My name is Brittany Cissell. I am a Pre-K teacher in Springdale Arkansas, and I am the author and illustrator of Otis the Aussiedoodle. Otis is my 3-year-old Australian Shepard/Poodle mix. He joined our family in February 2020, after being re-homed. Otis was originally saved from a suspected puppy mill and was in pretty bad condition when he was adopted. He had an open wound, ear mites, and awful, matted fur. His previous owner immediately took him to the vet and got him healthy. Although he is happy and healed, Otis struggles with anxiety.
I suppose it was fate that Otis entered my life. I have battled my own anxiety for as long as I can remember. In 2009, during my freshman year of college, I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Thankfully, I was able to find a wonderful doctor who helped me with medication and coping skills. While I am so much better today, my anxiety is still a huge hurdle for me. G.A.D. is so much more than just worrying and it’s difficult to understand unless you’ve experienced it. People always tell me, “don’t stress”, “calm down”, or “it’s not a big deal”. Oh, how I wish it were that simple! My brain literally never stops and idle time is my worst enemy. I find myself constantly cycling through all the possible worst-case scenarios and how they could happen at any given time. G.A.D. makes me believe that if I don’t worry about or plan for all the things that could go wrong, then they will happen. Not only will these scenarios actually happen, but then I won’t be prepared if they do. I need constant order and structure in my environment to maintain control, which makes me feel safe. My routine is so important and disruptions to it can cause panic and at times, actual physical illness. To people who don’t understand G.A.D., I come off as a control freak, germophobe, hypochondriac, worrywart, or a flake.
Fast forward to March 16, 2020, when everything went topsy-turvy. Schools closed and the world shut down. Talk about my worst fear coming true- my routine completely nonexistent, no control, quarantine, an abundance of time on my hands, and a virus that could possibly kill me! All of that was a recipe for disaster. Thankfully, I had Otis. I created a new routine with Otis and my husband and I was able to experience Otis’ hysterical personality all day, every day. My students loved hearing about Otis and I included him in many of my virtual teaching videos. He was instantly famous among my students.
I began playing around with the idea of writing a book about Otis and his wackiness for my students. I decided that I wasn’t capable of doing that and quickly dismissed it. As I found out, weeks of being locked in the house will make you try just about anything to stay occupied, so I revisited that idea. I was surprised to find that the writing and illustrating process was one of the most therapeutic things I’d ever done. It kept me busy and gave me a goal to work towards, which helped with my anxiousness.
After finishing the book, I wanted to think of a way Otis and I could possibly help others. Since anxiety is something Otis and I have in common, I began researching organizations that advocate for mental health and I discovered the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. ADAA works to prevent, treat, and cure anxiety, depression, OCD, PTSD and other disorders. I am thankful for the amazing doctors that helped me learn to cope with my G.A.D., and I want others to have the same opportunity. To help, I chose to donate 10% of profits made from the sale of Otis the Aussiedoodle to ADAA.
While I still struggle with my anxiety, Otis has helped me tremendously. His daily antics bring me so much laughter and fun that my outlandish worries instantly disappear. I wanted to create this book to share Otis’ wacky personality with everyone in hopes that he offers some laughs and joy to others.