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Psychotherapist Julia Sivarajah Authors Her First Book, "When I Feel My Tough Feelings" To Suggest Ways Parents Can Help Their Kids Manage Difficult Emotions
"The goals for this book include initiating conversations around mental health with kids, and hopefully reducing frustrations and power struggles families might have around navigating powerful emotions. In addition, my vision for diverse representation was implemented so I hope all readers can feel even more connected to the book."
Ara Ehamparam
Co-founder & Podcast Host ("The Tamil Creator")
Canada
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*You can purchase a copy of Julia's book here- https://www.amazon.ca/When-Feel-My-Tough-Feelings/dp/1839344598*

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Tell us about your upbringing and how that played a part in you becoming an author.

Since an early age, my parents have always encouraged me to read, and they took my sister and I on regular trips to the library. We became obsessed with children and teen fiction. Some of the stories we would pick out, my father would call “nonsense books”, but then made a deal with us to read the classics first (i.e. Dickens, Jane Austen), before our preferred Sweet Valley and Nancy Drew series. By being exposed to this variety of literature, I developed a significant passion for both reading and writing. I started making my own “books” at the age of 9, and I still have some of the early saved works which are hilarious to read back now as an adult. I also had a strong interest in writing poetry, so my parents would enroll me into a few competitions, which led to my first trophies and medals! This provided validation for me to pursue writing goals, and I always remember my mother telling me to make sure I put this apparent talent to good use. This set the basis of my dream goal to publish a children’s book “for real” one day.

Congrats on the recent launch of your first book “When I Feel My Tough Feelings”!  What made you decide to write this book?

Thank you! My professional work involves helping others with their mental health goals which include learning to manage difficult emotions. In addition, I have two children who definitely have some big feelings we have to navigate daily. I therefore often implement my work at home and use therapeutic strategies to help my kids around many worries and frustrations they experience as typical toddlers/kids (you know when you see kids scared on their first day of school, or angry something isn’t going their way, or upset that their friend isn’t sharing, etc.). Since I also love writing, I had the “lightbulb” idea to combine it all into a children’s story, and here it is!

What do you hope a reader takes away after finishing your book?

I hope that readers, whether they are parents, children, teens or adults, can be introduced to some simple tools to help with difficult feelings including anxiety, anger, frustrations, sadness and disappointment. For instance, there are techniques that help specifically with reducing worry and rumination, in enhancing relaxation, promoting emotional regulation skills, grounding and mindfulness strategies and even encouragement towards support-seeking. It is all however put together in a fun rhyming format for kids to enjoy while casually learning helpful ways to manage their tough emotions. It would be wonderful to know that the book initiated conversations around mental health between caregivers and children.  I would also hope that kids can benefit from implementing some of the techniques shared and that this can lead to reduced frustrations faced by parents or caregivers, as well as may minimize lengthy power struggles families might have around powerful emotions. In addition, my vision for diverse representation was implemented so I hope all readers can feel even more connected to the book.  

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How did your professional experience as a Registered Psychotherapist play a part in you writing the book and the content in the book?

I primarily work with individuals to help them with enhancing their mental health goals. Some of the main approaches I use in my therapeutic work include cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) which helps to assists people in recognizing how their thoughts, emotions and behaviors influence each other and can often fuel anxiety, depression, trauma and even substance use problems. I have created treatment plans as well as group psycho-education and process groups for children and youth that are based on these principles to help them reduce associated symptoms and distress with these concerns. I converted some of these program materials/tools into content for this book while trying to make it as simple and fun as possible for younger audiences.

How long did it take you to write this book?  How did you make time for this given that you also work full-time and are a mother of 2 kids?  

I believe it may have taken me a few hours over the course of a month to create the work itself, and then two or three months back and forth with the publisher to establish and direct my vision for the illustrations that go with the work (provided by publisher).

At the start of the pandemic, I started venturing towards private practice, however referrals were very slow at the beginning. So during those spare hours (while my kids were in school or napping), I decided to write, and it was truly fun to do. I thought, why not see if this goes somewhere? My husband says I am a master at multi-tasking, so I think this skill was very useful for this project.

How did you go about securing a publisher for your book?  What was your criteria for making your final choice in terms of a publisher?

At the beginning I just googled publishers and reached out to several of them. I did not have enough confidence in myself as an author at this time to hire a book agent, even though this would have likely expanded my options. But for where I was at (i.e. casual project attempt), I wanted to secure a publisher that could help with obtaining the illustrations, provide support and work around my vision, and would be able to reach a worldwide audience.

What advice would you give to someone out there considering writing a book?

I would say, don’t consider it, do it! In an encouraging sort of way of course. There is no time like the present, and I would advise them not to let lack of time be a deterrence. I would suggest that they use an hour here or there in their leisure time to dedicate to this, and to make sure that it is fun and not "work". Be passionate about your idea. This may help with motivation and follow through.

How do you leverage social media (if at all) as an author?  How else do you promote your book?

This is tough for me, I prefer being private on social media and not being a public figure. So this was really out of my comfort zone to put myself out there. I recognize that only sharing on my Instagram and Facebook was within my limited personal network only, so I downloaded Twitter now too so that I can have a bigger reach to promote the work. Unfortunately, I only have 3 followers so far (haha), but am working on building this. I am also on LinkedIn, so this is another way that I can share the story with other professionals, many who are in similar fields and can utilize the book as a potential resource in their work.  So I try to balance my wants and needs so that I can still have private outlets for personal stories, but also build up separate public outlets as a professional.

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What kind of other opportunities has being an author opened for you unexpectedly?

I am unsure yet, but I predict that I may obtain more connections professionally by getting my name out there. Perhaps, I may be offered another contract with an advance for another book, who knows! I am definitely not done with writing and have high hopes to publish another work in the near future.

Can you tell us about a failure you’ve experienced in the last 5 years and what you learned from it?

This is very random, but I wanted to complete the Insanity fitness program and failed. The furthest I got was 32 days out of the 60 day program (2 attempts were made towards this goal). I struggled with time management and some muscle pulls here and there which eventually defeated me and I switched fitness ventures for good. I was initially really hard on myself as I really have issues with not finishing what I started. But I learned more about myself and how it works better for me when securing more realistic fitness goals that are FUN and not torture-like. I prefer now switching up my fitness regime to regular custom exercises such as running, HIIT exercises and tennis when possible. Kudos though to those who have completed the Insanity program though! It’s just not for me.

What role has your family played in the choices that you’ve made in your life so far?

My family has always been a guide for me, providing encouragement, support and inspiration. My father tells me ways I can enhance my potential, my mother always pushes me to continue to use my God-given gifts as she calls it, my sister gives me regular helpful advice, my husband always has my back and caters to me, and my kids give me the subtle nudge to keep learning as a parent and in being my best self.

What do you do outside of work for fun?

Outside of work, I love reading fiction novels (mystery, fantasy and crime), binge-watching superhero movies/shows, playing with my kids and spending time with family and friends.

What is an insecurity you have?

There are a lot. But having the focus on me is quite scary. I fear public speaking and/or someone catching me on camera or video without me knowing it. It makes me uncomfortable. I try my best to overcome these areas, especially since I am emerging as a public author now.

In terms of your personal legacy, in a few sentences, describe how you want to be remembered by your family and friends?

I want to be remembered for being kind, helpful and there for those in need.

What do you think you would tell 16-year Julia looking back?

I would love to tell her that tough times are manageable, that it is okay to be vulnerable, and to recognize her good supports and reach out to them. I would also encourage her to believe in her strength and resiliency, and to always have faith. Oh and I probably would educate her about all the foods she thought was healthy, but really wasn’t.  

What is your favourite book(s) you’ve read recently and why?

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. It’s not something I’ve read recently, but have read multiple times and is my favorite. I am awed by how a female author in the 1700s was able to go against traditional roles and write a piece of work that was so brilliant and exciting. I truly enjoy the story, the characters, the setting, the hidden messages and lessons, and even though it portrays outdated societal roles and expectations, it’s fun to be a part of that world for a moment knowing it is fiction. It also has an unrealistic neat happy ending (spoiler alert, sorry), but I really enjoy these works the best. My favorite reads are when I can "escape" into a different reality/world. It is the best feeling.  

What is a new belief, behaviour or habit that has most improved your life?

This would be a calendar I started last year where I tick off accomplishments relating to fitness and important daily tasks. It declutters my mind a bit and also holds me accountable. It is almost euphoric too when I get to "check off" the task, and it keeps me motivated to continue these goals.

If you were given $1 billion, how would you allocate the money to change the world?

This is a really tough question. I don’t have enough economic, financial or political intelligence to create an ideal plan, but here’s my fantasy idea. I would travel across the world to countries and fund the building of free homes for families who are living in poverty. In addition to this, I would buy a few big unoccupied islands or land spaces and develop this accordingly so that families who want to seek refuge from the dangers of their current situation, have a place to relocate safely. I wish this was possible.

How has the Toronto Tamil community impacted you both personally and professionally? 

Aside from my immediate family, I wasn’t exposed to the greater Tamil community until my late teens. When this occurred, it was a significant change for me as it gave me validation for shared experiences as an ethnic minority.  Also, developing more peer relationships in the community helped me with building my sense of pride in my culture and related traditions (because things always seem cooler when it's promoted by friends, right?).

For my undergraduate thesis work in Psychology, I focused on barriers South Asians face in accessing counseling, and one was around not being able to connect with a counselor/therapist that they can relate to. In my pursuit of my Masters degree in Counselling Psychology, I hoped to help reduce this barrier for Tamil Canadians and contribute to making a positive difference in their lives where possible. When I started my professional career however, I hesitated with parts of myself due to systemic racism and inequity I started facing as a brown female. I was recognizing that more opportunities opened up for me when I started anglicizing my name and leaving out my Tamil surname. Thankfully, upon meeting others in the professional community with similar experiences and many of whom I witnessed standing up and breaking such barriers, this encouraged me to embrace all parts of myself and display my authentic self including my ethnicity and culture unapologetically.

What is your favourite Tamil food (meal or dessert)?

This is very difficult to narrow down, but it has to be Kottu Roti (mutton or chicken). I am open to other variations such as seafood Kothu Roti, but please do not give me butter chicken Kothu Roti. Big shout out though to pittu, chicken curry, eggplant curry, and coconut sambal.  

What is your favourite Tamil movie?

I consider Kannathil Muthamittal a classic. But I have to mention that I also enjoyed Aum Arivu. With Tamil movies, what I choose to watch strongly depends on my mood in that moment.

What does Tamil culture mean to you?

Tamil culture to me means staying connected with my roots and my family’s history as well. I was raised primarily in Canada but being Tamil is an integral part of my identity, and I enjoy participating in cultural traditions, customs, and dress, especially for significant life events. It is very important to me to ensure that I am also passing on these foundations to the next generation within my family.  Being Tamil and Canadian is not mutually exclusive for me and I am proud to reflect both as part of who I am. 

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Ara Ehamparam
Co-founder & Podcast Host ("The Tamil Creator") | TamilCulture.com
Canada
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