Don’t give up: The puppy version

If you’ve read my blog for a few months, you may remember how much I love dogs.


The above is Molly, who my then-fiance and I adopted in July 2009. She was with us before marriage, kids, numerous jobs, two published books and ten elections. Unfortunately, we lost Molly in April to cancer. It was, thankfully, very sudden, and very quick. She didn’t suffer.

At the time, I wrote about how heartbreaking it was, and how much pain we were all in. I also said that yes, we’d get a dog again, because we loved them and it was worth all the joy they brought.

Fast forward to July, and enter Mack:


Mack was a two year old rescue from the Lehigh County Humane Society, a wonderful place where we got our Molly. He was a stray and very good…with adults. With kids, we struggled. Most of the time he was fine. On occasion, he was not, and there were a few incidents of him being more aggressive than he should have been (with, which a dog and kids, is any aggression at all). While he never bit the kids, he came too close with snapping. That, combined with the way he was with other dogs, forced us to end our fostering and return him to the shelter.

We were really broken up about it. He had issues, but the vast majority of the time, he was just a big marshmallow. I was very sad, because he was “my” dog – we totally bonded.

That being said, the house was empty.

Bren and I spoke and nothing seemed right. Now that we felt as if we had moved on from our grieving period with Molly, the house was empty. There was no one to take on walks. No four-legged friend to cuddle with. No water dish to keep filled.

So, back to the drawing board. We looked up a few rescue organizations and planned on spending the weekend checking out the dogs. We get to the first appointment, and…well…..

Meet the puppy called Luna, at least for now.

Why, on a depression blog, am I writing about dead doggos, failed-failed-foster dogggos, and new doggos?

Well, more or less to prove a point.

Losing Molly was, truly, one of the most grief-inducing experiences of my life. It really was. I suppose I should count my blessings at that statement, in a way, but losing Molly was so painful. I didn’t realize just how much I loved her until she was gone. And then losing Mack, even though returning him was unquestionably the right call, compounded the sense of loss and added a sprinkling of failure. I did like that dog – a lot – and I felt terrible to return a dog which was wonderful and trustworthy most of the time. But most of the time isn’t enough when it comes to a big dog and kids.

Here’s my point: We tried again. And we tried again. And we kept trying. And now, because we refuse to give up, we’ve got a really nice puppy. Luna is snuggly and sweet and I can’t imagine caring about a new doggo more. The metaphor here is obvious. Don’t give up.

Five years public: A reflection and a request

It’s Sunday evening as I type this, and it is a beautiful night. And, as Facebook was kind enough to remind me, it’s also a sad anniversary: Today, five years ago, we lost Robin Williams to suicide.

William’s suicide inspired a slew of memorials, sadness and outpourings of grief. It also reinvigorated a conversation about mental illness in American society that desperately needed to happen – and now, needs to continue. Williams had always struggled with mental illness and addiction, and had always been very open about his pain. Now, the extent of his demons were laid bare for all to see.

I was letting my dog out in the backyard when my wife texted me the news of William’s death and suicide. And it hit me hard. As I’ve said repeatedly, if a man like Robin William’s could lose his battle, what hope did I have?

Then, while scrolling through a Facebook status, this comment, from someone I defriended on the spot: “So sad Robin Williams committed suicide. He just needed more faith in Jesus!”

That comment crystallized it for me: People really were this dumb about mental illness.

And that resulted in this Op-Ed in the Allentown Morning Call, by State Representative Mike Schlossberg: Reflections on a Personal Journey with Depression.

From the op-ed, words I had never said publicly before:

It was October 2001 when I began my journey with depression. A freshman at Muhlenberg College, I had been sad before, but never like this. It was a hopelessness that felt like a black cloud smothering everything I did.

It felt like my future was a wall — that there would never be any brighter days. I didn’t know I was suffering from depression at the time, but I do remember I couldn’t see any hope. The words of friends and parents were largely irrelevant, and I didn’t understand how I would ever feel OK again. After suffering through that blackness for many weeks and months, I began to contemplate if suicide wasn’t the better option.

Monday’s tragic suicide of Robin Williams has left millions of Americans baffled. How could a man of such talent, humor and power choose to end his own life? The sad and tragic truth is that mental illness, depression and suicide know no boundaries.

My path to recovery began with Rick at the Muhlenberg College counseling center, who helped teach me how to change my thinking, cope with the stress of a new school and how to deal with a breakup with my girlfriend from New Jersey.

When it became clear words weren’t enough and the anxiety attacks began getting stronger, he recommended me to a psychiatrist, who put me on an anti-depressant and anti-anxiety pill, which I still take to this day. I type these words without any shame. Why would I be ashamed? Are any of you embarrassed to be taking Lipitor for your cholesterol or Prilosec for your heartburn?

My point is this: Millions of Americans suffer from mental illness, and millions recover. There is no shame in saying you are depressed, you are anxious, and you need help.

There are many real tragedies which flowed from Robin Williams’ death. First and foremost is the human one: A husband, father, artist and inspiration left us way too soon. But it can’t be forgotten that William’s death likely caused others to end their lives as well, as a direct result of the suicide contagion effect. One study attributed as many as potentially 2,000 suicides to William’s public suicide. This heaps unmitigated pain on a nightmare.

What studies like this don’t quantify is how many others, like me, chose to go public in the aftermath of William’s suicide. I was one of many, many people to do so – and I can’t imagine the collective, positive impact that all of us combined have made. Nothing occurs in isolation. My struggle and the hope that I hope I was able to inspire only came from William’s suicide.

So today, on this important five year anniversary for me, a request: Share your story, share your pain. It doesn’t require an op-ed or a Facebook status. But relieve yourself of the secret shame which may be surrounding you. It doesn’t have to be bottled up. If my experience as a public official has shown anything to me, it’s that the general public is much more understanding than I ever would have anticipated. Telling my story has improved my life in a million different ways, and many of them deeply personal.

Tell your story. Tell it loudly, proudly and publicly. Be part of the moment which saves someone else.


The Spades Trilogy & Redemption: An Update!

One of the basic principles of blogging is to not be too self-promotional – say, promote yourself 1 out of every 10 entries. This webpage is hosted on “” so it’s probably no surprise for you to hear that I’ve done this, in part, to help promote my book, Redemption.

That being said, I, err…forgot to promote the book on the blog. My bad.

For those of you who are unaware, I wrote a book! Redemption is a Young Adult, Mental Health, Science Fiction tale on depression, anxiety and saving the world:

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.

If you’re interested, go here for ordering info (including how to order a copy direct from me), or here to order off Amazon. You can also download the first chapter, absolutely free.

The book came out a year ago, so, let me give an update about what’s next!

The Trilogy

It is the Spades Trilogy, after all, so you may be wondering, where is Book Two?

Here’s the good news: It is actually written. So, yay! My publisher currently has it, and I’m hoping it will enter the editing process in the near future. It required some rewrites to make it a better product, so that slowed things down a bit, but appropriately so: I’d rather get something to you that’s really good than something that’s been done really quick.

I’m not sharing the title yet, but I will, I promise. I’ll say this: The original title was Reclamation. That got changed because it just sounded weird and didn’t work with the theme of the book. Also, my wife made fun of me, saying it wasn’t a real name.

When will it be published? That one I don’t have an answer for. It depends on how long the editing process takes. My guess – and this is just a guess – is at least a year.

And, for the record, Book Three is also written, and I should finish my edits on it within a month or so. So, yes, I know how the story ends. But that one is nowhere near ready for publication.

The writing process is a long one. The first book took four years, start to finish – although that was because I also had to get a book proposal ready and find a publisher. Hopefully 2 & 3 won’t be as long.

Writing about depression, anxiety, Spades, Ash, Alexis & the rest of the crew of the Redemption has been one of the more joyful experiences I’ve had professionally. I love what the book evolved into. It has given me a chance to attack mental illness in a completely new arena, and I have loved every second of it. And I can’t wait for the rest of the story to get share with the world.

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.


Get the first chapter of Redemption for free!


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.


Redemption and me, live on TV

(Hey, if my titles rhyme more often, will I get more views?)

Anyway, morning, everyone!

As the title said, the good people at WFMZ were kind enough to interview me on Saturday. The topic was Redemption, and here’s the interview.

A sincere thanks to WFMZ for the interview. As always, if you want to purchase the book, you can get it directly from me or on Amazon.


Want to tell your story? Great. Here’s how.

Last week, I wrote an entry about why telling your story – your own personal experience with mental illness (or anything, really) is so important. Study after study shows that the best way to reduce stigma is to put a human face on it. The power of saying, “Me too” cannot be underestimated – that’s why it is literally called the #MeToo movement.

That being said, telling your story can be absolutely terrifying. You may have no idea what to say, how to say it, or what the reaction is going to be. The fundamental truth is that once you put yourself out there, there’s a before and after in your life. As I’ve said repeatedly about my own life, I found the ability to tell my story in the courage of those who told there’s. To that end: Here are some tips about what to say, and how to say it:

Pick your medium. You don’t need an op-ed. You don’t need to stand on a chair and scream, “I HAVE DEPRESSION!” Telling your story may be as simple as opening up to a friend of colleague, or resolving yourself to do so in the future. It may be a long-winded Facebook post or blog entry (and I am the MASTER of those, with an emphasis on long-winded!). In all seriousness, understand that different medium will have different impacts. Pick the one that works best for you.

Read/watch others. Reading and watching what other people have said will give you a much better idea of how to say what you want to say. You’ll learn what works and what doesn’t. More importantly, paying attention to the stories of others will remind you of a fundamental and very important truth: You aren’t the first, and you aren’t alone.

Read from the experts. Related to the point above: Read what others say when discussing your particular issue. Know what words and phrases are good, and what don’t work as well.

Understand that most people will be overwhelmingly supportive. In a weird sort of way, one of the things that disoriented me the most was how kind people were. It never felt like something that was “so brave” or anything like that – it just felt like something that had to be done. And that became almost a source of anxiety – that now I had this standard to live up to. So, as strange as it may sound, brace yourself for the weird sensation of people being really, really nice and appreciative.

Understand that some will not. There will always be morons and unkind people. Just keep in mind that when someone inevitably says something ignorant, it says more about them than you.

If medium-appropriate, make it a story. Part of making in impact with your story is telling it as a story. When I discuss my own battles, I always begin with something like this: “On August 11, 2014, my life changed forever. That was the day that Robin Williams killed himself.” I think that’s a good hook and a good way to start. Anyone reading will think, “Huh. That’s interesting. Why did that have an impact on him?” And it goes from there. Tell your story as a story. Be specific. Use visuals. Give dates, times and locations. Don’t approach your personal story as an academic book report, replete with cold numbers that fail to convey passion – tell your story with the personal power it deserves.

Understand the impact. This is the one that I missed the most. Depending on who you are and how you choose to say your piece, you may wind up having a greater impact than you realize. When I told my best friend what I was going to do, he correctly noted that this would have a much greater impact on me or my career than I could have ever anticipated. When I told my mentor, she told me that she’d be surprised if the piece I wrote didn’t make state-wide news. Both were correct. Understand that people will look at you differently – and probably in a better light.

There. Hopefully, this post can serve as a guide to help you tell your story. As always, let me conclude with a question: What did I miss? What helped you tell your story? What didn’t? Please let us know in the comments!

The importance of sharing your story

You are all probably sick of me hearing me talk about my own depression/anxiety by now, and why I made the decision to tell the world about it. But, using my personal experience, let me pivot to another topic: Why I think you should tell your story.

I shared my story as a way of trying to make people realize that anyone, anywhere can suffer from mental illness, and in an effort to help destigmatize this terrible disease. As I thrust myself into the issue, I researched more and more ways to try and do just that. What I found, uniformly, was this: The most effect way to fight the stigma that surrounds mental illness is to engage in a contact strategy.

What is a contact strategy? Well, just what it sounds like: Make sure that more people have contact with someone with mental illness. Have those people – regular, ordinary people – discuss who they are, what they suffer from, and how they are able to live a successful and productive life despite their illness.

Does the same strategy work for fighting suicide? Absolutely, and this can come from family members who have lost or those who survived a suicide attempt. While there are guidelines and best practices for sharing those stories, doing so can be hugely beneficial:

Stories of suicide loss told from the heart are powerful. They promote healing for those who are newly bereaved, educate the public about how to support survivors of suicide loss, and increase awareness of suicide risk factors and warning signs.

As you have likely seen in the news lately, many celebrities and other prominent officials have discussed their own battles with mental illness or suicidal ideation. This is wonderful in that it can lower the overall effect of stigma. But, I’ll never forget one particular piece of research that I read: While it’s important, it is not as effective as a “normal, regular” person discussing their own pain and battles. That’s because celebrities are seen as “other” – they are different than normal people in that they occupy an elevated societal plane. Thus, while celebrities going public is great, it has to come from the heart and be a ordinary person who discusses their story.

And that’s where you come in. I’ve previously noted that the most important thing I felt I did when it comes to mental illness was share my story with the world. I want to take this opportunity to encourage you to do the same. Not only is it good for everyone else – mental illness needs a human face – but it’s good for you as well! I know that sounds strange, but trust me on that. There is something deeply freeing about letting lose your deepest, darkest secret in public – particularly when that “secret” is nothing you should be ashamed of.

In the coming weeks, I’ll discuss this concept further, including tips on the best way to share your story. But for now, please, if you are able, consider going public with your mental illness. It’s the best decision I ever made in my life, and I’d encourage you to do it if you can.

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.

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.