Word Clouds & Mental Health

Yesterday was World Mental Health Day. Whether or not you or a loved one struggles with a mental health problem it is important to understand them. To understand their impact on individuals, families and communities.

Because my son has OCD I had first hand knowledge about OCD and it’s impact on him and our family. That is what lead me to write Mr. Worry: A story about OCD. And that lead to I Can’t Stop: A story about Tourette syndrome.  Through my books I’ve been able to interact with individuals and families with these disorders.

This summer I was honored to be asked to participate in the International OCD Foundation’s virtual summer camp for kids. I was amazed! They create a wonderful virtual camp for kids from all over the world. They were able to listen to speakers and interact with each other and amazing volunteers.

My part was small. I read Mr. Worry and then took questions. I was awed by the questions and insight these elementary age kids had about themselves and OCD. While I didn’t get to see any, my activity was for them to make word clouds about themselves because it is important to realize that you are more than your disorder.

Try making a word cloud. Think about words that tell about you. Or make one about feelings you have, people in your life, things you’d like to do.

Sketches & Comments

Mr. Worry is an example of the advice often given to authors to “write what you know”.  Mr. Worry was the first book I had accepted for publication and it was something I knew very well. This story, about a child with OCD, is close to my heart because it came from experiences my son and our family had with OCD. Many of the moments depicted in the story were similar to moments my son had, but not all.

Because it was my first book and because of my closeness to the story I was excited to receive the first sketches for comment. I liked the illustrator’s style, palette, and the things he chose to illustrate. (This book is more of an illustrated storybook, where the illustrations aren’t necessary to understand it.)

There was one illustration that concerned me.


In the story Kevin learns to separate himself from the OCD by giving it a name. He calls it Mr. Worry. The illustrator’s depiction of Mr. Worry looked like a scary devilish creature. Since the book’s target audience was children who worry about things, I was concerned this would not be a helpful image. When I voiced my concern, the editor asked how I pictured Mr. Worry and I described something similar to what became Mr. Worry.


The best picture books are a true collaboration between the author, illustrator and editor. Each brings their own vision and expertise. As is true in most things working together and listening to each other, makes the final product even better.

20210629_105703It’s time for a RECIPE! As a tie-in to the book it is a super easy ice cream recipe for Brownie Batter No-Churn Ice Cream found at DELISH.COM. 

Made and eaten by yours truly!

How do you feel about self-promotion?

When I started writing for children I naively thought if I write it the readers will come. But in today’s world there are so many things competing for our time and our children’s time that self-promotion is necessary for survival as an author.

Self-promotion makes me uncomfortable. For me it feels like selling. To sell something you are saying my thing deserves your attention and money over someone else’s thing. But what if the other thing is better? I wouldn’t want to steer you wrong😉. That’s why I couldn’t sell Amway eons ago, but instead watched as friends made a fortune! And I wasn’t very good at encouraging my kids to sell stuff for school fundraisers.

When I started writing for children I naively thought if I write it the readers will come. But in today’s world there are so many things competing for our time and our children’s time that self-promotion is necessary for survival as an author. And so authors seek followers on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media sites. We are pushing our books and our expertise, hoping to connect with readers, writers, publishers, teachers, bloggers… We both support and compete with each other. I find it much easier to say something wonderful about a fellow author’s book than my own. I’d rather review someone else’s book than ask for someone to review mine.

BUT my books are worth promoting. They do offer something to readers, parents, teachers.

So here it goes! (although I am going to let the reviews speak for me!)

“I have a son 9 years old diagnosed with OCD 6 months ago. We have had a terrible time to get him to even go to therapy much less open up and participate. He has had much embarrassment and shame. I got him this book and at first he would not let me read it to him. Finally after much thought he decided to go for it. After reading this book he totally opened up to me and we talked for over a hour about his OCD. He said for the first time he didn’t feel alone. He read this book 6 times the first day and even slept with it. He couldn’t quit talking about how it is the best book he ever read. We were able to use this little boys struggles and compare them to my sons. It was like the first time that someone actually understood what he was going through. I was hesitant to buy it because it seemed to be for younger kids, but I sure am glad now!!”

“Reading this book for the first time with my son, was like reading his own story. We are fresh on this path of understanding, and for us, it is important he knows he is not alone. This book made me realize just how much he does that is not under his control. He also recognized himself in the story. Very good first step.”

“AND It changed my life. I might have my husband read this to me before bed. If I had this as a kid I probably would have turned out normal.”

“My son has PANDAS, which is an autoimmune response to strep throat. When he acquires strep he present OCD symptoms. Our lives were hell for 3 months until we bought this book. Mr. Worry helped my son overcome his compulsions and obsessions. I HIGHLY recommend this to anyone who has a child with OCD or anxiety issues.”

This book is a must for anyone who has or knows of a child with Tourette’s Syndrome. My 8 yr old son, who has Tourette’s, brought in the book to his 2nd grade class. His teacher read it aloud and then the class asked my son questions. The book went a long way in helping overcome the social obstacles that a child with Tourette’s will surely face, and clearly explains that some behaviors are truely out of the child’s control and why. I would recommend this book highly for children, parents and teachers alike!

“We love this book. It has helped my son to relate to a character in a book and realize that he isn’t the only one who has tics. It’s also helped his brothers to stop teasing him and get so aggravated when his tics become annoying.”

“I am a social worker as well as a mother of a child just diagnosed with Tourette’s. This book was wonderful! My son has been trying to understand what is going on with him and this book was very useful. It explains Tourette’s to the child as well as the adult. One thing I loved about the book is it shows the boy in the story having new tics. This allows for readers to understand that tics change as well as showing many types of tics. One example was the boy in the story began to spit, a tic my son has and gets made fun of for. My son’s face lit up and he felt less “weird”. My son and I are going to do a presentation at his summer camp so others understand why he does what he does, I will be including this book.”

“Youngsters will enjoy this tale because Grace’s kid-sized sass does not erode their family’s underlying strengths. Actually, caregiver trainers or parenting instructors can use this title to launch discussion on how active listening and flexible parameters underscore accountability in a kid-friendly way.”

“We enjoyed this book for many reasons! We read it to our grandchildren and they had a lot of questions which was exactly why you read great books. We had great discussions about why children may want to run away, getting mad, and communication being the key to not always getting your way! Also, the art work was spectacular!”

“What a charming book! I absolutely love the chat between the girl and her dad. He listens attentively to her, validates her feelings, and encourages her. Adding the yoga poses throughout the book is a major bonus. Thanks to the authors for incorporating yoga in an accessible and fun way. A gem of a book for young children!”

“I can see a variety of purposes for using The Day I Ran Away in the classroom, beyond just enjoying the book. Helping kids handle angry feelings is a good first logical choice. Everyone has moments when they’d just like to run away from the person or situation that is making them mad. Teaching how to write dialogue is another possible teaching point.  The Day I Ran Away is a great example of crafting a backstory, two sides of a physical space, and passage of time.”

“This book was a game changer for my foster son who had night terrors. Going to sleep was daunting and scary every night. We struggled for months before we found this book. After reading this book he was able to make a plan for when he woke up scared. He memorized the words and was able to help himself calm down before bedtime. Holly Niner writes such great books with the emotional health of kids in mind. I am so thankful that we found this book!”

“Super cute book and I love that a fellow speech language pathologist wrote it! Beautiful illustrations with an engaging story! Great for language lessons!”

“Lovely story that teaches how to approach the unknown with a spirit of problem solving & thoughtfulness instead of fear.”

 “LOVE this book and so do my grandkids. The story has so many things that kids love in literature. A very cute and smart mole, silly haunting monsters, repetition and a lot of humor. In addition, it has great problem solving and predicting components that teachers will love. Great addition to any teachers or children’s library.”

“This book is a great one to get students thinking about problem solving when things aren’t going well among classmates. How can you keep everyone happy when you are all so different and you all like different things? And if you are a parent who wants a new bedtime read, No More Noisy Nights certainly lends itself to that… put qualms about noises that go bump in the night to bed with the friends in this book.”

Now ONE more thing that makes me uncomfortable!

If you’ve read any of my books I’d be grateful if you found the time to write a review. Reviews do help new readers find their way to my books!

Anxiety and OCD

51V6yadXJ-L._SX400_BO1,204,203,200_When I visit schools, students often ask me which of my published books is my favorite, I tell them that’s a bit like having to pick your favorite child. There are elements of all my books that make them special, but I also tell them the one closest to my heart is Mr. Worry: A Story about OCD. That is because my son has OCD. Before he was diagnosed he thought he was crazy because he knew his actions and thoughts made no sense, and we found his behavior heartbreaking and frustrating.

As the adults in children’s lives it is important we don’t just write off a child’s behavior as volitional, something they are doing on purpose. Our first response when the compulsions (rituals) began was to tell our son to “just stop”. But for a person with OCD that is impossible. They don’t want to do these things-they have to do them!  Children living with anxiety or OCD are not in control of their thoughts or actions. They need us to recognize this and seek the professional help they need, so that they can return to being a child.

We all have worries and it is common to hear people joke about someone having OCD, but most of us can’t imagine what it is like to truly have OCD.   My son, now a 31 year old, married, expectant father and PhD physicist wrote the following when he was applying to colleges. Before he was diagnosed he drove teachers crazy with questions, worries, difficulty adapting to changes, but none of it was his fault or intentional. I hope this essay gives you some perspective on OCD. Following are links to some helpful resources.

“Mind that does not stick” Zen Master Shoitsu

As I sit musing on the words on Zen Master Shoitsu, I find myself staring at the drawers under my bed and drifting back several years.

It is bedtime and as I walk into my room, my eyes stick on my desk chair, protruding maybe half an inch from the desk, and I worry that I might trip on it in the middle of the night.  As I fix the chair, I notice the papers on my desk are slanted and the picture of my grandparents is not situated just so.  I try to let it go, but my mind sticks on the slight disorder, compelling me to straighten my desk.  I move around the room, adjusting my watch, moving a pencil, aligning a book, and making sure the closet is not only closed, but air tight.  I turn off the light and as I drift off to sleep, my mind sticks.  I heard a report on the news about a rare blood disease, and I can’t help but wonder if I have it unknowingly and am slowly dying.  I swear to myself that I will investigate in the morning, but my mind sticks again.  I used a sky blue colored pencil instead of a blue one on the map in class, maybe I’ll fail the assignment, then I’ll fail the grade, and then I’ll never get into college.  I manage to calm myself down but then my mind sticks yet again.  I get the sense that there is a bright light coming from under my bed.  I try to dismiss the notion as absurd since there are drawers under my bed and no space for a light.  But my mind begins to “sweat,” refusing to unstick and drift off to sleep.  I try to calm myself, but my mind works like quicksand, pulling me in deeper the more I fight it.  Finally, I get out of bed and confirm that there is no light.  I instantly calm down and my mind relaxes until I get back into bed and it sticks on the light again.  This cycle of searching for a light repeats for ten or fifteen minutes before I unstick it for good and manage to drift into a peaceful sleep.  This was my struggle every night as I unknowingly battled obsessive compulsive disorder and a mind that sticks.

While my mind sticks because of a chemical imbalance, causing me to obsess about absurd things, there are many other ways in which a mind can stick.  In life some people are so set in their political philosophy that their mind is stuck in a certain gear, unyielding to new information and other philosophies.  In school, students can get so set on one approach to solving a problem that they overlook other solutions, and sometimes miss the simple, obvious answer.  In writing, particularly of certain college application essays, people can stick on one idea or approach to the essay, often leading to a one dimensional paper.  In social interactions, people can develop certain impressions and stereotypes that stick with them; regardless of any experiences they might have that contradict their view. 

While there are many situations where a sticking mind can be detrimental, it can have positive effects on some situations.  One of Albert Einstein’s greatest gifts was his ability to focus completely on one task, shutting out all else.  Some degree of OCD actually benefits me because it compels me to observe small details that are often key to understanding a problem or completing an assignment.  My OCD tendencies have positive effects when they are under control, but when I let my worries go unchecked I lose control of my life and become stuck in a pit with no escape.  I believe the key to dealing with it is to recognize the tendency to fall into quicksand and find a way to build a bridge over it.  In my case I used counseling and medication to regain balance in my mind.  Now that I am on the lookout for potential sticky spots, I can steer clear of tough situations and try to use my OCD to my advantage. 

Many forms of a sticky mind can be beneficial if people know how to turn their weaknesses into strengths.  It is good for people to have firm opinions and not go through life indecisively as long as they keep their minds open to new possibilities.  It is wise for children to be weary of shifty strangers as long as they learn not to stereotype all people. 

Master Shoitsu never stated whether a sticky mind was good or bad, he merely acknowledged the possibility of sticky spots in the road.  Now when I walk into my room at night I crawl straight into bed without worrying about a stray paper or a misplaced piece of furniture because I have learned to build bridges over the quicksand patches in my mind and tread carefully over the soft spots. 

(2005 Essay for undergrad application to University of Chicago)

OCD Foundation


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