My name is Lawrence Altman. I was born in New York City in 1964. I grew up on Long Island and spent a year at boarding school in Connecticut. After high school, I attended Syracuse University for three years before leaving to become a trader on Wall Street. A few years later, I met my amazing wife. We have been married for 31 years and have three daughters.
On September 11, 2001, the world experienced a heartbreaking act of terror. I lost many friends that day, and it hit me hard. That December, I moved my family from New York to Aspen, Colorado. My wife and I now split our time between Aspen and Miami Beach.
From a very young age, I knew that I wanted to be a trader on the exchanges in New York. Trading is incredibly stressful and requires a strong belief in daily decisions. Despite the challenges of the job, I loved it. I traded for 35 years, most of which I did for myself. I only had one losing year. My successful career allowed me to get involved in local charities including the Aspen Mental Health Fund and Aspen Strong, two organizations that offer mental health services to people across the Valley.
Depression and anxiety:
According to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI), around 17 million U.S. adults suffer from at least one major depressive episode in a given year and about 40 million suffer from anxiety. Depression can stem from a variety of factors. It can come from living through trauma, genetics, life circumstances, a physical illness, misuse of drugs and alcohol, and more. However, oftentimes the symptoms of anxiety and depression can go unaddressed. People sometimes look like they have it all from the outside, financial success, beautiful families, close friends, but, in most cases, you can’t see the full picture. Although we’ve made societal progress over the past few years, there is still a stigma around mental health problems. You can’t always notice depression or anxiety like you can see a broken arm or leg, but it is just as necessary to treat issues before they get out of control. I struggled with depression and social anxiety for many years. I was extremely hard on myself. I rarely stopped to appreciate my successes and good deeds, but focused tirelessly on my mistakes and bad decisions. For a while, I didn’t really have time to recognize how much pain I was truly feeling because there was so much else going on in my life. I had many physical health issues including non-stop headaches/migraines and chronic kidney stones, which had me visiting the ER on a regular basis.
I also had a family member suffering from mental health issues, and while my family and I did everything we could to help her, we needed a lot of outside assistance. This had an enormous effect on my own mental health. On top of this, I exhausted myself by trading constantly in the pursuit of being perfect and living a better life. I deeply struggled to be content in the present moment, even when I was on vacation with my family.
At the age of 52, I tried to distract myself from my depressive thoughts and emotions by training for and participating in several Ironman triathlons. It worked for a while, but it wasn’t a sustainable solution. Without realizing, I started to self medicate with alcohol, marijuana, and some prescription drugs. This ultimately made me feel worse and exacerbated my depressive and anxious behaviors. Last year, I started to spiral into a very dark place. I soon found myself in the hospital before spending six weeks in a fantastic treatment center.
At first, I was embarrassed. At my age and with all my past experiences, I couldn’t believe that I would end up in treatment. While I was there, I learned so much about my thoughts and emotions and how to process them through different methods of mindfulness. Thoughts and emotions cannot kill us! We are strong and extremely capable beings. Through cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), I found ways to confront destructive feelings and control poor behaviors like self medication. Treatment was one of the greatest gifts I was ever given, and I will never forget the experience, the people, and all that I learned about myself in that safe and comfortable environment.
Why I am talking about my mental health issues:
I am hopeful that by sharing my personal story with others, I might help some of those suffering in silence. One of my biggest mistakes was ignoring my depression and anxiety alone because I was not willing to be vulnerable and reach out for help from family and friends. I think it is so important for people to understand that we have no choice but to live with our thoughts. We cannot simply wish them away or ignore them.