OWOSSO — Two sisters from Owosso have collaborated to create an interactive, art-filled book aimed at helping readers develop tools to manage what so many people are feeling in the age of COVID-19 — anxiety.
In the just-published workbook, called “Your Therapist is Anxious, Too,” psychologist Dr. Jenny Martin and artist/actress Kristen Martin combine original art, humor, personal experiences and psychological savvy to challenge readers to explore the roots of their anxieties and deal with them.
“Some self-help books are cold, sterile and boring. I wanted our book to be really beautiful and fun and light-hearted, and at the same time do serious work that can actually help,” said Jenny Martin, 37, a clinical psychologist based in Chicago who wrote the text. “I make fun of myself all the time (in the book), showing I’m willing to look at my own experiences and saying (to the reader), let’s do this together.”
One of the book’s eight chapters, called “Bodies Do Not Lie,” focuses on how stress can manifest itself physically, such as with headaches or lower back pain.
“We sometimes forget our bodies are telling us something,” Jenny Martin said. “Even if our minds don’t know, our bodies do. Being aware of that can help us better manage stress.”
Kristen Martin, a Broadway actress and painter, said the idea for “Your Therapist is Anxious, Too” originated about a year ago, during a period of personal anxiety. While painting a watercolor self-portrait, she found herself creating surrealistic images above the head, representing how her brain felt.
“I sort of shed my anxiety onto the page,” said Kristen Martin, 35, the book’s illustrator, who lives outside New York City. “I shared the painting with my sister and she said she thought I might be onto something. That led us to the book.”
Although the concept was hatched just before the coronavirus pandemic broke out, the Martins’ timing couldn’t be better. A lot of people are feeling stressed out to the max right now. Jenny Martin said her psychology practice is busier than ever.
“I’ve never worked so hard in my life,” she said. “There are waiting lists for therapists. The rates of suicide and attempted suicide are higher than ever. It’s an epidemic, and that spurred this book forward.”
She added a caution: “(The book ) is not a substitute for therapy — it’s an entry point. It helps you understand yourself and may lead someone to therapy, or it can be a supplement to therapy.”
“Your Therapist is Anxious, Too” draws from the personal experiences of both sisters. Kristen Martin’s husband, Broadway actor Tam Mutu, who acted in the film “Moulin Rouge,” contracted COVID-19 in March. Immediately after his diagnosis, Broadway shut down completely and has yet to reopen.
“Tam was ground zero on Broadway. We were both hit hard by the virus, and we are so fortunate that he was only in the hospital two nights,” Kristen Martin said. “We recovered together, at home.”
The title for the sisters’ collaboration was inspired by Jenny Martin’s desire to “destroy the power differential between patient and therapist” and remove old notions that therapy is scary or something to be avoided.
“The title is to show that we all feel a full range of emotional feelings,” she said.
The book is already selling well, she said. It’s won several rave reviews, too, notably from the Pulitzer Prize- and Emmy Award-winning author, Ron Powers.
“Your therapist may be anxious, too, but if her name is Dr. Jenny Martin, you’re in luck,” wrote Powers, a journalist and author whose work includes the nonfiction book “No One Cares About Crazy People.” “Her delightful, highly useful book delivers essential information and advice on controlling anxiety with the easy, breezy intimacy of your best friend. The illustrations by her actor-sister Kristen are a feast for the soul.”
Mental illness touching the lives of friends, family members, and the sisters’ own lives, is what prompted Jenny Martin to become a psychologist, she said. It also inspired her and Kristen Martin to become co-ambassadors of mental health for Awareness Ties, an Owosso-based social-impact platform that aspires to elevate awareness for various causes.
The Martin sisters, both Owosso High School graduates, credit their hometown with giving them a variety of opportunities to explore their interests and develop the self-confidence to spread their wings and aim high. Although they now reside in other states, their hearts are still in Owosso, they said.
Kristen Martin, who has acted in such Broadway productions as “Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark” and “Wicked,” was wooed back to Owosso about a year ago to perform in the Owosso Community Players’ production of “Sweet Charity” at the Lebowsky Theater for Performing Arts.
“Being in the Owosso Community Players for so many years 100 percent shaped me and prepared me for entering professional theater roles,” she said. “It gave me the opportunity to play in so many roles. I owe them a lot.”
“The community supports you when you have an interest. We love Owosso. We are grateful for the community,” Jenny Martin said, adding that ballet lessons she took at her mother’s dance studio as a youngster taught her self-discipline and the gratification of accomplishment.
“Your Therapist is Anxious, Too” can be purchased for $18.99 at youranxioustherapist.com. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to suicide prevention organizations. Prints of Kristen Martin’s original illustrations are also available for purchase on the website.