Understanding anxiety

Karyn Connors with assitance dog Raffy. Pictures: Louisa Jones

By Casey Neill

A Geelong author’s new book gives children a glimpse into life with anxiety and an assistance dog.

Childcare centre owner Karyn Connors based Kitty and I on her experience with 6-year-old chocolate poodle Raffy.

“I’ve worked with children all my life and I was an avid reader as a child,” she said.

“I’ve always enjoyed books and reading to children, so for a long time I’ve wanted to write a children’s book.

“I’m also an artist and I was looking for a new project.

“I thought it was a good way of introducing a topic to children that is not openly discussed – that being anxiety – and also educating on assistance dogs and how they help people.”

Raffy rarely leaves Karyn’s side.

“Primarily when I’m sitting he’ll be on my knee, so the weight of him soothes me, makes me feel calmer,” she said.

“He’s very intuitive about how I’m feeling. He’ll be lying on a blanket next to me and all of a sudden he wants to get up on my knee.

“It’s an amazing sort of bond or relationship that we have.”

Raffy came into Karyn’s life when she “had a lot of things going on”.

“My mental health and even my physical health was not very good at all,” she said.

“I got a puppy just before my partner passed away and found that just having him was helpful.

“I then looked into how I could have him trained to be able to go with me everywhere, which he has over that time.

“The book is actually about that.

“One of the pages talks about how with Raffy I can go to art galleries or theatres or orchestras, things that I would otherwise not have done on my own.

“When I have Raffy with me, I feel more comfortable.”

Karyn has shared the book at schools and elaborated on her experience with anxiety.

“I explained the physical things that my body feels when I’m worried or anxious,” she said.

“I talked to them about feeling like your heart’s racing and you’ve got butterflies in your tummy.

“In the book, I tried to make it relatable to children.

“It says that whether they’re imagined or real, they’re fears that I have.

“I used a lion in the jungle, a bear in the forest, and a shark in the ocean to give children something they could grasp and understand how that would feel.”

Karyn combines different media to create her illustrations, including children’s drawings, photos, acrylic paints, and inks.

“It’s a very visually different book to the majority of other children’s books,” she said.

“I use words and imagery that I believe children can relate to, whether they’re three or nine.

“I hope that they feel more understanding of differences in people.

“Children – whether they’re in childcare, kinder, or school – will always meet people who differ from them in some way.

“I hope it gives them a better empathy and acceptance of diversity.

“So many people are touched by anxiety, whether that’s a child with anxiety themselves or a family member.

“If we allow children to be aware and educated about such mental health issues we can help them to be resilient and to develop strategies.”