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‘Not Myself Today’ inspired by playwright’s personal struggles with depression and anxiety
Special to The Telegram
When Courtney Fowler was working with a youth group at her performance academy, a teenage student told her the shocking news that one of their friends was having suicidal thoughts. Hearing this from a young person resonated with her because she has had to deal with the struggles of depression and anxiety as well.
Combining her own personal experiences with what she had heard from one of her students, Fowler was inspired to write a play about youth mental health called “Not Myself Today.”
“It’s a version of what happened to me and how I felt when I was struggling with anxiety and depression,” Fowler said about the semi-autobiographical nature of the play.
Fowler says she was 11 years old when she started experiencing depression. When she was 25, she was participating in a musical theatre production and had a panic attack in mid-rehearsal. After that happened, her husband and friends encouraged her to seek help from her doctor, which she did.
Now 29, Fowler has reflected on these experiences, and says seeking help was life-changing.
“I didn’t know what it felt like to go to rehearsal and feel good about myself until after I got help,” she said.
She added that her student who was experiencing suicidal thoughts is also doing well.
The plot of “Not Myself Today” follows a high school student named Amanda as she struggles with depression. Throughout the story, she tries her best to be herself and not let her negative emotions define her.
“I wanted to create a visual of mental illness where the person was still their authentic self, and I wanted to show that even though someone is sick, that they’re still themselves underneath all of that,” Fowler said.
A major theme of the story is recovery. Amanda is shown resources that can help her, but at the same time, the story highlights that mental illness doesn’t simply disappear once you get help.
“It doesn’t affect her in all of those areas in her life anymore, and we see the positive difference in how she’s healed,” Fowler said.
Fowler first presented “Not Myself Today” in a workshop setting in 2016. After presenting it in another community setting later that year, Fowler presented it again in 2017, with a cast of students from Waterford Valley High School.
Fowler is currently preparing her fourth production of the play, which is set to take place at the LSPU Hall from May 3-5. The cast of about 40 people is made up mostly of middle school and high school students, ages 11 to 18, with two adults.
Fowler says it’s a one-act play, it’s safe for all ages and it is presented as a musical, with singing and dancing numbers. The music is not original; instead, pop songs by artists such as Avril Lavigne make up the soundtrack.
Several cast members are returning from previous productions of the play. Heather Power, 18, is playing the secondary lead character, Ezra.
“So many people experience anxiety and depression in so many different ways, and seeing how so many of us could share thoughts about ourselves ... is really enlightening, and it feels really good to share that with other people,” she said.
Thirteen-year-old Connor Fagan is new to Fowler’s cast. Playing Blake, a “love interest” character, Connor says he joined the cast because of his passion for theatre and his interest in youth mental health.
“I’m looking forward to people coming to see it and taking something from it,” Connor said about the play and its message.
Proceeds from ticket sales will be donated to the Jacob Puddister Memorial Foundation, a local youth mental health organization.
Fowler says that in addition to the themes discussed onstage, audience members will be given lists of available resources.
“I want the people who come to see the show to be able to recognize warning signs in their loved ones, and I want them to be able to know how to ask for help,” she said. “Having a mental illness does not in any way dampen your light as a human.”
How to get help
If you or someone you know needs immediate mental health help, go to the nearest hospital, call 911, or call Newfoundland and Labrador’s crisis line at 709-737-4668 or toll-free at 888-737-4668.
For additional resources, visit http://www.health.gov.nl.ca/health/mentalhealth/help_now.html
Anywhere in Canada, you can contact the Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868; online https://kidshelpphone.ca/ or Crisis Services Canada at 1-833-456-4566 (phone) or 45645 (text), or crisisservicecanada.ca (Chat).