Back to the Good Stuff

There’s always someone who is looking for a reason to witness tomorrow.

It’s heartbreaking to see stories of people with promising lives who were struggling with depression and eventually get to the point when they decide not living is going to feel better than continuing the fight. As a person who has been on both sides of the story, I know the feeling of being hopeless as well as being a survivor and never wanting anyone else to ever feel like that.

Recently a few friends have come to confide and ask for advice on dealing with depression or anxiety and what will help. Truthfully there is no one thing that will work for every person. Depression isn’t so black and white. In most cases you’ll have to try a few different things to figure out what works for you.

First I usually suggest things that can be done solo and there’s a few reasons for that. I find that even though people know they are struggling, they aren’t quite comfortable with reaching out for psychiatric help or even help from their families. Activities such as writing or drawing or taking long walks can give someone a channel for their anxiety and even get their mind clear enough that they come to the realization that they need to reach out and get the help they need. No matter how much you want someone to help themselves, they will only do something if they want to.

Next is when I suggest reaching out to a doctor, counselor, or even pastor. It is their job to help you. They WANT to help you. Believe it or not, they enjoy witnessing you feel better.

Finally, and probably most importantly, is to be conscious of who you are surrounding yourself with. The people in your life have such an amazing impact. For the good and the bad sometimes. When you have people in your life who want to succeed, that’s when you succeed. If there are individuals in your life who cause more heartache than happiness, then they are not beneficial to you. I’m not saying to cut everyone off who challenges you, sometimes you need the slap in the face from people who love you (thanks McMahon family for mine) to realize your worth. Surround yourself with people who are deserving of your love. It’ll make all the difference in the world.
You’re never alone. I promise. You always have a friend with the initials B.A.M. 😉💚😘.

Hot Mess – Joe Mazza


by Joe Mazza



My friend Bryn McMahon, who together with Nick Provenzano helped me find the strength to use my voice, asked me to write this post on her new blog. I’ve known about it for a month now, and of course here we are on the day it’s due, at the end of the day – and I’m just starting to write it. But part of who I am IS being a procrastinator, and I’ve been that way as long as I can remember. Recently I heard Penn professor Adam Grant speak in his new TedTALK entitled, The Surprising Habits of Original Thinkers.


Grant, with the research to back him, actually made me feel comfortable in my own skin in regards to the concept of procrastination. I’ve lived my life feeling like that it was one of my day to day weaknesses that I’d never overcome. But could it actually be a strength in disguise?



I continue to learn more about procrastination, and am hoping to do a @MCiLAB podcast with Adam Grant soon. It’s the latest in this new “personal learning journey” I’ve been on since a small pituitary brain tumor was discovered in an MRI 12 months ago. Since then, neuroscience has become a topic of great interest to me personally. I am taking medication to offset my symptoms as a band-aid, but I want to learn, without medication, how to take good care of myself. As time goes by, I am beginning to take what I learned and relate it directly to my main jobs as an educator, husband and father.  Sometimes I am successful. Sometimes I come up well short. But I am very conscious of it today. Think of it as the flight attendant says: “Put the oxygen mask on yourself before you help the person next to you.”



I started learning about the brain from reading one of the books recommended by a colleagues, John Medina’s 12 Brain Rules. I used Medina’s book to teach an online course on Instructional Design course to one of the fastest growing companies out there, Slack, Inc. I taught this course to twenty of their employees in San Francisco, Vancouver, Dubin, and Australia. In a period of six weeks, I worked across their customer service employees on design and brain-based thinking to support them in meeting the needs of their users. It was a terrific and humbling experience on a number of levels, as I became an uberfan of design and brain-based thinking. Medina’s book is now on my syllabus for the upcoming term.



Apologies for putting the Lego Movie soundtrack in your head just then.

So here I am. 38. Married. Two kids. I’ve earned three University degrees. I’ve held various respectable positions as an educator, school principal and now a professor at Penn. If you stumbled across my Facebook page after not seeing me since childhood, you’d think I was living the best life possible, traveling all over the country speaking, writing books, doing some really innovative and unprecedented research. To top it all off, I have a beautiful wife who is also an educator and great mother to our kids. How could life get more exciting and fulfilling in the home stretch of my thirties!?



The truth, though, is pretty disappointing. I’m a miserable S.O.B.. I couldn’t get out of bed this morning.

I put on a happy face most of the time to hide my emotions in front of others who ARE having a good day and a good life. I think, why bring others down. If I just keep working I won’t think about it. It’ll get better at some point.

Before the MRI on my brain, I had no idea there was even a problem. Now, the only thing I know to do is to keep learning more about it and talk openly to others about it – both those with similar conditions who have the ability to empathize, but also and equally important, those who keep asking me what’s wrong and can’t understand why I wouldn’t be “happy as a clam” with all I have going on.

This morning I had an emotional argument with my wife, which ended in me heading off to work so I wouldn’t be late for a meeting. Needless to say we did not end the interaction with any kind of productive or promising closure.

How did it (or does it usually) start?

I laid in bed too long. I didn’t help her in the middle of the night when a kid was crying. I didn’t get up and help her in the morning. I didn’t eat breakfast. I couldn’t find my socks. I wasn’t appreciative of all she does around the house. I didn’t compliment her. I didn’t come to bed on time. I just sit there and stare off to space. I don’t smile. I don’t ever stop working. I could care less about our family.

All of what she says is true.  Except for that last part. I actually care more about my family than anything in life. It is the reason I am out of my comfort zone writing about these struggles right now. I hope someone reading it will feel comfortable in reaching out to empathize with my situation. I can see the major strides I’ve made in my own personal growth, some of which I will omit from this post. However, bringing ADHD and depression with me to work and back home each day IS WHO I AM. It is my responsibility as a father, husband, educator to learn as much as I can about it, and respond according to what we have learned about the brain through past, present and future studies. It’s simple:

  • If I choose not to listen, ignore and go about life, all of what she said is true.
  • If I choose to continue to miss therapy appointments, all of what she said is true.
  • If I don’t start being a role model for my kids (knowing there is a real chance they may deal with similar challenges), all of what she said is true.


THE FACTS, as we know them here in 2016

Almost 7% of the U.S. population (350 million people) are diagnosed with depression.

Clinical depression is a serious condition that negatively affects how a person thinks, feels, and behaves. In contrast to normal sadness, clinical depression is persistent, and significantly interferes with daily life. Untreated, symptoms can last for weeks, months, or years; and if inadequately treated, depression can lead to other health-related issues. The symptoms include:

  • Depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day
  • Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in activities most of the day, nearly every day
  • Changes in appetite that result in weight losses or gains unrelated to dieting
  • Changes in sleeping patterns
  • Loss of energy or increased fatigue
  • Restlessness or irritability
  • Feelings of anxiety
  • Feelings of worthlessness, helplessness, or hopelessness
  • Inappropriate guilt
  • Difficulty thinking, concentrating, or making decisions
  • Thoughts of death or attempts at suicide


(Sources: National Institute of Mental Health and NMWC, 2016)

There’s nothing funny or weak about any of this. If you are feeling a certain way about yourself it’s time to gather some information about yourself. Its time to start looking at mental health as freely as going to the gym. To be physically healthy and mentally healthy IS to be healthy. Make it your mission to learn as much as you can about it how you feel, and why. There is a reason and it is not “that’s just the way I am.” Those of us that grew up in the “stay away from that kid he’s weird” generation did not get brain-based advice. If you see someone struggling, find a way to connect with them.

Suggestion: Follow a few resources and groups on your social media channels so you are automatically exposed to how many people are dealing with these challenges. You are not alone.  And you don’t have to be.


Joe Mazza




I’ve struggled with depression for about 8 years and have tried many different types of therapies and anti depressants. The key to overcoming your depression is to find a good balance between healthy things that you enjoy and that are good for you.

I’ve seen first hand what happens when family members try to commit suicide and how much of an eye opener it is. They were saved by their own choices to speak up and tell someone about what they had done and what they were feeling. Depression can hind in some people for a long time without people noticing so it’s always good to check up on people you care about or worried about. After spending time in rehab they are doing better and have learned to cope with their sickness. Suicide attempts are something serious that changes a person even if it’s not their battle to fight. Learning more about this disease will also be able to help you if you ever feel like you are going down a bad path.

I remember exactly how I felt when I was at my worse and I remember I felt absolutely nothing. No emotions at all. No happy or sad no contentment no excitement. One of the first things you start to feel might very well be nothing at all. No one knew how I was feeling only because I chose not to tell anyone. I didn’t want them to feel burdened by something they could not control. I looked perfectly fine, still going to school, and working but overwhelmed with anxiety. Some days it literally hurt to get out of bed and if I got up and dressed that was a big success for me. I knew I was depressed when my favorite things didn’t feel the same anymore. Seeing my little sister no longer left like the greatest feeling in the world it felt like nothing. I also lost all my appetite. I had no energy to eat which of course left me with even less energy. After seeking treatment at a rehab facility for a few weeks I came out of there knowing exactly how I could help myself. It was hard and I felt embarrassed asking for help but after I did I felt like a normal person.

It might have to get a lot worse before it gets better, but you will get better if you ask for help. You have to get all the bad stuff out before you can get to the good stuff, but it will absolutely get better in time. You have to love yourself so that you can love other people the same way. I think one of the main reasons why people don’t talk too much about depression is that people have a hard time understanding depression. It comes in many different ways and has no prejudices. “Depression is a flaw in chemistry not character“. I think it’s important to remember the depression just like diabetes and addiction is a medical condition. The more people start to look at depression something they have no control over the more people will start to fully understand it. But just like how you can take medication to help with diabetes sometimes one of the ways people treat depression is like taking medication.

My sister has been one of my biggest supports. Hearing comforting words from someone who’s been through so much is the most help and beautiful thing in the world to me. So find someone in your life who you can trust and feel comfortable with to help you get through whatever you need help with! Maybe they go for a walk with you or to a therapy session but it will be a billion times less painful with a friend close by! Never be afraid to ask for help never be ashamed of what makes you, you! Always keep the good vibes coming.

Brenda Harbison

Post One

“I could never imagine you doing that.”

One of the common responses I receive after I tell people how I was paralyzed. I honestly want to tell them that I could never imagine myself doing it either. And while it seems like forever ago, it amazes me how one day could change my entire life and the lives of the people around me.

March 29, 2010

The day everything changed. Still to this day I’m not sure how it happened. How did I let things get so bad? How did I not realize that feeling like that was unhealthy? How did I not know that ending my life is never the solution to any problem? And how can I stop this from anyone else?

The hardest thing about depression is that you don’t choose if it will affect you and then you’re expected to know exactly how to deal with it. You feel like nothing yet simultaneously feel like a burden to everyone around you. In my case, asking for help never even crossed my mind because I felt that I could handle and solve my own problems. Little did I know that asking for help could have stopped this from ever happening.

Spotting the signs

Depression can be nearly impossible detect in friends and family. Most people suffering want to hide the signs as much as possible because we’ve been stigmatized to feel like being depressed is a made up feeling. And to make it worse, the depression makes you feel like you’re not even worth being helped and that everyone’s lives would be significantly better without you. In reality, the people who love you will be heartbroken that they couldn’t help or that you weren’t comfortable enough to ask them for help. One of the hardest things I’ve done in my life is explaining to my family and best friends that this whole thing wasn’t because of them. It wasn’t because they didn’t love me enough. It was because I was fighting my own demons and finally I let them win.

Six years later…

I’m still amazed that I didn’t die on March 29, 2010. It still amazes me that I actually got a second chance to live these past six years. Things have been far from perfect since then and I can’t say that I cured my depression because honestly, my depression will never be cured. There will be some days when the emotions come flooding back. The difference is that now I know how to stop them. It’s an ongoing battle that you will gradually find tools to fight. I honestly am not a fan of when people tell me I’m “so strong” after what happened to me because I didn’t have a choice. I had to muster all the strength I had because I could never put my loved ones through that again. They’re the strong ones. And so are the people who have and continue to battle depression. Everyone deserves to be happy, sometimes your brain just makes it more difficult to get there. Keep on fighting, the pay off will be worth it. I promise.

With love,

Bryn Anne McMahon