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Welcome to Julie Billiart Schools, a family of K-8 coeducational, independent day schools for children with learning differences.

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Monday, November 23, 2020

Matt Christensen, a seventh-grade teacher at Julie Billiart School Lyndhurst, wants to reduce the stigma associated with anxiety and depression. His childrens’ book, “Bunny & Doggo: Friends Fight Depression”, sheds new light on how families can approach mental health.

Q: When did you start writing this book and when did it become available to the public?

I wrote the whole thing about two years ago, and then got it funded on Kickstarter. Initially, I sent the idea to about 50 or 60 literary agents to see if they’d be interested in publishing it. None of them were, so I decided to do it myself. The process of finding someone to make the physical books was pretty intense but, once everything came together, after two years of hard work, it was very cool to actually hold one in my hands. Right now, it’s available on Barnes & Noble’s website.

Q: Where were you in life when you decided to write this book?

I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder (depression), and generalized anxiety disorder (anxiety) about 15 years ago. So, depression, anxiety and I have known each other for a long time. I lived on the east coast for 10 years, working in entertainment, journalism, magazines, and marketing. Then I decided to move back to Ohio to be closer to my family, and took a job as an advertising copywriter. I hated it. Every day spent at that job was more miserable and boring than the day before. As we talked more about my depression my therapist suggested channeling my creativity and my love for writing into something that wouldn’t be meaningless, which ended up being this book.

Q: Are Benny and Lilly (Bunny and Doggo) real?

Benny and Lilly are real! Benny is my bunny, and Lilly is my sister’s dog. When we all lived together for a brief period, they had this incredibly unique relationship. Benny was brave and curious, and Lilly was kind and gentle. They were friends. I thought that their friendship would be the perfect way to show how kindness and love can help people (and animals) who might be struggling with depression.

Q: What has it been like to see people read and respond to your book?

Incredibly humbling. The book is in the collection of the Westlake Porter Public Library, and one time I went and peeked at the shelf to find it was checked out. I’ve probably only sold a few hundred copies, but the places the book has ended up have been inspiring. I’ve heard from therapists who use it with younger patients, teachers and school counselors, and parents who’ve used it to help their kids talk about some yucky, scary emotions for the first time.

Q: Why did you decide to become a teacher?

A few years ago, I came to JB Lyndhurst to visit my sister, who was working here at the time. After one day at JB, my heart was guiding me to teach. That was really all it took. The most influential people in my life have all been teachers. Maybe not by profession. But the people who’ve made the biggest positive impacts on my life have all done so through helping me realize that I could succeed. That’s what a good teacher does. And I’ve been blessed to know quite a few of them.

Q: The pandemic, in particular, seems to be impacting the mental health of children and adults. Do you have any words of advice or comfort for families dealing with loneliness, confusion, fear, depression, anxiety, etc.?

This is easily the most confusing, scary, and fretful time in my life. It’s the uncertainty. We’ve been dealing with this crisis for eight months now, and every day seems to bring more questions than answers. I imagine a lot of people - kids, parents, and even other teachers - feel the same way I do. It’s hard to find comfort right now...but it’s not impossible. Expressing your fears, and being honest about how you feel will show you that you’re not alone. And, whether they’re medically diagnosed or not, depression and anxiety are real. They can’t exactly be cured, they can be managed and controlled. Seek out the people who can help you do that. They’ll be grateful for you, because you’ll probably make them feel better too.

Q: What is the most important lesson or idea you hope people take from Bunny & Doggo?

Bunny & Doggo is meant to be a simple exploration of a complicated illness. For depression and anxiety to be treated, they have to be talked about. You can’t put a puzzle together if one of the pieces is missing, right? So, in my experience, having conversations about how those diseases are affecting you - which, I know, can be confusing and uncomfortable - is the way to begin understanding exactly what’s going on, and finding those missing pieces. Mental illness is easy to dismiss. It’s not as obvious as a broken leg or a cold. If a kid (or adult) can look at Benny and Lilly’s journey and find similarities in the way they feel, or act, or help someone, then they’ve found something they can relate to. One of the hardest, scariest parts of learning how to manage depression is that first step - admitting you think something’s not right. I hope Benny and Lilly will help people find the courage to do that. Because Benny and Lilly want to help!

open-quote Julie Billiart Schools has helped my child become a better version of himself. The teachers and therapists at JB really know and understand how to reach children who learn differently. close-quote

JB Parent

open-quote My kids love everything about JB and look forward to going to school every day and seeing their friends and teachers. JB is truly a one of a kind school enriching young lives everyday. close-quote

JB Parent

open-quote All of the teachers and staff at JB are patient and willing to take the extra time to make sure we, as parents, understand and are comfortable. close-quote

JB Parent

open-quote Julie Billiart Schools gave us hope after our daughter was diagnosed with a learning disability. At JB, she thrived in the small classes, received necessary therapies, and developed the self-confidence to ask for help when she needed it. close-quote

JB Parent

open-quote They have all the resources necessary, specialized to the individual learning of each child, and the heart that goes with it. I don't think we would have stayed in Ohio if it wasn't for JB! close-quote

JB Parent

open-quote I don’t think I will ever be able to put into words how grateful I am that you saw my daughter for all that she is today and all that she is yet to become. close-quote

Tammie Sommer

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