A strange gender gap: Men, women and writing about depression

As part of my marketing efforts for Redemption, I’ve been reaching out to other author’s in similar book categories, which means other Young Adult books which deal with mental health, depression and anxiety. These efforts are how you’ve seen some of the other Six Question entries.

The other day, I noticed something strange:

Let me give some backup here to that tweet: I just went back through my notes on other authors. I identified 115 authors who also had books in this category. Of those 115, only 18 were men; 89 were female, and another 8 either had names that could have been either gender or used initials (which often than not, means they are a woman – see J.K. Rowling, who went with her initials because her publishers were trying to disguise the fact that she’s a woman).

Anyway, that difference is massive: 115 authors, and a mere 16% are men!

What the hell is going on here?

This is just a hunch, but I think what I’ve found is a microcosm of society as a whole: Women are much more willing to discuss mental illness and emotions than men. According to research, both men and women are more likely to be viewed more negatively when they suffer from “gender atypical” mental health disorders. Additionally, according to a 2015 study, men are more likely to have negative attitudes towards health seeking, which results in a less significant uptake in using mental health services.

This blows me away. I mean, it shouldn’t – none of this is surprising, and intuitively, I think most of us recognize that women are more comfortable seeking help and discussing emotional topics than men.

There are so, so many issues facing women today. I’m so glad that, as a member of the human race, we are doing a better job at discussing vitally important issues like women’s equality and safety. But I think one of the things we don’t do a good enough job of – and my above observation would seem to back up this assertion – is discussing how these gender stereotypes also hurt men.

Please, please do not misunderstand me here – I am not saying, “Boohoo, but what about the white man, life is so hard for us, we are so discriminated against!” That simply isn’t true, and it is abundantly clear that other minorities and women have much, much tougher obstacles to overcomes than any white man does. It is also apparent that we, as a society, must do a better job at creating a more level playing field and changing our culture as it pertains to women and minorities.

But, I think it’s important to note that men can also be the victims of gender stereotyping and expectations – and clearly, this is one such example. What I would hope this observation would make us realize is that we must do a better job of working towards true equality in society – and men have many, many ways to benefit from achieving that ideal as well.

Here’s the first chapter of Redemption!

Alright, alright, alright!

I had a few folks ask for it without the Email gate, so, here you go. Click here to download the first Chapter of Redemption. If you want to buy the book, here’s the Amazon link, and here’s the page on my website for other formats and how to buy a signed copy from me.

Enjoy!

Get the first chapter of Redemption for free!

Hiya!

If you’ve read the blog before, you’ve heard me talk about Redemption. For those of you who are curious, good news! You can now download the first chapter of the book for free. To do so, you can sign-up for my newsletter, and the welcome Email will have a link to download the book.

Do you already get the newsletter? Well, just check the link in there to access the first chapter.

Enjoy!

Science Fiction and Mental Health:The Lost Opportunity

In the course of writing my book, I made an assumption – one which I would ultimately find to be incorrect: That mental illness and science fiction would be very popular subgenres. They are not. I’ve been surprised by this. In fact, thus far, I’ve only been able to find one other book which intermixes mental health, science fiction and young adult – Portals by Kristy Acevedo. That’s a REALLY great book, by the way – if you liked Redemption, you’ll like Portals – Kristy Acevedo was kind enough to do a blog interview with me. That’s here.

I thought the two genres would go much better together. The reason? The sheer freedom of it. I’ve written two books now – Tweets and Consequences (which was a non-fiction look at social media, politicians and epic failures) and Redemption. Obviously non-fiction is a little bit more limiting. But, even fiction can be very constraining. If you write a regular YA book, for example, you are limited by the realities of the genre. For example, It’s not a good or consistent book if your YA character suddenly grows wings and flies away.

Science fiction and fantasy, of course, are different. All bets are off. You set up your world, it’s limits, and then you go from there. In Redemption, I created a Lord of the Flies-like world – on a space ship – and we were off to the races. The extremes of the world in Redemption allow me to explore the mental illness of the main character, Ash. Clearly, it’s science fiction, but the constraints of the world are still pretty similar to this one. As such, I get the opportunity to explore mental illness in a whole new light, but one that is simultaneously interesting/entertaining (at least, I hope!) and relevant to the reader.

Portals does a similar exploration – it creates a fantasy world with aliens from the future who are trying to save the world. The main character has debilitating anxiety issues, and the extreme stress of the world has major impacts on her mental health, her limits, and what she learns about herself and those around her.

But again, I’ve been surprised. I haven’t seen a ton of interaction between these subjects, and that, in my estimation, is a lost opportunity. Science fiction allows you to break traditional boundaries. I’ve actually always thought that the best science fiction just takes advantage of the weird elements it creates. Star Wars isn’t about space, it’s about good vs. evil. Star Trek (which one reviewer on the Amazon page was kind enough to compare Redemption to!) isn’t about the damn United Federation of Plants, it is about social justice and an exploration of the galaxy and the human psyche. It seems like mental illness and it’s related topics would be a perfect fit for this universe, but alas, unless I have been mistaken, this is not a topic which has seen much interaction.

Am I wrong? I’d love to be wrong. If I am wrong, please correct me – leave your best book recommendations in the comments below!

Six questions: Interview with John Corey Whaley, author of Highly Illogical Behavior

So this is an interesting one, mainly because the book deals with a topic I’ve barely tackled: Agorophobia. Today’s book is Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley. From the blurb:

Sixteen-year-old Solomon has agoraphobia. He hasn’t left his house in 3 years. Ambitious Lisa is desperate to get into a top-tier psychology program. And so when Lisa learns about Solomon, she decides to befriend him, cure him, and then write about it for her college application. To earn Solomon’s trust, she introduces him to her boyfriend Clark, and starts to reveal her own secrets. But what started as an experiment leads to a real friendship, with all three growing close. But when the truth comes out, what erupts could destroy them all. Funny and heartwarming, Highly Illogical Behavior is a fascinating exploration of what makes us tick, and how the connections between us may be the most important things of all.

1) Did this book come from your own personal experiences with mental illness, or that of someone close to you?

I’d say it was a combination of both, but Solomon’s anxiety is definitely an exploration of my own.

 2) Were you trying to write a story about mental illness, or were you using the agoraphobia to make a broader point? I suspect the answer lies in the middle, and if that’s the case, what made you use agoraphobia specifically? 

While I did set out to tackle mental illness as a subject, I also wanted to make sure the story was really a character study more than anything else—and a way to help readers empathize with someone like Solomon.

3) Your book is clearly remarkably effective at taking shots at the stigma which surrounds mental illness. How did you write a character that was so multi-layered, and in the words of at least one reviewer, so much more than his mental illness?

That’s a tough question to answer! I guess I’d say that I focused really hard on making sure Solomon-and the other characters-all left more of a lasting impression on the reader through their personalities and not their problems.

4) The cover design – with the different colored lines and someone walking in what looks to be a box – is one of the more noticeable covers I have seen. What inspired that?

I can’t take any credit for the cover, but I will say I LOVE IT. It’s simply the chaotic lines of color leading Solomon outside to the crazy world, where his friends are waiting.

5) Members of minority communities tend to suffer even greater from mental illness – can you talk at all about how your book attempted to address the subject of mental illness among the LGBT population, and why you chose to go that route?

As a queer American, and one with mental illness, I’ve seen up close the effects of mental illness on my community. It was important to me portray a young gay man with mental illness who wasn’t defined by EITHER thing solely.

6) As noted in the blurb, one of your main characters tries to “fix” another’s mental illness. What’s your advice to those who think this is a viable strategy?

Anyone who wants to help someone with mental illness deserves a chance to be heard, sure, but it’s very important that those without mental illness understand that you can’t “fix”  a person. Mental illness is wired into a person, so much care, research, and care must be taken when helping someone deal with their illness.

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!

Redemption, by Mike Schlossberg, is almost available!

I just had a really nice moment that I wanted to write about – and for once, nothing that has to do (directly!) with mental health.

Late yesterday, I got the Email from my publisher, giving me the final version of my book, Redemption. I opened it up about an hour ago, and to my pleasant surprise, discovered that it wasn’t final edits – there was just some grammatical stuff – it was ready.  I sent it back, giddy. My book is almost ready!

Redemption was my therapy. I started it a little more than three years ago when my life became more overwhelming than I ever thought it could have. The idea picked up on something that I had dreamed up twenty years ago, when I first thought that I may want to write. More information about the book is here and you can read a summary below.

Redemption, unquestionably, helped save me.  It gave one of the roughest periods of my life meaning and gave me an opportunity to share a story with the rest of the world. It is a young adult, sci-fi dystopia, but I tried to make it different by weaving in the very real themes of depression, anxiety and loss, themes that have punctuated my life and likely yours, too.

I have no idea how it is going to sell – well, I hope – but I do know that this book, like the blog, gave me an opportunity to discuss an issue that I care deeply about, and hopefully inspire others to know they aren’t alone and a better life can be there’s.

As time goes on, I’ll have more to say about Redemption, and I really want to share the writing journey I went through, because I think that can be helpful to others. Art can save.

More info on Redemption below.  It should be available in the next couple of months!

Asher Maddox fell asleep a twenty year-old, depressed college drop-out.  He woke up sixty years in the future, Captain of a spaceship charged with saving humanity.

It’s 2083.  Ash and nineteen other teenagers find themselves onboard the Redemption.  Attacked by an unseen force from the moment they arrive, the crew must instantly bond, learn how to fly and escape whatever is trying to kill them.

Their arrival onboard the Redemption is no accident.  Ash and his crew must stop an alien attack which resulted in the Spades virus wiping out most of humanity.

Each answered question only creates more puzzles.  Why them?  Who are the aliens that keep attacking them?  How did Spades get created in the first place? Can the ship get the various pieces of the vaccine before the aliens attack Earth?  And, most importantly: How can Ash save the planet, when his depression and anxiety won’t even let him save himself?

Coming first half of 2018.

The importance of telling your story

This is a bit of a different entry: Partially standard, but also partially self-promotional.  Fair warning!

As I’ve discussed before, I made a very conscious decision, about three years ago, to tell my story about my experiences with anxiety and depression.  I made this decision because I thought it was important to put a face to these two largely misunderstood and under-discussed disorders, and because I realized that doing so would help fight the stigma that still surrounds both of these illnesses.  A good friend of mine also told me that going public would change my career in a very dramatic way – he was completely right, in ways that I totally failed to anticipate.

Three years later, this public conversation has evolved into something more.  I’ve always enjoyed writing, but had basically given up the art of writing fiction.  That changed around 2015, when, during one of my down periods, I decided to try it again, remembering the joy and therapeutic value I got from it.  Reading Fan Girl by Rainbow Rowell at around the same time certainly helped remind me!

That, in essence, was the start of Redemption, my fiction book that will be premiering in the first half of 2017.  I’ll have more to say as the book gets closer to release.  The basic plot is this: A group of young adults find themselves transported onto a spaceship, and they have to save the world. What makes this one a bit different is the main character, who suffers from anxiety and depression. Sounds familiar, right?

If you are interested, I discuss the book, my own battles and the importance of telling your story in this podcast with my friend Kim Plyler of Sahl Communications.

Obviously I wrote this book to tell a story, and I think it’s an important one: Depression and anxiety are real, they are treatable, but they don’t have to stop you from doing important things and living/enjoying your life.  I discuss all that and more in the podcast, and I hope it’s something you can listen to!

Fangirl: The book that reminded me that Writing = Therapy

As I’ve said before, one of the things that has helped me cope with my anxiety/depression issues.  There’s a few reasons for this, and I’ll get into that shortly, but I wanted to write what basically amounts to a thank you note to Rainbow Rowell, author of Fangirl, and talk a little bit about how I found a wonderful creative outlet…and, maybe, how you can too.

First, my personal history.  Ever since 8th grade, I’ve loved to write.  Like most young, male teenage authors, the first thing I ever wrote was…uhh, Star Wars fan fiction.  It was terrible, but that’s completely besides the point.  At the time, it made me extremely happy, and why not?  It gave me the opportunity to create, and feel like I was part of a franchise that I adored.  During my teenage years, writing continued – I wrote two full-length novels (unpublished, of course, probably because they were pretty bad).  In college, as the anxiety and stress continued, I tried my hand at poetry.  Again, it gave me…something.  The chance to express what I was feeling, and in putting it on paper, leave a piece of it behind.

What I remember the most about these novels, even more than their plot, is that they helped me cope.  Novel number one was about my family history, the loneliness that came with it and just being a teenager in general.  Number two was working through some of the challenges I had in my family at the time.

Both novels gave me hope.  They gave me a sense of control.  And in my worst, most loneliest moments, they gave me something to hold onto.  Not for nothing, but novel #2 never made it through revisions.  Once I came to peace with what was happening in my life, I more or less stopped writing it.

This was all in high school.  Fast forward fifteen years: I’m married, two wonderful kids and a State Representative.  To my surprise, I managed to achieve a dream and become a published author, but a non-fiction book: Tweets and Consequences.  

It was around the first half of 2015 that I hit a rough patch with my depression, arguably one of the rougher ones I had hit in years, maybe even since college, when my depression and anxiety really first began/exploded onto the scene.  At the time, I remember feeling misreable and just so helpless, searching desperately for a way out that I just couldn’t find.

What wound up pushing me to a better place was writing.  And what helped get me there was Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.  From the book:

In Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl, Cath is a Simon Snow fan. Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan, but for Cath, being a fan is her life-and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.

Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.

Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.

Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words . . . And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.

For Cath, the question is: Can she do this? Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?

The book resonated with me because the main character, Cath, is clearly having major adjustment issues to college (as I had) and discovering who she is.  She uses her writing to cope and get her to a better place, and the book details her struggle in terms of finding a voice that is authentic and truly belongs to her.  Cath is clearly a talented writer, and the book explores her writing journey, meshing with her adjustment to college, family separation, romantic experiences, academic struggles and more.  I’d also argue – and many others have also made this comment – that Cath is clearly suffering from some form of depression.

And that is exactly where the book hits a chord for me.  I remember there being one scene where Cath is in an advanced writing class with older students, and the professor – a big time author, if memory serves – is asking the class why they write.  One student answered “therapy.”  And that’s a note that just rang so, so true to me.

For me, writing was always a therapy for a variety of reasons:

  • It allowed an escape.  An idealized world where every situation could be reasonably thought through, all alternatives explored, and all potential problems dealt with accordingly.
  • It allowed me the chance to work through problems, to put myself in someone else’s shoes.  In a sense, I think writing allows you to sort the various parts of your head and put them somewhere better.
  • It allows you to mark the moment.  And I don’t mean remember.  I mean something stronger.  To carve it into your consciousness and make sure that the emotional core of an event – everything you are trying to deal with – are always remembered.  Every feeling, every sensation.
  • You can play God.  Play the hero, play the villain, whatever you want.
  • Ideally, you can work through your past, and channel it into something good.  I think that’s an important theme of my overall mental health journey: Once I realized I could go public, and help other people in the course of doing so, I became a better public official and a better person.

To those of you who write, in any form, for mental health purposes – I feel you.  And to those of you who don’t – maybe give it a go.