The Orillia native said she’s “been battling anxiety for some time” and her experience has led to a book to “shed light on how people with anxiety navigate life.”
A local children’s author won the bronze for combining her love of writing, her “wiener dog” and her knowledge of mental health issues.
Ally Arena, who works night shifts with the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) where she takes calls from people going through a mental health crisis, said growing up she always thought she would end up writing as a career. But as she got older, she began to realize that dreaming would likely remain more of a hobby.
“I’ve always found a lot of solace in (writing),” Arena said, adding that she also spent much of her life wanting a dachshund.
When she finally got her wish and brought home her new puppy Olive, she quickly began to discover her new dog’s “unique” personality. It was after noticing what a “nervous little wreck” Olive was that Arena decided to combine her love for writing with her love for sausage dogs.
“It first started as a poem that I wrote about Olive… (and then) I just thought she would make this great character for this children’s book,” Arena said. “She’s unique yet relatable…but with that demeanor, I thought it would be perfect for starting the conversation with kids about anxiety.
“My intention was for the book to shed some light on how people with anxiety navigate life a little differently,” she added.
The book, titled Olive the Worrying Wiener: A Short Story About a Particularly Long Dogalso contains a slight parallel between Arena and Olive.
“I’ve been battling anxiety for a while,” the Orillia native said. “It’s meant to allow children to normalize the challenges that come with navigating life with anxiety and also allow them to see that no matter the circumstances, they’re going to be able to find comfort in the midst of these struggles.
“I also wanted to emphasize that the therapeutic benefit goes both ways between dogs and humans. They say dogs can be soothing to humans, and I’m definitely there to soothe Olive when she needs it,” Arena added.
Creating a story that speaks to children and adults was also important to her.
“They say write about what you know…so when it comes to sausage dogs and worry dogs, I thought that might be my expertise,” Arena joked. “I wanted the story to speak to people in different ways.
“The messages are a bit layered,” she added. “Kids will be able to see that this neurotic, nervous little character who really struggles with things the average person wouldn’t necessarily struggle with, they’ll see that those challenges don’t take away from a child’s worth or friendliness.
Working in the field of mental health, Arena said it was important for her to use her knowledge to help fill what she felt was a bit of a void when it came to children’s books dealing with health. mental.
“I’ve always noticed a lack of children’s books that tackle a mental health topic…and I’ve always felt that children’s books were too simplistic and lacked that scoop on what they’ll be about. faced in their adult life or growing up as a child struggling with mental health issues,” she said.
“Growing up, I couldn’t even put a name to what anxiety was and why I felt like it,” Arena added. “I thought it was so important to give (children) a chance to understand what it is and how it might develop… while finding ways to normalize it and (offer) coping strategies to overcome these challenges.
The book was recently awarded bronze in the pre-school picture book category in the UK. Wish Shelf Book Rewardswhere submissions are read and judged by children from eight primary and secondary schools across the UK.
It was an honor that Arena admitted to being humble.
“I took a chance and submitted my work and then found out I was a finalist,” she said proudly. “What drew me to these awards is that they use real children to read the books. It’s actually reviewed by the exact audience you want, which I thought was really cool.
Arena has already published a follow-up book, titled Olive the Worrying Wiener and Pickle the Pup’s Invasionwhich she wrote after adding Pickle to the family.
The second in its Olive the Worrying Wiener series, the book teaches readers that while change can be frightening, especially for someone with a nervous nature, it can also be a wonderful way to grow, find joy and learn to adapt and cope.
For more on Arena, Olive or her new sister Pickle, check out their Instagram page. @the_needy_weenies.