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New study links social media and depression

I’ve written about it before, and now there is even more proof: A new study has linked social media and depression

I caught this article in Forbes, which notes:

The team calculated that for every 10% rise in negative social media interactions a person experienced, their risk of depression rose significantly—by 20%. For every 10% rise in positive experience, risk for depression fell by 4%; but this association was not statistically significant, meaning it could have been due to chance.

Lovely. In other words, negative experiences on social media can make us depressed, and they far outweigh the positive ones. Why? According to the conclusion of the study, this is because of “negativity bias” – meaning that people are more likely to remember and feel negative experiences, rather than positive ones.

I don’t need to go on too long of a rant, I think, about the serious dangers of social media when it comes to our fragile mental health. The connection is clear, albeit not in a causational way just yet (there needs to be more research to determine if people who are prone to depression are more likely to use social media, if social media really does make people depressed or if there is a third factor linking the two).

That being said, I think it is extremely clear that social media and technology, for all their strengths, can have an absolutely devastating impact on our mental health. I legitimately wonder if, decades from now, we’re going to look back on this period as a turning point in our society, one where we first truly began to deal with the psychological dangers of society, or continued to allow it to eat us alive.

I’m pretty young – only 35 – so it’s not as if I have the memory or expertise to analyze how each technological impact benefited and hurt society. I suspect that the answer is both. However, I think that the reason that these changes seem so much more pronounced and ubiquitous is because the technology has evolved too. Phones never leave our side – they are often the first and last things we touch during the day, and we spend hours staring at their tiny screens, searching for connection and fulfillment that will never really come. They are everywhere, and so is their impact.

That, I think, is why these changes seem so much more widepsread. Rates of depression and suicide are both increasing dramatically, and there is ample evidence which indicates that phone use and social media is playing a role. We need to do more about this issue. What that means, I don’t know yet, but I want to find out.

Sigh. End rant. I miss anything? Anything you want to add? Give us your thoughts in the comments below!

Do you like book giveaways? How about TWO book giveaways?

Hey, folks! Yesterday featured one of the more in-depth interview’s I’ve ever done, with Paula Stokes, who wrote Girl Against The Universe. I sincerely hope that, if you liked what she had to say, you became more interested in her book.

Is that the case? Well, then GOOD NEWS for you! Paula and I are jointly running a contest, where she’s giving away a copy of Girl Against The Universe and I am giving away a copy of my new book, Redemption.

Interested? I hope so! If you are, check out the giveaway here.

Six Questions: Interview with Paula Stokes, author of Girl Against The Universe

Good morning, everyone! Another Six Questions entry for you, and I think this one is particularly interesting. The book is questions is Girl Against The Universe, and the author is Paula Stokes.
From the summary:
From the author of The Art of Lainey and Liars, Inc. comes a fresh, contemporary story about a girl coping with PTSD and the boy who wants to help her move on from the past.  Perfect for fans of Sarah Dessen or Jenny Han.

Sixteen-year-old Maguire knows the universe is against her. No matter how many charms she buys off the internet or good luck rituals she performs each morning, horrible things happen when she’s around. Like that time the roller coaster jumped off its tracks. Or the time her brother, father, and uncle were all killed in a car crash–and Maguire walked away with barely a scratch. Despite what her therapist tells her, Maguire thinks it’s best to hide out in her room, far away from anyone she might accidentally hurt. But then she meets Jordy, an aspiring tennis star who wants to help her break her unlucky streak. Maguire knows that the best thing she can do for him is to stay away, but it turns out staying away may be harder than she thought.

1) Being a psychiatric registered nurse must be the perfect background to write a book like this! Can you talk a bit about how that experience informed your writing?
 
I wasn’t a psych nurse when I wrote this book back in 2014, but I was an RN with a BA in Psychology. I enjoyed incorporating some of the psychological theories that have really resonated with me–like selective attention, self-fulfilling prophecies, systematic desensitization, attribution errors, etc.–into the story. In fact, researching for and writing this novel is part of what made me realize I wanted to go back to nursing but pursue a mental health focus. Having a general background in both psychology and nursing helped me know the right questions to ask, and I reached out to a psychologist and to a couple of friends in therapy for advice on some of the scenes.
 
 
2) What kind of feedback did you get from people who have had similar experiences to your main character, or who have PTSD/anxiety disorders?
 
One of the things I did prior to publication was give the manuscript to three people who had talked openly online about having anxiety and/or PTSD to get their feedback. One of them I did not know at all, but she was a well-known blogger in the YA community who I was following on Twitter and I just saw an opening and went for it. It was scary waiting for their thoughts, but all three of them were really positive and thought the book balanced the reality of mental illness with a hopeful outlook for people who are struggling. They felt I did a good job capturing the somatic symptoms and thought processes of someone with anxiety and PTSD. I have a moderate amount of social anxiety myself, and this book was partially inspired by my own illogical thoughts about how I was responsible for a string of bad events that happened on a solo vacation I took, so I definitely modeled Maguire after myself in places. Obviously my own experiences aren’t going to be the same as other people’s, so the portrayal of anxiety and PTSD didn’t work for everyone, but mental illnesses are not monoliths so that’s to be expected. I’m sorry to anyone who I let down because they didn’t see their struggles represented in this story.
After publication, the reviews were mostly positive and several people sent me messages about how the book spoke to them on a personal level, how it made them want to be more brave or to reach out and ask for help. One big YA blogger reviewed the book and said she wished she’d had it when her mother died, because then maybe she would have gotten the help she needed. It’s incredibly rewarding to send a book off into the world and see it have such a positive impact.
 
 
3) One of the concepts I address in my book is that recovery isn’t an end state, it’s a journey – your writing seemed to mirror that concept. What advice to you give for young adults – heck, anyone, really – who are living that reality and frustrated by it?
 
This is hard for me to answer because everything has always been a journey for me. I grew up in a low-income Midwestern household where my parents were always struggling both personally and professionally. At no point ever would I have described my childhood as stable. Ever since I moved out, my life has been a series of trying on careers and relationships and places to live in a quest for a stability that I still haven’t achieved. I’m over 40 now and it still feels normal to me to be a total work-in-progress, so it’s kind of the same with mental health. The idea that you can just make the right choices and put in X amount of effort and then everything will be fine is a fallacy. I don’t think life works like that for most people. Everyone has stressors and if one of your stressors happens to be mental illness then you’ve got to learn how to minimize how disruptive it will be to your life and accept that you may never be totally *cured* but you can still have a full and rewarding existence. In the book, the therapist, Daniel, says that mental health is fluid and that’s true for everyone. Even people who have never met the diagnostic criteria for a mental illness still have their good days and bad days. So I guess my advice would be that everyone needs to stop trying to be perfect and just be open to who we are and make who we are work for us as much as we can. And therapy! I went to therapy last year because my anxiety was starting to negatively impact my personal and professional life and even just six sessions helped me so much.
 
 
4) Did you design your book to be read by the general public or specifically those that can relate to your main characters struggles? I imagine both, and if that’s the case, how did you straddle that line?
 
The straight answer is that my editor would not have approved the book for publication if she didn’t think it would appeal to a general audience, but I had no idea how the book would be received by people who hadn’t struggled with mental illness or couldn’t relate to Maguire’s magical thinking. I don’t ever think about the “business side of things” when I’m drafting. The story needs to be told the way it needs to be told and if I had the Sales/Marketing team in the back of my brain muttering “But will rich readers from Northeastern cities want to read this? Will librarians in Mississippi buy this for schools?” I would never be able to finish a book.
Once I got done with the initial draft, one of my first beta-readers said she thought the book would really resonate with kids who blamed themselves for their parents’ divorces, which was something I hadn’t even considered. Basically I hoped that even if readers couldn’t relate to Maguire feeling like the Universe was against her, that they’d be able to relate to what it’s like to struggle against negative thoughts that hold us back from being the people we want to be. And if they couldn’t do that, well, the book is still a cute romance with some funny moments and a poignant story about finding your place in a blended family.
In the revision process, I focused on making the abridged therapy sessions thought-provoking for everyone and giving the therapist a personality so those chapters didn’t just feel like me as the author telling readers what to think. I also pulled back on some of Maguire’s obsessive thoughts in places where I felt like being in her head might be getting exhausting or overwhelming for readers who had never struggled with anxiety or PTSD. It’s definitely a tricky balance to represent something like anxiety realistically but also doing so in a way that makes people want to keep reading. I think my best suggestion for writers is to spend time getting to know your characters and understanding them as fully fleshed-out people. Readers will be more likely to root for characters who feel real to them, and they’ll also be more willing to struggle alongside them, even when they can’t relate to what the character is going through.
 
5) What’s your advice to authors who want to write credibly about a subject like PTSD or mental illness, but they don’t have the life experience to necessarily do so?
 
My advice for anyone who wants to write outside their own perspective or experiences is first to reflect really hard about *why* they want to write that particular story. I support the #ownvoices movement, but I also think authors should be able to write any story they need to tell. (And if you’re not sure how I can reconcile those two things, it’s simple–I think publishers need to publish the best stories without imposing any kind of cap or quota based on characters’ cultures, races, disabilities, orientations, etc. If you publish thrillers and you receive five thriller manuscripts with gay, disabled, Chinese protagonists and they are all awesome then publish them all–it’s not like those groups haven’t been underpublished in the past.)
But when it comes to writing outside your experience, I think authors need to have a specific reason for doing so, beyond “oh well I saw this article about a person with X disorder and I realized there aren’t many books about X disorder so it seemed like a cool thing to do.” Mental illnesses aren’t “cool things” to be exploited for profit any more than races or cultures are, so my recommendation would be that unless the writer has a strong personal motivation to tell the story, e.g. “Someone I love has panic disorder and I wrote this book both as a tribute to her and a way to better understand her so I can support her when she’s struggling” that they should steer clear.
In order to write convincingly from outside your experiences, especially when representing a marginalized group, you need to be willing to commit at least an hour of research time for every hour of writing time (which is a lot easier to do if you have a strong personal motivation for telling a story). You need to be brave enough to approach multiple members of the group you’re representing to read your manuscript and you need to be open to hearing their honest feedback. You need to be willing to take responsibility and apologize when you mess up. You need to accept the fact that no matter how hard you try, your portrayal won’t work for everyone (see above, not a monolith), and that your good intentions may be interpreted negatively. You may offend some people who might then decide to be very vocal about what they didn’t like about your work. Writing can be terrifying, huh? Good thing we all make millions of dollars. Oh wait… 😉
6) When it comes to mental health, anything you wish authors would do more? Less?
 
Here’s a short list 🙂
 
1. Stop portraying therapists as either lecherous dudes who sexually harass main characters or new-age hippie ladies who mean well but are hilariously bumbling at their jobs and completely hopeless at helping their clients. These portrayals are ubiquitous in movies and books and the overall result is to make people less likely to seek therapy. Therapy isn’t right for everyone, but it’s a powerful tool that can help a lot of people and we need to be encouraging people to seek help, not avoid it.
2. Stop portraying psychiatric medication as some sort of evil force that takes away people’s emotions or turns them into zombies. I work at a psychiatric hospital where 90% of the patients are on some sort of antidepressant, antipsychotic, or mood stabilizer and not a single one of them has turned into a zombie. MEDICINE SAVES LIVES. Also, it’s not 1970 anymore. There are tons of different psychiatric medications and if you try one and don’t like how it makes you feel, you can just tell your provider about the side effects and they can often eliminate them by adjusting the dose, dosing schedule, or medication regimen. Sometimes it is literally as simple as taking your dose at night before you go to sleep instead of in the morning. Like therapy, medication isn’t right for everyone, but no doctor is going to force you to take it unless you are in an inpatient facility under a court-mandated hold and an active danger to yourself or others. So if it *might* help, why wouldn’t you want to give it a try? Again, as writers we should think long and hard before we actively discourage people from pursuing treatment that could change their lives (and the lives of those around them) for the better.
3. Be realistic when combining mental illness and romance in the same book. “Love cured my depression” might make for a great Disney movie, but it’s not at all realistic and perpetuating the “love conquers all” myth can do a lot of harm to people who are actively struggling. Long-term unconditional love, like that of a parent or sibling or best friend can definitely help–people with strong support networks are more likely to reach out for assistance–but in books (and YA in particular) there was a tendency in the past to have a struggling character meet a new romantic prospect and find healing through “new love.” I don’t know about you, but to me new relationships are extremely stressful–there’s this element of crushing uncertainty about who likes who more and whether the other person will leave me if they find someone better or if I confide in them or share too much. They tend to exacerbate, not cure someone’s mental illness. I made a point when writing Girl Against the Universe to have Maguire push Jordy away at first because she knows she can’t handle a relationship, and then later in the book there are examples of where their fledgling romance complicates things for both of them as opposed to being some sort of magical salve.
4. Remember that mental illness is a long-term thing for most people. Authors don’t need to “fix” everything by the end of the book. Even if you want a happily ever after for your main character, keep in mind that plenty of people with mental illness are living rewarding and joyful lives. Having your character make the decision to seek help or having them improve somewhat with therapy but acknowledge they’re still going to struggle is a realistic way to portray mental illness in a novel. You don’t need to come up with some kind of miracle cure by the epilogue.

Op-Ed: Suicides of Bourdain, Spade remind us troubles many face

As last week’s entry showed – and as I know far too many of you can understand – last week’s suicides of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade shook me. Celebrity suicides always do. But, sadly, we know that the suicide contagion effect is real. I wanted to try to do something to stop it.

My local paper, the Morning Call, was kind enough to let me write this op-ed. I’m copying the text below, but if you can click on the link, please do.

We all have to speak up about this issue if we’re going to do anything about it.

When I opened Facebook on Friday morning, there was one sentence that I kept seeing, over and over again: “Not Anthony Bourdain!”

On Tuesday, it was: “Not Kate Spade!”

The death of two people who seemed to have it all was exceptionally tragic in and of itself. Unfortunately, the problem is so much more severe than that.

There is something particularly painful about suicide. Thankfully, most of you cannot fathom how someone could kill themselves, and that is a blessing.

But, please remember: Suicide and mental illness are disconnected from reality. People like Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade seemed to have it all. But if you have some sort of mental illness, your brain and your heart may not recognize happiness or joy. It doesn’t matter who you are or how much joy you may seem to have — if you are mentally ill, your brain will not enjoy a life that “should be happy.”

Unfortunately, there is a suicide contagion affect: People are more likely to kill themselves after a high-profile suicide, and that risk is heightened among similar demographic groups. This may be a very dangerous time for people who face an increased risk of suicide.

To those of you who view suicide as an option, allow me a few words. They come from times in my life where I was so depressed I viewed suicide as an option. Give me the chance to talk to you as someone who spent hundreds of hours I’ve spent in therapy and takes anti-depressants to start every morning.

I beg you: Please remember that there is more than the pain of this moment. It’s a cliché, but it’s accurate: Suicide is a permanent end to a temporary problem.

I’ve written about this in The Morning Call before, but it’s worth telling you about my personal story again. My own suicidal moments came in college. I was a new student and scared out of my mind. I barely had any friends and I had been torn from everything I knew and loved. A bad roll of the dice in terms of genetics already predisposed me to depression, and I began to sink. I began to sink so badly that thoughts and plans of suicide began to float around in my battered brain.

Thankfully, I recognized I had a problem. I sought counseling and medication. Depression is part of my story. It always will be. I have struggled, but I have survived.

I am using myself to make a point. I was driving the other day, thoughts wondering, and my mind drifted back to this low point in my life. I was struck by this sudden realization: What would have happened if I had killed myself 17 years ago?

The answer is simple: My family and my closest friends would have been left with a hole in their heart, one which would have never really healed. Meanwhile, someone else would have lived my life, married my wife, had my kids. Someone else would have had the jobs I’ve worked and be representing the people of the 132nd District. Everything that should have been mine would be lived and loved by someone else.

And I was struck by what a waste that would have been. And what a tragedy. Choosing to end my life would have been an especially premature decision. My life is not free of pain, but by and large, it’s a good one. I wake up every day grateful for the decision I didn’t make.

I’ve had access to the treatment that I need. Everyone should be as fortunate.

Suicide is not an isolated problem. There were 45,000 suicides in 2016 in the United States — more than twice the number of homicides. That’s roughly 123 a day. Five an hour. One every 12 minutes.

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. It is the second leading cause of death among those aged 15-34. In Pennsylvania, it’s increased 34 percent since 1999. In Lehigh County, we’re losing roughly one person a week to suicide.

The money we spend in this area means something. Repealing Obamacare would have cut off mental health care access to millions of Americans and unquestionably increased suicide rates. We have a major mental health care practitioner shortage in this country. Millions upon millions of Americans cannot afford their prescription drugs. These things matter.

But I’m tired of hearing elected officials say that mental health matters. Don’t show me your words, show me your budget. Show me what programs you are creating to address suicide. Show me how you are dealing with the suicide among veterans and first responders. Show me what programs you are funding to ensure that we are caring for all Americans, no matter what they look like, where they come from and how wealthy they are.

Don’t give me your thoughts and prayers. Give me the money and the means to actually stop suicide.

To those who are afraid — to those who are anxious, addicted or alone — please know that there is hope. You may not be able to feel it, see it or believe it. But I suppose I am asking you to have faith — faith in yourself, in God, and in those who love you now or will love you in the future. As my own story exemplifies, there is always a reason to live, even if you may not know it at the time. As long as you breathe, you have hope.

Mike Schlossberg of Allentown is state representative from the 132nd District. If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 800-273-8255; in Spanish, 888-628-9454; for the deaf and hard of hearing, 800-799-4889; or by text, 741741.

The tragic suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain

I just dropped my kids off at school. I swear, I literally just dropped them off at school, and said to myself, “When I get back, I need to write a blog entry about Kate Spade’s suicide.”

I sit down at my computer. I open the internet. And I see this: Anthony Bourdain, CNN host of “Parts Unknown,” killed himself in Paris. He was 61.

I wish I had the adequate words right now to express how I feel. More life lost to an illness that continues to haunt us, and one that far too many cannot fully understand.

A few points, I suppose, as I try to gather my thoughts.

  • If you need help, there are so many resources available to you. Call a friend, a colleague, a teacher, a loved one. And never, ever hesitate to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
  • Suicide knows no limits. No boundaries. It doesn’t care who you are or how successful you may be. People like Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain seemed to have it all – money, fame, family. They seemed to have access to everything most of us could ever dream of. But the tragic truth is that none of that means a damn thing if you are in pain. The mind and the heart are disconnected from reality in the case of mental illness. That makes their suicide’s all the more shocking and painful to us all.
  • Please, please, watch how you discuss suicide. Avoid phrased like “committed suicide” or “completed suicide” – try to use “killed himself/herself” or “died by suicide.” For my friends in the media, here are some excellent recommendations.
  • The suicide contagion effect is real: A prominent suicide will often serve as a trigger for more, particularly within similar demographic groups. Please, watch your friends.

All of us have a responsibility to watch for each other – to care for each other. If you know someone who is in pain, care for them. Call them. Tell them you love them. The only way any of us survive us with each other. A mere phone has the potential to save a life.

Take care of each other. Today and all days.

The dream scenario: How society should treat mental health

Many of us, including me, regularly talk about how important mental health is. We talk about how important it is that, as a society, we change the conversation around mental health. Something occurred to me as I was debating what to write: I had no idea what that specifically meant. I mean, I have some general ideas, but I want to take a minute to expand upon what I’m talking about – what I mean – when I say that we have to have better and more helpful conversations about mental health in this country.

What do I want? Easy.

  • No one blinks about seeking treatment for mental health. There is no shame, no stigma. You say “I have depression” with the same breath that you say “I have the flu.” In my dream world, no one is afraid to talk about having an anxiety attack. No one is afraid to say they are having a bad day. In our current society, fear of being “discovered” creates more anxiety, more depression, more stress. That, in turns, has a dramatically negative impact on mental health and creates a vicious cycle. We shouldn’t be afraid about discussing who we are and the repercussions that may come with it.
  • There are no barriers to seeking treatment for mental illness in terms of finances or access, and I mean this in a few ways. First, like many areas of medicine, there is a major shortage of mental health care practitioners. This is a major problem and one that exists for many reason, but I’d argue that the chief problem is money. Physicians go into fields for many reasons, and those reasons are similar to decisions that the rest of us make: They are often financially based, and reimbursement rates for psychiatrists are far too low. This keeps doctors out of this vitally important field, and I’d argue that these rates are too low because we are too afraid of talking about mental health to begin with. Insurance companies often create plans that have different and lower levels of reimbursements for mental health care. That leads to worse mental health, and worse outcomes.
  • In my dream, as a society, we’ve stopped even hesitating about talking about mental illness. One of the things I learned quickly when I started talking about my own depression/anxiety? It’s everywhere and everyone. No, obviously every person in the world isn’t mentally ill. But just about every person in this country knows someone with mental illness. After all, one in five Americans suffer or will suffer from mental illness. We have to acknowledge this pain if we are ever going to cope with it.
  • There are no disparities in healthcare among various demographics. I’m lucky; I’m a relatively well-off white male with easy access to health care. While I’m grateful for my own circumstances, we have to acknowledge that other groups – including racial minorities and members of the LGBT community – lack the easy access that I and others like me are fortunate enough to have. This isn’t fair, and it isn’t right. A society is only just when everyone has the same access to life-saving resources.

There’s more – so much more – but these are the first things I’ve come up with. I’d love to hear from you – what else am I missing? Let me know in the comments below!

The book did a cool thing! The book did a cool thing!

As you can see from that picture, I am currently beside myself.

The book is selling – it is selling well – and is currently NUMBER ONE in new releases in a topic near and dear to my heart: Teen & Young Adult Mental Illness Fiction eBooks.

For whatever it is worth, to those of you who are sad, who are depressed, anxious or alone: I was once so depressed I thought killing myself might be the only option to move forward. I’ve learned how to live my life and turned my depression into a good story. Redemption, a story about depression, anxiety and saving the world, is inspired by my own darkest moments. It may now make a difference because I tried to find a way to live.

Please remember that in your own worst days.

Order today from Amazon
Order today on the Nook
Order today on iTunes
Order today from Kobo
Order today from Smashwords

To order a print copy directly from the author, follow this link (it wills say “Pocket Protector Games but that’s just the name of my LLC, I promise!).

Twenty young people wake aboard the spaceship Redemption with no memory how they got there.

Asher Maddox went to sleep a college dropout with clinical depression and anxiety. He wakes one hundred sixty years in the future to assume the role as captain aboard a spaceship he knows nothing about, with a crew as in the dark as he is.

Yanked from their everyday lives, the crew learns that Earth has been ravaged by the Spades virus – a deadly disease planted by aliens. They are tasked with obtaining the vaccine that will save humanity, while forced to hide from an unidentified, but highly advanced enemy. 

Half a galaxy away from Earth, the crew sets out to complete the quest against impossible odds. As the enemy draws closer, they learn to run the ship despite their own flaws and rivalries. But they have another enemy . . . time. And it’s running out.

Six questions: Kristy Acevedo, author of Consider

So, on the heels of my book coming out yesterday, here’s another author interview for you, and this one was kind of fun. This book is called Consider, by Kristy Acevedo. It’s part of the portals series, which does something that I wish more authors did: It discusses mental illness/anxiety attacks from a science fiction perspective. Interested? Read on for more!

1) Ah ha! Your book is one of the rarer ones that gets out of a typical YA-genre while still addressing mental illness. What made you deal with anxiety disorders in such a way?

One of my overall goals when writing CONSIDER and CONTRIBUTE was to create a realistic teenager with an anxiety disorder who has to deal with a sci-fi phenomenon. I wanted her honest struggle and the complex relationships in her life to give the story a gradual depth that would hit at gut level. Alexandra is strong, vulnerable, compassionate, and flawed, and becomes heroic. To do this, I decided to write in first-person, present tense, which was a struggle to maintain for the entire series. It was worth it to give Alexandra’s character the focus she deserved.
 
2) Minus the hologram part, is your book based on personal experiences with anxiety that you have shared? How did those experiences inform your writing? If not, how did you learn how to write about anxiety in such a credible way?
All the anxiety in the book is based on experience, not research. While I don’t have an anxiety disorder, I have several close family members with mental health issues, mild to severe, and over the years I’ve been their advocate during panic attacks, hospital visits, etc. With permission, I’ve combined several experiences to inform Alexandra’s unique character. I wanted to write a character struggling in a realistic way, who also shows tremendous courage and strength and becomes the hero of the series, because that’s how I see those people in my life, even if they don’t always see themselves that way.
 
3) What kind of feedback have you received from people with anxiety disorders about your book?
I’ve gotten many emails about how much they connected with Alexandra’s anxiety, and how, even though the series gets sinister and tragic, they felt a sense of hope witnessing her grow as a hero. They thanked me for portraying her character with no sugar coating and no sudden cures. Some readers said they had to take breaks while reading since her anxiety was so accurate, it triggered theirs. I apologized for that, and they reassured me that meant it was so good.
 
4) This is completely random, but you are a teacher. Do your kids ask you about your writing often? How do you bring it up as you teach?
 
On the first day of school, I introduce myself and my journey to becoming a professional writer. Then I tell students I will never bring up my books again during class unless they ask me a specific question. I tell them I am first and foremost their teacher, not their author, and that I don’t want to be that obnoxious person always talking about my work. Usually, they nod and laugh and respect that I’m here for them.
 
They tend to only bring up my books during writing assignments. Some of them are intimidated at having an author as their high school English teacher, worried that I’m going to “grade them harder.” I reassure them that I’ve been teaching for almost twenty years, and I know how teenagers write. I also model drafting with them, writing crappy opening paragraphs and asking the class to edit me, and that usually empowers them to see that even published authors struggle to write. Or when I’m reminding them how important brainstorming or outlining is, someone will ask, “Do you do that for your books?” So I will explain what works for me and show them samples.
 
And sometimes, a student will come after school dying to talk to me after reading my books, and that’s incredible to witness in real time.
5) What is your advice to authors who want to write in a more inclusive way about a whole slew of topics/characters – be it ethnic diversity, LGBTQ, physical disabilities, mental illness – but don’t actually have the personal experience to discuss the issue?
 
Support marginalized writers and amplify their voices. That should always come first.
I know writers want their stories to reflect the world around them, but they need to ask themselves if they can bring diverse characters to the page authentically and without harm to those communities. You shouldn’t be writing diverse characters if you spend most of your time in a non-diverse community. So my advice would be to diversify your life before diversifying the page.
6) Portals. Why portals????
Why NOT portals? Hahaha! I was binge-watching Doctor Who when I got the idea for the Holo series. Since Doctor Who is all about traveling through time, it was inevitable to end up with some sort of portal element.
If you enjoyed books that discuss science fiction and mental health, I hope you check out Redemption, my YA/Science Fiction novel about depression, anxiety and the end of the world.

Redemption – my book – is now available

Today’s the day. A really, really big day, for me. Today, my book, Redemptionis available for order.

First, the logistics: If you pre-ordered it on your Kindle, it should be there! If you want to order it for Kindle or order a print copy on Amazon, go right to the website. To order it in other formats, or to order a printed copy directly from me (which I will sign and ship!), visit my website. Also, if you use Goodreads, you can check out the book’s page here.

Again, here’s what the book is about:

Twenty young people wake aboard the spaceship Redemption with no memory how they got there.

Asher Maddox went to sleep a college dropout with clinical depression and anxiety. He wakes one hundred sixty years in the future to assume the role as captain aboard a spaceship he knows nothing about, with a crew as in the dark as he is.

Yanked from their everyday lives, the crew learns that Earth has been ravaged by the Spades virus – a deadly disease planted by aliens. They are tasked with obtaining the vaccine that will save humanity, while forced to hide from an unidentified, but highly advanced enemy.

Half a galaxy away from Earth, the crew sets out to complete the quest against impossible odds. As the enemy draws closer, they learn to run the ship despite their own flaws and rivalries. But they have another enemy . . . time. And it’s running out.

Okay. Now for the personal stuff.

This book was written during one of the ugliest, most depressed periods of my adult life. I was in a bad funk, my wife was having a hard time at work, and we were both just struggling. I had started seeing my therapist again, I had increased my medication, but I was still in a really bad way. And I made a decision that I needed to do more, and remembered how writing had saved me when I was a teenager. I’d already written a non-fiction book – Tweets and Consequences – and while I’d enjoyed that process, I wanted to do more. I wanted to write something that was truly meaningful to me on a personal level.

Twenty years ago – probably more – I had this idea as a young teenage writer about kids winding up on a spaceship with no idea why. While I was thinking about writing, I remembered this kernel of a plot. I wanted to write about mental illness as well, since that cause has become such a part of my life.

And thus, Redemption.

As for why this is so important to me. Please understand that this isn’t just a book. It’s difficult to explain how meaningful writing this was on a personal level. The best way I can put it is this: When you write, if it is about an issue that you really care about, you’re not just creating words. You’re putting a piece of your heart out for the world to see. This book is a huge piece of who I am and my personal mission of helping people who suffer from mental illness find hope and recovery. I hope this book can do for others what it did for me – help pull me from the darkness. I hope it can help people realize that they can live good lives, even with depression, anxiety and mental illness. And I hope it’s a good read.

Anyway, world, meet Redemption. I hope you enjoy it!

Interview: Not Another Anxiety Show

Hey folks – a quick entry here, just wanted to share a podcast interview I did for those of you who are interested. Thanks to Kelli over at Not Another Anxiety Show for hosting me on her podcast, where we discussed mental health, politics, and I miiiiiiiiiight have mentioned the book I have COMING OUT TOMORROW.

Here’s the show. Enjoy!