Elaine feels scared of everything, and she doesn’t always know why . . . but she doesn’t want to miss out on all the exciting things her friends get to do. Luckily for Elaine, her best friend Lou is here to help!
The Girl Who Was Scared of Everything is based on debut author and illustrator Emma Pascoe’s personal experiences of anxiety and depression. Originally created as an outlet for her feelings, feedback and encouragement from her friends and family inspired Pascoe to turn her work into a children’s book.
We asked Emma some questions about this special new children's book, released today.
What or who inspired you to write The Girl Who Was Scared Of Everything?
It really started out as a personal coping technique - something for me to occupy my mind with. I wanted to create the kind of book I would have related to when I was an anxious child.
How does writing and illustrating work for you as an outlet for your feelings, particularly around anxiety and depression?
Being creative helps my anxiety as it gives me something positive to focus on, leaving less space in my mind for anxious thoughts. It has also helped my depression because it gives me a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day whenever I create something new.
However I do want to acknowledge that when I was at my lowest point, I lost interest in all my hobbies - this technique only works for me now that I have spent years in therapy, found the right medication, and am at a fairly stable point in my life. It is more of a “maintenance” strategy, not a cure-all.
One in five New Zealand children will be diagnosed with some form of anxiety disorder by the age of 19. Do you have any ideas as to why it is so prevalent in our country?
I think that many New Zealanders still have a “tough it out” mentality that creates a lot of shame for people who are struggling with their mental health. It is such a dangerous mentality as it creates societal barriers for people who want to seek help. I hope that the next generation of children can grow up in a society where discussing mental health is just as socially acceptable as discussing the flu, or a broken bone.
What other strategies do you use to stay calm and positive?
I went through several years of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, which has helped immensely. I also take SSRI’s - I think it is really important to be open about medication where possible, as it is more commonly used than many people realise. On top of that, I use a lot of positive self-talk, self-soothing and grounding techniques to bring myself “back to reality”.
As a teenager, whenever I was anxious and overwhelmed, my mum always taught me to “break things up into manageable chunks”. We would write down the things I was worried about and make a plan for addressing each one. I still call on this strategy almost every day. The world can feel overwhelming when you have anxiety, but I find that addressing one worry at a time makes it a lot more manageable for me.
Strategies for managing mental health are highly personal, and what works for me won’t necessarily work for someone else!
Do you think that facing your fears can help combat anxiety?
The short answer is yes.
The long answer is that facing your fears will always be uncomfortable - but learning to tolerate discomfort in order to overcome fears is important and empowering. And while some people can manage anxiety and face fears on their own, others need some extra help from loved ones and/or mental health professionals. I think it is really important to acknowledge and normalise this.
You say that your dream is to introduce children to the concept of exposure therapy through your book. Please tell us more about this.
Exposure therapy really helped me as a young teenager, but it’s hard to explain to a child that things will get worse before they get better. I want the book to show them that while facing fears can be difficult, they don’t have to face it alone, and that some short-term discomfort will pay off in the long run.
How can parents, caregivers and educators empower children to face their fears and/or manage their anxiety?
Education and awareness are so important. I was very privileged to have parents with a high level of health literacy, who didn’t make me feel ashamed of how I felt, and made sure I received the help I needed. Adults need to create a safe space in which children are free to process their emotions.
Do you think children still tough it out, rather than owning their feelings of anxiety?
Absolutely. If children are taught that emotions like sadness, fear and grief should be hidden away, it only makes it harder for them to seek help when they need it. Gender is also a very relevant factor here - boys are often told to “man up” or that “only girls cry” - which is, of course, incorrect, and contributes to the shame that many boys and men associate with mental illness.
What’s next for you, after the publication of The Girl Who Was Scared of Everything?
I would love to create more books in the future - I have a few half-formed ideas, but I'm just focusing on The Girl Who Was Scared Of Everything for now! Taking things one step at a time.