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




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