plane had hit one of the towers of the World Trade Center. And my immediate reaction, which, again, this is how you react when you have these things is I can't believe that some stupid small plane hit the tower because now I can't get on

Stephanie: What an inconvenience.

Erik: What an inconvenience to me.

And it wasn't until 10 minutes later, my wife was able to get through, on the phone and she told me what was happening. And she said, we're evacuating our office. I'm going home. I'm taking one of my colleagues with me. And I remember turning to my boss at the time. So let's give you a little insight into the Wall Street world. I remember turning to my boss at the time saying You know, I think, it's pretty scary. We don't know what's going to happen. My wife's going home. I really want to be with her. I was like, and he said, no, you're staying here. We're going to work. Everything's fine. We're safe in the office. Right. And so, that was the environment that I was in on top of already feeling this constant lack of safety and security in my life.

And it wasn't until two years ago when I was sitting with my therapist here in Colorado. And I said, Hey, I have a question. This might come out of left field. Do you think that living in New York city on nine 11 in any way could have contributed to the PTSD that I already had? And she looked at me as though, you've never thought of this before. But yeah, it changed the way we lived in the City. We lived on the Upper West side. So for people who are not familiar with New York, if you look at a map, Central park is in the middle of Manhattan and we lived on the the west side of Central Park all the way along the Hudson River. And each day or just getting on the subway, there was that subconscious fear of, is something going to happen. We'd hear reports every couple of days of, you know, there was a potential terrorist attack on the subway and a nerve agent, and this and that. And so bubbling more in the background was, this fight or flight mode that just added to what I was already feeling. And, so I left Wall Street in 2003 and I thought, well, maybe if I moved to the corporate side and I work in finance for a Fortune 500 company, that'll be a lot easier, less stressful.

And I did what I typically did. I went into Type A mode and did a really good job and I ended up getting promoted, and became busier and busier throughout those roles than I ever was in my banking role. And finally in, 2011 that was it. and I look back and I think, was it the job that I loved. Was it the people that I loved or was it you know the actual finance of it that I really liked and it took me a real long time to, to come up with that answer.

Stephanie: So 2011. You're 33 at this point and,

Erik::

Stephanie: I'm sorry,

Erik: Yep. I was

Stephanie: You're 33 and, you've been in this corporate job for a little while and you and your wife take a weekend away. Can you tell me that story?

Erik: Sure.

Stephanie: Cause this is really before, you know, before you jump in, like, this is really where things kind of come to a head.

Erik: Yes. Oh, this was, let's call it nuclear winter, right? We're going to continue with that with the theme of fire

Stephanie: And before we go any further, I just have to remind anybody who's listening that people from Massachusetts are sarcastic wise asses. So, and, and a lot of us, we, not just Massachusetts, New England, a lot of us, we use this to deal with things that are heavy and hard. So while we look like, well, we may sound like we're making light of this, this is how we process things.

Erik: No, you're exactly right. Right. And it's part of like. our mental health podcast is we wanted to show that you can talk about these really heavy, deep, dark topics, but you can also infuse humor in a way to be able to describe it. My co host is from Fall River. So right next door to Somerset, but yeah, you're exactly right. And when I say nuclear winter, it might sound funny, but

Stephanie: real. It's real.

Erik: So as I had mentioned, my wife had no idea. My wife had no idea what I was struggling with. And we went away, it was the late summer of 2004, to visit her dad. And in the days leading up to that, I was feeling really stressed, more stressed than normal.

I was getting an incredible headache and it felt as though somebody was tightening a vice on my temples. We left on a Friday that Wednesday, Thursday, I started to play these mental mind games with myself, something I had never done before.

And there's more of a backstory to this, but I started to have this fear that I was losing my memory. And I started to quiz myself. So I was, I remember watching a Red Sox game at home and while the game was on, rather than focusing on the game, I started to internally quiz myself. Who were the starting players on the 1986 like World Series team, who won the batting title, who is this, who is that?

And the more I would do that, the more my brain started to go into this overload. And I started to not be able to answer them as quickly as I wanted. And so I now was in this fear mode of I'm losing my memory. There's something severely wrong with me. We go up to Albany, so it's about a two and a half hour drive from where we lived in New York, spend the weekend at her dad's playing golf.

I started to really, not feel myself in the present at all. I was there that weekend, but I don't remember playing golf. I don't remember the conversations that we had. And we got on the New York state throughway, to drive back south to Manhattan. And it couldn't have been more than 20 minutes into the drive, I completely and totally forgot where I was. We had just come through a toll plaza and I looked up at a sign and I was like, where am I? And it scared me enough that I said to my wife, Amy, we need to pull over right now. I don't know what's wrong with me, but I know there's something really wrong.

We pulled over the car. She was asking me what's happening. And I was like, I don't know. And once she got behind the wheel and we started driving, it's as though like somebody shut the lights out and pulled the drapes. Like I was completely and totally dissociated, from my body. I have no recollection at all of the drive home. And what I later learned when I get back to the city and started talking to Amy, and then she said, you need to get help.

I couldn't hide it anymore. It was out in the open and, I had a dissociative episode and one of my neighbors in New York at the time, she came over that night and I was explaining to her what happened. And she said, well, what really happened to you is as though you did a control alt delete on your brain. Your brain went into overdrive and the only way that it could protect itself was to completely shut down and reboot.

And it's very interesting because coming out of something like that, it's this feeling of euphoria, and it's almost like having a, a manic episode. And it lasted pretty much for the rest of that night. I was really happy. I thought to myself, Oh, wow, this is the switch that gets flipped, that changes everything. All those thoughts, all those feelings are all going to go away. But I woke up the next morning and of course, the spiral starts.

And from that point on, I started seeing a therapist and started talking about it. and so, as you said, in August of 2004 at 33 years old, the facade finally had to come off. And I couldn't hide behind it anymore. And I now had to let some very close people in my life in, and explain to them what was not only happening to me, but what had happened to me for, you know, the decades leading up to that.

Stephanie: Yeah. Cause I'm really not good at math. I mean, you're the math guy here, but 33 minus seven is 25. That's a quarter of a century.

Erik: Yes, yes.

Stephanie: pretending,of covering up, what was going on inside of you, which I, you know, in addition to being a high achiever, I just can't imagine how much work that was to keep it all covered and to keep

Erik: And I, and Stephanie, I never did. And really in the last few years, as I've become much more vocal as an advocate, and podcasting and writing and speaking, I've really done more work with my therapist around things that I've discovered through having conversations with other people. And one of those is what you just said.

I had no idea at the time that I actually had two jobs. One job was to present myself to the outside world as this normal again, air quotes, fully functioning human being while on the inside, that job was constant worry, constant fear, constant dread.

And I think now, how did I go through that? And, Oh yeah, throw in business school in there in my late twenties. Again, nothing that would ever cause me any additional stress. And so I think, how was I able to do all of these things? And then at the same time, have this other role of like, look at me, everything's fine on the outside.

Erik: Yeah. Now nowadays it's like, oh, it's as though like a piano that just been like lifted off

Stephanie: The thing that I am so surprised about is that your body didn't break down. I mean, it did? .

Erik: Oh, it did. Yes. So, let's see.You know, so I ran track in high school and I did some running when I first moved to New York. So I'm five nine. I probably moved to New York. I was about 135 pounds. In the spring of 2011, which was about seven or eight months before we moved here to Colorado. Again, I was still five nine, but I was up to 205 pounds. And my eating habits were incredibly unhealthy. I now realize I was kind of using food as a bit of a soothing mechanism for me, eating large quantities of food. I became very sedentary, wasn't exercising, and so I felt terrible physically. And it was also adding to, and we know this as a fact now, how we eat affects how we feel and how our mental health works. And so I was really in this spiral of unhealthy physically and unhealthy mentally.

Stephanie: I've seen this in some books lately. The Ouroboros, right? The snake eating its tail.

Erik: Yes,

Stephanie: It's, a cycle that never stops and it just, that's terrible. Okay, so 25 years struggling with mental health and yet not really having the language to understand what was going on. And then also acting as if you were, a normal everyday human being. You have this dissociative episode at 33. You start seeing a therapist. Tell me what some of the earliest things you learned were.

Erik: So when I first started to see my therapist and again, I feel as though I've lived this and walk through this so that I can now be a voice for other people, so they don't have to experience the same thing.

So in the early days of seeing my therapist, I thought, I can't tell him this, or I can't tell him that. I remember sitting there one day thinking. If I actually tell him this, I'm going to turn around at some point in this office and the New York City Police Department is going to be here and they're going to put me in handcuffs and they're going to whisk me away. So I was extremely, extremely hesitant to even share some of the thoughts that were going on inside of my head and, and so I was even putting up this protective barrier with him.

Fortunately, at the time he was in his late seventies, he was an incredibly wise old man, and had probably seen every trick in the book.He was a therapist who had been practicing for a very long time, but was very open to new school ideas at the time, which I found very interesting.

And so he had a very caring demeanor and it wasn't just a question and answer session, but it was much more of a conversation. And each time he would kind of probe a little bit deeper and I kind of open the door and a little bit more in the crack would get wider and something else would come out. And so we started to talk about OCD. We started to talk about intrusive thoughts. He made it, made me feel as though he had heard that before. It wasn't something new. It wasn't something that. I wasn't surprising him with anything, which for me, I started to finally think, wow, maybe I'm not alone in this. I thought I was alone for so long.

What really changed everything is I remember being in his office one morning. And again, these are the days when we didn't tell anybody we were seeing a therapist. We didn't tell anyone we were on medication. So I would be in his office promptly at 7 a. m. in the morning. At the beginning, I was going three days a week, and so that added again, extra stress to my day of having to hide what was happening every other day for me. I remember walking in and sitting down and he kind of looked at me and he gave me this big smile as he often did. And I said, what he goes, it's pretty interesting. Every time you come in here, you're coming in because you're struggling with something. And you're not feeling, a hundred percent.

But yet every time you sit across from me, you smile. And he said, what's that all about? And I thought for a second and I had no answer. And that's when I realized that the facade was there. Something that I didn't know at all ever existed. And I was like, wow, I'm even using this in front of him. From that day, things really changed. And I was like, People need to know how I'm feeling, what I'm feeling. I just need to open up and I need to share. And so my journey really changed from that point on in ways that I could never have imagined.

Stephanie: Well, and speaking of things that you could never imagine, he had a very, sort of bizarre suggestion for you. Therapeutic suggestion, right? Tell me about that.

Erik: So as we stated at the outset, I grew up in New England. New England, as we know, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, kind of the ski mecca of the East Coast. Something I didn't do as a child,it was cost prohibitive. I came from a family who oddly enough lived in Massachusetts, hated the cold, hated the winter, hated the snow. I was in his office one day and he would talk a lot about kind of his own life, which I found very fascinating and, and I realized our relationship kind of blossomed into a friendship, in kind of his last couple of years, on the planet. And he would always talk about going to med school in Switzerland and skiing and how he loves skiing and how much that was a part of his life.

And he would tell me these stories of, being in his twenties and being in Switzerland and the Alps and, and one day he said, I think you should try skiing. Kind of came out of left field.

Now, my wife grew up skiing from the age of nine. We met in college. And so, she was 19 at the time. I didn't ski. So she didn't ski. She didn't ski for like 14 years. Right. And I looked at him and I said, why would I ever want to do that? I hate skiing. Now, again, for some people in the audience, they're probably thinking, how do you know you hate skiing? Right? That's the obvious conclusion. Not something that popped into my brain. I just said, I hate skiing. And he goes, well, why do you hate skiing? I said, well, I hate the cold and I hate the snow. And he said, why do you hate those things? And I said, well, my parents hate them. He said, but how do you know that you really hate them?

Stephanie: Ding, ding, ding.

Erik: And he left it. Didn't say another word. And.

My

Stephanie: parents hated cats by the way, and I grew up thinking I hated cats and I am the proud owner of, my second black cat so

Erik: There you go. It's amazing, right? How growing up we are told certain things, and so we are programmed that if we're told certain things, then we ourselves must feel that exact same way.

So here I am, it is March of 2005. Again, I'm still 33. My wife's 33rd birthday was coming. And I called my mother in law, who had been skiing for decades, and I said, you know what I'm thinking of doing for Amy's birthday? And she said, what? I said, I think let's go up to Vermont. Let's go up to Stratton. I searched some ski resorts. And I said, I want to learn how to ski for her birthday. Silence. Silence on the other end. And she said, Are you serious? And I was like, Yes, I want you and Michael, Amy's stepdad to come. I want this to be a family thing. So we go up to Vermont and I wrote a really fun article about this for ski magazine, that first weekend. And II got there. I was on the magic carpet.

So for those of you who are skiers, you'll know what I'm talking about. it's kind of like a conveyor belt. And so for very brand new beginner skiers, you don't have to get on a chairlift. You put skis on, you get on this moving conveyor belt that takes you up the beginner area, and then you slide down in all different forms and manners. And so there I was with a bunch of kids. I was on the magic carpet and I was terrible. Absolutely terrible. in fact, I was so bad that on the second day, my wife and I go up the hill and, I'm skiing in front of her and just going straight and fast. And she's behind me screaming, turn. And I'm thinking in my brain, if I only knew how to turn, I would. And I get down towards the bottom where the lift line was. And I see the lift line part I ski under the maze that they call it the lift line ropes and straight into a snowbank that's right up against the condo. And there I am on the ground and I hear my wife like ski up behind me and she's all upset. Are you okay? Okay. And I remember just popping up and saying, let's go back up again.

And something in me changed that weekend standing at the top of of Stratton. I had never been on a mountain before. I'd never experienced the joy of sliding around on snow and the view. And I remember one of the beginner areas weaved its way through, this big open, tree area. And I thought, how beautiful is this? Like, where has this been all of my life? And that was it. my life transformed forever that March weekend in 2005.

Stephanie: It's funny though. I was not a big skier. So, when you were talking about where you grew up in Massachusetts, it made more sense to me because there is one little mountain in Massachusetts, which once I say the name, anybody in New England will sing the song,

Erik: Wow. Wow. You said

Stephanie: big mountain skiing minutes from home.

Erik: Yes,

yes.

Stephanie: You weren't You weren't anywhere near that. You were really down in the South part of the state.

Erik: I was down in the south part of the state. So for me it was all about the beach.

You know, I had been pre-programmed to hate the winter months. And so the default for me was the summer and the warm weather and the beach and the smell of the salt and all those kinds of things.

Stephanie: Yeah.

When I was in grammar school, there was, a mountain, I don't know, 30, 40 minutes from where we lived and they would do, the ski lessons, you know, Wednesdays after school. And so I did that for a few years and skied a little bit through high school. But I'm, I'm really not actually much of a winter person. So the, the last time I skied though, I was in my, Late twenties, I think I was 27 or 28 and it was at Stratton Mountain. And I can, I can confirm it is a beautiful, beautiful setting, a great mountain to ski at.

Erik: And there are no, as I always say, there are no coincidences in life. And so just hearing like, here you are, we met, you ski to Stratton. Like that's where I

Stephanie: Right. That's where, that's where my ski story ended and your ski story began.

Erik: My ski story began. Yes.

Stephanie: Tell me how skiing changed your life.

Erik: So I was working in the corporate world in finance. And so I skied that weekend. It was sort of the end of the season. It was a beautiful bluebird weekend. Came home, and I just kept reliving that experience. I was in my office and I just kept, playing it back in my mind. And I remember telling a lot of my colleagues who were all skiers at the time that I had gone skiing and how amazing it was.

And all of them were at the time I've skied with some of them now, so I realized, but I thought they were these, amazing, like expert advanced skiers. I would hear all these stories all the time.

So the following November. I was still in kind of that all or nothing mode. And I said to Amy. I want to like do this more. And so we ended up getting, a house share in Southern Vermont, right near Mount Snow. And so we would come up kind of every third weekend. And so we, we had a weekend right before Thanksgiving and we went up and skied. And again, I was on the snow, both on my skis. I was on the snow, like with my body. I was trying to like put all these things together and, and every once in a while it would come together and work. But then I kept hearing about this place called Snowmass Village, Colorado. And for your audience, it is the sister town. We're about nine miles away from Aspen. So it's all part of the Aspen Snowmass, ski resort area. My mother in law would come here every single year. So I kept hearing about Snow mass and how beautiful Snow mass was.

And so for the week before Christmas in 2005, I booked a ski trip here to Snow mass. And again, my mother in law and my wife are both like watching this going, what is he doing? Like, what is going, like, who is this guy? We always went to Mexico on vacations. And so we came out here to Snow mass and, for anyone familiar with skiing in the East Coast where the mountains are 300 or 400 vertical feet. Here in Snowmass, from the bottom of the mountain to the top is 4, 400 vertical feet. And you're standing at the top of Snowmass. It's 12, 510 feet up in the air.

And I just remember looking out like wide eyed as though I was a kid again, the inner child that never experienced this was suddenly, right there in this adult body. And just the difference in the snow. And it was soft. And then I somehow we skied in powder one day and I thought this is kind of crazy. I don't know what I'm doing, but it's super fun and it's beautiful. And, and then I think it must've been my sixth day on skis. I found myself on a black diamond. I had no business being there, but there I was. And I skied it and I fell on, I skied it and I fell. And I thought, this is incredible.

So my,mother in law who had always wanted a house in Colorado, once she found out that I had fallen in love with the sport, called us a couple of months later and said, guess what I did? And we said, what? She said, I bought a house in Snowmass. And so now we started coming out here, winter and spring, with Amy's family and, we would ski. And that sort of became the family activity.

And again, I thought, well, this is just something really fun and really cool and I love it. But then in my last year in New York, I noticed my office was plastered with pictures from all of the ski trips we had taken out here. And then I started to notice that work was getting in the way of me being able to ski.

And so I would get on the 6 a. m. flight out of LaGuardia. I would fly to Salt Lake City. I would meet friends. We would ski for a weekend. I take the red eye home. In my last year in New York, working full time, I managed to ski 50 days. And so,I thought,something's going to have to change here.

Either I'm going to have to keep working and I'm going to have to dial back the skiing, or maybe there's a way that skiing can actually become part of my life.

And we ended up moving from New York city in October of 2011. We got in a car. It was three days after my 40th birthday. And we drove for two days with both of the cats in the car. And we arrived at our new rental in Snow mass Village. We had just been hired about a week earlier by Aspen skiing company to become ski instructors in Colorado.

I remember at the time, my imposter syndrome raging thinking they hired us? Like, I guess I can ski, but like, I don't know what I'm doing. And so began my 41st year on the planet. I was no longer a banker. I was no longer living in New York. I had now realized that this inner child that had been trapped for decades, who had fallen in love with skiing in Stratton in 2005, 2005, was now going to make a career out of teaching skiing to others.

And so I'm sitting here now, I'm 52, and looking out my window and there's tons of snow on the ground. We had six inches of snow last night.And I went on to have this incredible 12 year career as a ski instructor here.

And, there's a program I'm going to be launching and we can talk about that towards the end.

But really, learning how to ski in 2005 completely and totally transformed my life in a way that I can't imagine not living here. I can't imagine not having skiing as a part of my day to day life. And the amazing community of people who I've met. One who is my podcast co host, and he too came to skiing later as an adult, growing up, a town away from me in Massachusetts. And, it's just been such an amazing journey and the person that I am now, couldn't be any more different than the person that I was back then.

Stephanie: How's your mental health now?

Erik: I always love to tell people I am a much better version of my former self. One thing that I've learned is. there's no cure for mental illness. The difference though, is it goes from controlling us and managing us on a day to day basis. To then we learn how to live with it. and that's where I am.

I named the podcast from Survivor to Thriver. Because at some point in our lives and on our mental health journeys, we're surviving. And that looks completely different for each and every person.And I love, before we came on, Stephanie, you were talking about the arc of your show.

And when I think about the arc of going from survivor to thriver, it's the very same thing. There's a whole messy journey in there with lots of twists and turns. And so when you're a thriver, it doesn't mean every day is rainbows and unicorns. It just means that you now recognize that something needs to change. Something needs to be different. And you're now on this journey where you have lots of good days, and then maybe you'll have some not so good days. And you recognize it's okay to not have those good days, but then I need to do something to get myself back to feeling better, feeling way above what used to be my old baseline. And that's really what's led me to all of the work that I now do in the mental health space. And, yeah, I,it's sometimes hard for me to think back to that person of, you know, almost 20 years ago, when I first, had to reveal myself to the world and where I am now.

Stephanie: you're welcome.

The other piece of being a thriver is you're exactly right. It's not, every day is not perfect and there are still challenging days, but the other piece that you've picked up along the way are tools. So that when you do have challenges, whether it be a single day or a week or a month or a trough, right, peaks and troughs, you are better equipped to handle them, to manage them, to know that they don't last forever. You know, to have some more perspective, some more context. And so, that's another piece of, you know, coming out the other side of the meat grinder is that you've learned so much and you, know what works and what doesn't work. And I think for you, that, transition from, the pressure cooker kinds of careers that you hadin Manhattan, you know, certainly weren't, you know, supportive of your mental health. To the career that you chose next, which, you know, I'm guessing you worked full time at it, but it also wasn't the same kind of full time as a banker in Manhattan. It's a horse of a different color. Right.

Erik: And you know working full time. It's a little bit different here in the West at some of the big resorts that it is, teaching skiing back on the east where people typically will do an hour private lesson and they'll do just one. Here, people come out for extended vacations. And as a private instructor for Aspen Skiing Company, over the 12 years that I've been teaching, I've been with the same families now for, well over a decade. And so the relationships that you establish far transcend just, I'm going to teach you how to ski. And so I learned very quickly that the part of my job that I love the most was being able to create that same transformative experience for my clients that I had experienced when I first stepped onto the snow. We can teach anybody to ski, and different people will always ski at different levels and they'll learn things along the way. What I found most important was being able to show people how to experience joy in the mountain environment, how to come here, how to put the phone away, how to decompress. How to see the mountain as kind of a healing tool, a place where you can go and it doesn't matter if your turns are perfectly symmetrical or if you're the best bump skier on the hill. But how much fun are you having? And is that fun then allowing you to learn some things along the way? And has something about that week or two weeks we spent together, taken and transformed you in a way that you can take that back into your life in Chicago or in Fort Lauderdale or in New York or in L. A.

Stephanie: Right.

Erik: That you're able to then draw on some experience and put that into your day to day life. And so, it was a full time job. And, and here, as we know, like the ski season is about five months long and, we don't take days off for holidays and those are the busy times of the year for us. And it was, it's wonderful. It's terrific. And, and in many days I'd be out there and, be skiing in two feet of powder and thinking, wow, I could be back in my office in New York City right now. This is what I get to do for a job. And these are the amazing people that I get to ski with, and how fun is this?

Stephanie: Well, and that's another one of those decision points that we come you know, and you came to it literally at age 40, but, sometime around our 40th birthday, where we start to trust more in our own self, in our own experience, our own expertise, our own authority to know what's the right thing for us.

Not everybody's built to sit at a desk 60, 70 hours a week. As a matter of fact, probably most of us aren't built for that, but some of us have acclimated to it, I guess, but,you know, that's that's a

Erik: exactly.

Stephanie: that had you made that at 20, somebody would have scoffed at you and said, Oh, he's off to be a ski bum. He's never gonna make anything of himself. But by the time you were 40, you knew that that was what you needed, not only for your mental health, but also sort of for your heart and soul.

Erik: Yeah. I went from this sedentary creature who was reading emails and being on conference calls and eating. To somebody who got to spend 365 days a year outside. And just as I spend, the winters on snow, I spend the summers on my mountain bike. And it's also, something that is so important about both of those, great sports outdoor adventures that I do is the community of people that I've met along the way, and the conversations I've had a chance to have with them. When you're sitting in your office back in whatever town or city it is, you're doing your job. Maybe you go to lunch and but you don't have those in depth conversations about what's actually happening in your life. And the conversations I've had on chairlifts and gondolas and on ski runs and on mountain bike rides, where we actually share with one another, what's happening. And we check in, how are you really doing today?It turns you into a much different person. And, you allow yourself to let your guard down. You allow yourself, as you were saying, you can now trust your instincts and your intuition,and take a chance or take a risk, and not worry about, is that outcome going to be right or wrong?

It's not so binary. It's let's see what happens if I do, X, Y, and Z. and for your audience, who's listening, be brave and be vulnerable and take that chance. If there's something you've always been passionate about and you've always wanted to try, go for it. the worst thing that could happen is it doesn't work out and you go back to working in a job that you had before. But you're never going to know if that thing is your thing. And if you can create it, then I always say success is however you define it. That thing could change your life forever.

Stephanie: Yeah. So tell me where you are today and how you're combining all of this stuff that we've been talking about.

Erik: Sure. So in, January of 2021, I launched a mental health podcast called From Survivor to Thriver. And it was really,born out of a passion for wanting not only to share my story, but to also have other people come on as guests and share their stories of going from surviving to thriving so that we could really shatter the stigma around having mental health conversations.

Let other people know that they're not alone and help empower voices. And for those who are not yet ready to be able to share their story, we want it to be a voice for the voiceless and a voice for those people. It then turned into, you know, I was doing some public speaking at high schools, some in Colorado, some on the East Coast. And then I ended up writing as a collaborative author in the book you mentioned Stephanie, Scars to Stars, which came out in September of 2023, where I took a very deep dive and describedwhat my dissociative episode in 2004 was like so that somebody reading it could, I wanted them to really feel that experience.

And so if anybody in their own life or orbit was experiencing something similar, it could almost be used as a roadmap for, wow, I can understand what that person is going through. And the big thing for me, which I'm really excited about, is I'm launching, in the winter of 24, 25, as an affiliate program, in conjunction with Aspen skiing company here, a program called U-MOST, so U dash M. O. S. T. And that stands for Unlocking Minds on Snow Together. Where I am going to be coming full circle. And I'm creating a program for people to be able to come out and ski with me and some of,a select few instructors who either come from their own mental health backgrounds or have been touched by mental health or addiction, in their families. And it's going to be, a series of three day programs where people will get to come out and not learn how to ski, but learn how to use the mountain as a part of a healing modality. And really my chance to go back to more that March of 2005 and what happened to me on the top of Stratton Mountain. I want other people to have that very same experience. And around that, we're going to have mindfulness and meditation activities, music therapy, journaling, and yoga. So that when people leave here after three days, they'll be able to employ some of those very techniques and some of the very same experiences that they will have had on the mountain in their day to day lives.

And so it's really, for me, I've been searching for a while of how can I combine the two things which are most important to me, which it's skiing and it's my mental health advocacy work. And I've really spent the last year thinking about how a program like this would take place. And we just came to an agreement and came to terms on it, a week ago, Friday. So I'm really excited. it'll be announced publicly in the months to come. And, I can't wait to see where that goes and in next ski season.

Stephanie: How exciting. And what a wonderful way to just tie your story up in a bow. It's a wonderful end to our story. I know it's not an end to your story, but to our story today,it really does bring everything full circle and tie everything up.

So Eric, I just want to say thank you so much for being here today and sharing your story and, just being with me.

Erik: Stephanie. Thank you so much for having me as a guest. As I said, I love the entire premise of your show and being able to sit down and have these conversations.You know, there are so many things that you take away, not only from listening to a podcast like this, but also having that conversation somebody like you. And I couldn't think of a better way to end my week and head into the weekend. So thank you so much for having me.

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