The first review is in for Redemption!

Okay, this made me really happy. G.S. Jennsen, author of STARSHINE, was kind enough to review Redemption. The review below and it’s…well, it’s good, and that’s awesome. ūüôā I’m glad she enjoyed it, and I hope you will too.

As a reminder, Redemption comes out on June 5. You can pre-order a print copy now for just $3.99.

Review below:

“A moving, hopeful tale of personal struggle and unlikely heroism masquerading as an adrenaline-fueled sci-fi action thriller of a novel.

Like the characters onboard the Redemption, we as readers are thrown into the middle of a crisis on page one; like those characters, we have absolutely NO IDEA what‚Äôs going on. Thus begin the dual journeys of the reader and the Redemption crew‚ÄĒjourneys that travel through terror, shock, anger, despondency and renewed hope. Several times.

In the early pages of the book, I wasn‚Äôt sure that Ash Maddox, a young man thrust into the role of captain of a spaceship under the worst possible circumstances, was going to be able to successfully carry the mantle of leadership or of primary protagonist. In fairness, Ash wasn‚Äôt sure, either. But he surprised us both. As much as Redemption is a pulse-pounding action tale of the race to retrieve a cure for an alien virus and save Earth from a deadly epidemic, it‚Äôs a thoughtful, inspiring tale of a group of people fighting through adversity, fear and their own personal demons‚ÄĒnot to mention mysterious enemies frequently shooting at them‚ÄĒto rise above their circumstances, come together and become, yes, heroes.

Of course, it isn‚Äôt quite that simple or straightforward; in good stories it never is. But the Ash we leave at the end of the book is not the same man we met on page one. Other characters evolve as well, but it‚Äôs Ash‚Äôs journey that truly matters here. After all, he is the captain.”

Why “Redemption”

As I said in an entry the other day, I have a book coming out on June 5. It’s called¬†Redemption,¬†and it’s about depression, anxiety and saving the world. From the blurb:

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 ‚Äď 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.

Now, here’s the question I keep getting: Why is it called¬†Redemption?

First is the obvious: It’s the name of the ship. But it’s the name of the ship in the book for a reason.

Okay. So I wrote this thing not just to tell a science fiction story, but to tell a story of mental illness and give those who suffer hope. That’s sort of been my driving force, as an elected official and advocate for the mentally ill. And to be perfectly honest, that permeates just about every facet of the book. Including the name of the ship.

I named it Redemption because I think the idea of guilt – and seeking¬†Redemption –¬†was and is a big part of my depression. Guilt is a common symptom of depression. It’s something I certainly got to know in a very personal way. And I spent most of my life searching for redemption.¬†I desperately wanted to be redeemed from some unknown sin. And I think that’s something that’s relatively common among those who have suffered.

The entire plot is, at it’s core, a redemption story, but not from a sin: From mental illness, from depression and from anxiety. It’s a redemption that I think we all strive for. In my experience, it’s almost not complete obtainable. Personally, I know I will never be completely free from mental illness. It will always be there, running in the background like an iPhone app. Recovery isn’t an end state, it’s a journey. And that’s a lesson I that I have tried to learn all my life, and a journey I try to highlight in Redemption.

As always, I’d love to have your thoughts. Is this an experience you understand? No? Either way, let us know in the comments!

Redemption: Coming out on June 5, and now available for pre-order

Alrighty. I mentioned this one in an earlier blog entry, but some fun personal news to report: Redemption, my young adult, science fiction novel that features a character with depression and anxiety, will be available on June 5. Even better, you can pre-order it for the Kindle here. For more information, check out my website.

Summary below. And more later, or sure. For now, I’m gonna bask in the glow of this one. I worked really hard to make this happen. And I’m so excited that you will all get to read this story soon.

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 ‚Äď 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.

Finding the good in the bad

A sweet moment to share, and one that I hope will give you a little bit of inspiration if you are starting today in a difficult way.

Last week, I had very minor surgery on my hand. Long story short, I had my FOURTH freakin “Trigger Finger” and the third operation for such a problem.

What is a Trigger Finger, you ask? Remember the movie Rookie of the Year? That. In my fingers. It’s not even really all that painful, particularly compared to the surgery or the annoyance afterwards, but you do need to get it taken care of or your finger can get stuck. That’s a terrifying thought, so under the knife I went.

All went well and my hand is now just really sore. It also has stitches in it until Friday, and if you’ve had stitches before, you know what that means: Keep it dry. This, of course, is easier said than done.

One of the biggest problems for me? My puffy, puffy head. Untreated, my hair looks like a birds nest of curls and thorns, and requires copious amounts of gel to allow me to be presentable to the general public. And, with stitches in my hand, this presents a problem. I can one hand it, but the gel is really thick and then gets distributed in a big clump across one side of my hand, leaving me half-froed, half Gordon Gekko.

Above: No.

So this is the part of the story where I scream for my five year old daughter, Ayla.

First post surgery day, I get my little girl.¬† “Ayla!¬† I¬†neeeeeeed¬†you.” She comes in and mushes her hands up in the gel, giggling and talking about how gross it is. She runs it through my hair, with me screaming the whole time. Then we look in the mirror and I go, “Good job! I don’t look like a train wreck anymore!” A minute or so with the comb later, and I am as ready for the public as I will ever be.

First day we do this, Ayla’s cracking up. Every day since then, she’s looked forward to it. And I realized something: I made a nice little memory for her. And I certainly made a good one for me.

Here’s the point: Every problem creates an opportunity for joy. Every bad experience can turn into something good. In large and small ways, try to figure out how you can turn each annoyance into a great memory.

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.

Anxiety, relaxation and HAHAHAHA

(The “HAHAHAHA” is totally sarcastic)

So, as I write this entry, my in-laws are playing with my kids and having a great time. ¬†My wife and I have been pleasantly chatting – I’m off this week, and we’ve got some nice plans. ¬†Everything should be relatively calm and relaxed.

And yet, I can’t relax.

To be fair, I can never relax.

Everyone around me has always noted me to be so high-strung it’s almost comedic. ¬†And, to be fair, it is. ¬†I’m that guy. ¬†The guy who spends Friday night worrying about what kind of work he’s going to have to get done on Monday. ¬†The guy who wakes up early – all the time – to get stuff done. ¬†The guy whose favorite website is his online to do list.

So, why? ¬†In part, I’ve always chalked up my complete and total inability to let go to my anxiety issues, which is a¬†generalized anxiety disorder.

All of this being said, being unable to relax isn’t exclusively related to anxiety. ¬†And being anxious doesn’t mean you can’t relax. ¬†I do have fun. I have hobbies. ¬†I love video games. ¬†I write, and I have constantly found salvation in creativity. ¬†My job is a huge source of anxiety for me, but it is also an unending source of pride. ¬†When it goes well, it goes¬†really¬†well.

All of that being said, there’s no doubt in my mind that anxiety and an inability to calm down – even at moments when I am not “anxious” – are related. ¬†That’s because anxiety and depression never really go away. ¬†I’d categorize myself right now as in a pretty good spot – I don’t find myself actively suffering from depression, and I haven’t had a full-blown, hardcore anxiety attack in over a year. ¬†But, that doesn’t meant that it’s ever not there, lurking somewhere in the background. ¬†One of the hardest things for me to recognize is that anxiety and depression never truly leave you. ¬†I’ve recently come to the conclusion that both are somewhat similar to being addicted to something. ¬†You never truly “recover” – you are just in recovery. ¬†And there is a big, big difference. ¬†Being in recovery means that you are on a constant journey, a spectrum. ¬†Recovery isn’t an end state.

Which brings me back to the crux of my entry. ¬†And, keep in mind, this isn’t just me being whiny – check out this article from Psychology Today in 2013:

…research has shown that stress, anxiety and depression, which come on the heels of this kind of non-stop pressure to achieve, physically interfere with the body‚Äôs relaxation mechanisms.

No kidding.

So, the general conclusion of this entry is this: If you are an anxious, high-stress person to begin with, you don’t just get anxious during anxiety-inducing situations. ¬†You can anxious – and stay anxious – all of the time.

If you are one of these people, odds are good that you know exactly what I am talking about.  If you are not, I hope this is insightful, in that it shows how difficult living with a mental health condition can be.  I frequently compare mental health with physical health.  This is another example.  Mental illness is a chronic condition.  Just like constant pain, it never really goes away.

All of this being said, anyone out there know what I am talking about and want to chime in?  Your opinions, as always, are welcome and appreciated.  Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Mental Health & College

As I wrote yesterday, depression and mental health is a hugely personal issue for me. ¬†I’ve suffered from depression and anxiety in some form or fashion since I was in 8th grade, but didn’t actively seek treatment for it until college, when the adjustment to a brand new environment, combined with my already existing issues, pushed me into therapy.

I was lucky. ¬†I graduated from Muhlenberg College, and Rick at the counseling center saved my life Freshman year. ¬†And yes, I do mean that literally. ¬†He got me through the transition into college, the breakup with my girlfriend from home, and a slew of other challenges. ¬†When it became apparent that talking wasn’t enough, he helped me locate a psychiatrist at home who first prescribed me medication.

The reason I have been thinking about this is because of my real job. ¬†As part of it, I’ve been reading a fascinating, in-depth study on suicide in college students, complete with specific recommendations for how to reduce them. ¬†This, naturally, brought me back to college, and had me thinking about how lucky I was.

But what about those who aren’t so lucky?

Look, college is insanely stressful. ¬†It’s a time period in which many mental health challenge first manifest themselves¬†(75% of all mental illnesses onset by age 24), and that’s why it is so important that college students (well, everyone, obviously) have knowledge about what sort of mental health resources are available to them – and access to them in the first place.

I did a little bit more research into the specific issue of colleges and mental health.  The results are difficult to swallow.  According to this USA Today article, the issue is rapidly becoming an increasing problem on campus.  A survey of college administrators said that mental health is their top concern on campus.  The same article also found:

“…institutional enrollment grew by 5.6% between 2009 and 2015, while the number of students seeking services increased by 29.6%, and the number of attended appointments by 38.4%.”

There’s actually good news in this article:

This new demand for mental health services reflects a number of positive trends ‚ÄĒ breaking down of stigmas, more diverse student bodies, greater access to college. But it also puts colleges in a difficult position.

Many colleges Рlike Muhlenberg Рhave their own counseling centers on campus.  Students can confidentially make appointments and talk about their problems with a trained professional.  And, as these studies illuminate, this is exactly why it is so important that all colleges have some sort of mental health support system.  Three things in particular strike me:

  1. Colleges must have easily accessible mental health resources, be it on-campus counseling centers or the ability to refer a student to a trained professional off campus.
  2. Colleges must be aggressive in letting their students know what resources are available to them. ¬†The greatest counseling center in the world isn’t going to do a lick of good if students don’t know what’s there for them. ¬†This is why legislation like Madison’s Law is so important. ¬†This proposal, recently enacted in New Jersey and named after Madison Holleran (a University of Pennsylvania Freshman who killed herself), requires that:

    An institution of higher education shall have individuals with training and experience in mental health issues who focus on reducing student suicides and attempted suicides available on campus or remotely by telephone or other means for students 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  The individuals shall also work with faculty and staff on ways to recognize the warning signs and risk factors associated with student suicide.

    No later than 15 days following the beginning of each semester, an institution of higher education shall transmit to each student via electronic mail the contact information of the individuals required pursuant to subsection a. of this section.

    In Pennsylvania, this legislation has been introduced by my colleague, Rep. Tim Briggs.

  3. We must continue to endeavor to destimagtize mental illness. ¬†The stigma that surrounds mental health continues to keep people away from available treatment. ¬†That’s why anti-stigma campaigns – and putting a personal face to mental illness – is so important.

I’ll certainly have more to say later, but this is obviously an important issue when it comes to mental health. ¬†And one more thing: The more I dive into this area, the more I find just how important it is to not approach mental health as a monolithic block. ¬†We have to approach each subgroup differently (college students, first responders, LGBT, etc) while pushing towards the overall goal of reducing stigma and helping all people find peace.