Everyone has their thing,
this is just mine.
Living with Olivia Cadence Donovan
A new play written by Allison Shea Reed
Emily has been living with Olivia her whole life.
Olivia is her best friend and roommate, her protector and her downfall. She can be extraordinarily difficult and time consuming but she is always there. Olivia is Emily's Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
Living with Olivia Cadence Donovan is a play about not just surviving but living with OCD.
ALLISON SHEA REED
Allison is a Toronto/New York based playwright, actor, singer, and theatre creator. She is a recent graduate from the New Studio on Broadway's Acting and Musical Theatre program at NYU Tisch. She is the founder of RedWit Theatre and most recently produced the full-length play she wrote which was invited to perform in the New York New Theatre Festival: Living with Olivia Cadence Donovan. Additionally, her One Act play A-Door Me advanced to the Semi-finals of the New York New Works Festival October 2017. She is thrilled to be bringing this piece to her home-town with a brand new Canadian cast.
With a brand new second act recently added, this production is back to give audiences a glimpse into the world of a young woman struggling with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and reduce the stigma around mental health and this particular mental disorder.
Directed by: Sean O'Brien
Stage Manager: Jory McLean
Emily: Allison Shea Reed
Olivia: Gabriella Circosta
Rowan: Tristan Claxton
Graham: Conor Ling
The Original Production was performed at the Hudson Guild Theatre January 2018 as part of the New York Theatre Festival.
Director: Aiden Dreskin
Cast: Allison Shea Reed, Sarah Kowalski, Cameron Wenrich, Ross Barron
January 4th, 5th, and 6th 2018.
The Canadian Premiere was performed at the Alumnae Studio Theatre.
Director: Lorna Craig
Cast: Allison Shea Reed, Hannah Wayne-Phillips, Tristan Claxton, and Jordan Kenny
Sound and Lighting Design: Olivia Cassidy-Stupka
June 24th-30th, 2018
I'm so OCD
A Letter from the playwright:
I wrote this play because I am tired of people saying “I’m so OCD” or claiming to understand what OCD feels like. My parents found 7 year old me in tears on the floor of my bedroom, in the middle of the night, holding the door against the wall. When they asked why I told them very matter of factly: “I can’t sleep unless the door is right up against the wall.”
My parents picked me up off the floor, told me everything would be okay, and set up an appointment at Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto. After filling out questionnaires and talking with different doctors, I was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Although the diagnosis temporarily provided my family with some relief, it was only the beginning of what would be a long and extraordinarily difficult journey. What a lot of people don’t know about obsessive compulsive disorder, despite its horrific and oversimplified use in the media, is this:
OCD never fully goes away, it is something sufferers will deal with for their entire lives. Whether it’s through therapy, medication, etc. it is something that needs to be constantly handled. It is a lifetime diagnoses and there’s no cure in sight.
OCD is a lack of serotonin in your brain, serotonin is what regulates thoughts, essentially what allows you to let things go.
It isn’t just needing to clean or compulsions, it is constant worrying. It’s worrying that something someone said will get stuck, that a random thought that pops into your brain is true, and the inability to let a thought/idea go.
When I was younger my OCD manifested physically, I was unable to have anyone in a space I considered my own or touching something of mine without it feeling contaminated. I would have to do things an even number of times, which resulted in my whole family crashing their bikes on a vacation because I took one hand off the handle, the other hand off, and then needed to take both hands off. I was leading the bike trip so when I crashed into a mailbox and fell, so did my sister and my parents. I was unable to lend anyone anything, my sister would want to read one of my comic books and I wouldn’t be able to let her take it without feeling like it wasn’t mine anymore or contaminated. This resulted in a lot of confusion for my parents as they worked hard to raise kids that were good at sharing and not selfish; I as a person learned those values, my OCD did not.
That’s the problem with my OCD in general: it doesn’t match my personality. I am someone who wants to give everyone anything I can in order to make them happy or better, I automatically offer up my belongings when someone else is in need completely forgetting about my disorder and then shamefully have to retract the invitation or suffer through an OCD episode. As an extreme empath and severely sensitive person, when someone is in pain, I feel it with them and want to fix it.
When I was younger my disorder was easier to explain. My OCD was more visible, it was something you could see. My family tried to keep up with me; they learned which spoons they couldn’t use, what chair they couldn’t sit in, and not to put their bare feet on the couch or on me.
As I’ve gotten older, it’s easier to hide as most of it rests in my head. Unless I told you, you would not know how hard I am working and fighting against the lack of serotonin in my brain.
Just this morning I was in rehearsal with two friends of mine, who I logically know care about me a great deal, and out of nowhere my brain said: “No one would notice if you weren’t around, everyone hates you.” Now you might be thinking “oh no no I’ve had intrusive thoughts or worries like this, I totally get what you mean, I’ve definitely been there.” And truthfully, you might’ve. There are a lot of undiagnosed people in this world. But I’m sitting there looking at my two friends, acting in a scene and this thought pops into my head. At first I think, that sucks that you’ve decided to show up now OCD but these people care about me, that’s silly. Then the thought circles through another 50 times, I continuously tell my OCD that it’s wrong and it needs to shut up but it becomes hard to hear anything anyone is saying or be present in the room.
I look at my scene partner and tears fill my eyes: they would not even notice or care if I wasn’t around. I don’t matter to them. I don’t matter to them. I don’t matter to anyone. I don’t matter. I don’t matter. I don’t matter. I don’t matter. The thought envelopes my mind and suddenly I believe whole-heartedly that what my head is saying is true. Now this is my almost 25 year old self, so I know how to handle such circumstances, it happens 4-5 times, at least, on a good day.
The way I generally know if someone has it or not is by the way that they say it. If they have it, there is a sparkle, a tiny glint of recognition that the person across from them has experienced the same level of torture. There’s generally a: Have you ever had such and such happen? And even if your “things” aren’t the same, the constant terror and sick-to-your-stomach feeling is the same. When someone thinks they have OCD generally they say things like: “Sometimes I need things to be clean, I have been worried a lot lately, I like things to be very specific and I’m pretty type A.” They admit things that are surface level and normal, sure they could land in generalized anxiety world but they are not OCD.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is not just obsessive or just compulsive: it’s both. The only way out of it is through. Your OCD will tell you that the only way to get rid of a thought is to act out the corresponding compulsion but the only way to actually take the power away from the thought is to do nothing or do the opposite. For example, I will think if I don’t get up and double check that my door is locked someone will come in here and kill me. If I get up and check the lock, I start to feel better before I'm hit with an excessive amount of shame. Engaging in the compulsion sends a signal to my brain that the OCD was right, I have protected myself, and this thought will come up many more times. If I sit with the thought, even though it feels like I will die, it proves to my brain that there is some flaw in the OCD thinking and maybe it’s okay not to listen.
What I’ll ask when someone confides in me and tells me they think they have OCD is if they don’t do the thing they claim makes them have OCD do they feel like they’re going to die? Not like kind of uncomfortable, like every bit of your body is screaming and in full fledged fight or flight mode? No? Not OCD.
OCD will make you so angry you can’t see straight, you’ll feel like you’re standing over your body watching someone else ,who definitely isn’t you, scream at someone you love and say terrible, terrible things because that body is so overwhelmed with emotions that screaming is the only way to get it out.
The nice thing about OCD is that it tires, the more you exhaust yourself, the closer you are to being free. It’s not the healthiest of strategies but tiny Allison sure was a big fan of the use all your energy in the biggest scariest way and then you’ll be free of this feeling a whole lot faster because you’ll be too tired to care anymore.
Can you imagine being terrified you’re going to die if you don’t check the door an even number of times or until it feels safe and only feeling better when you’re so exhausted you don’t care if you die? That’s my OCD and what I hope Living with Olivia Cadence Donovan will help open up for audience members.