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EC Faces: Refusing to Let Mental Illness Take The Spotlight

As an Admissions Ambassador, Doug Cowing chats effortlessly with parents and prospective students as he walks backwards through the campus.

At first glance, you would not know he is also one of the many young adults affected by mental illness.

Photo: Mary Moriaty

Photo: Mary Moriaty

Cowing suffers from clinical depression, obsessive-compulsiveness, and anxiety disorder. But he’s always willing to speak openly about them.

“You are not your diagnosis,” he said with a warm smile.

Cowing was first diagnosed with clinical depression in middle school. He was a kind, but timid boy, who was teased for being different. He loved to sing and dance and could name every character in a Disney movie, hobbies that strayed away from those of “average” middle school boys. Cowing persevered through this difficult time by investing his energy into his passion: theater.

His school, Rogers Middle School, did not provide any musical theater programs for their students, so Cowing and several of his peers, including his sister Krystal, decided to create their own. With help from their English teacher, they created a production from top to bottom. The show was called “Gossip Wars,” which Doug now calls “the precursor for the movie ‘Mean Girls.’”

The show conveyed the harmful effects of gossip, something that Cowing experienced along with many others his age. The production was a hit. His middle school took notice and created its own theater program, which is still running to this day.

Cowing continued in musical theater throughout high school, winning the lead role of Charlie Brown his freshman year and playing Kenickie in “Grease” as a senior.

“He tried out for the [lead] part of Danny, and he didn’t get it,” said Krystal, Cowing’s sister. “I remember him being so upset.”

Nevertheless, Cowing practically upstaged the star.

“Every show, I remember there were rave reviews about Kenickie, and barely a mention of Danny,” she said. “That’s how you know someone is talented, when they steal the show as the supporting cast.”

As a freshman at Emmanuel, Cowing embraced the challenges of college life; even now, he looks back on that year fondly. But his sophomore year held something entirely different in store. He started feeling more stressed than ever before and one particular night suffered “five to eight panic attacks in a row.” The attacks were so severe, he had to leave campus to seek medical attention.

Cowing was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and was prescribed Zoloft once a day. On top of his anxiety diagnosis, Cowing also discovered he suffered from Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder, or OCPD.

Despite these obstacles, Cowing refused to be slowed down by his diagnoses and determined to make the most of his college career. He actively sought guidance from Emmanuel’s counseling center and from various faculty members, especially Dr. Linda Lin, a psychology professor.

“She was always supportive and helped me step by step,” Cowing said.

Lin is impressed by the growth she has seen in Cowing over the past three years.

“I met him his sophomore year in one of my classes,” she said. “He was still new to Emmanuel and was struggling to find his identity. He had problems focusing and was nervous. Two years later, I have him as a senior – he is a class leader, always attentive, and just more confident and mature.”

Cowing is now looking to help others in similar situations as his own.

“I hope when I leave, I can leave an image that no matter if you’re clinically depressed, have OCPD, or have an anxiety disorder,” he said, “you can succeed.”

EC Faces is going to be an ongoing column that highlights members of the Emmanuel community.

Posted by on May 3, 2013. Filed under Around Campus,EC Faces. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.