Play faces up to Tourette’s
By GUY D’ASTOLFO
Many people in the Mahoning Valley know Jim Couchenour as a talented musician, songwriter, actor and playwright.
But few know that he is also a sufferer of Tourette’s Syndrome.
The neuropsychiatric ailment is characterized by physical and vocal tics. In its most extreme cases, victims have spells in which they blurt out obscenities.
Couchenour’s condition is relatively mild, but it caused him great anxiety throughout his formative years and well into adulthood, because he didn’t know what was wrong with him.
He was 39 when he was finally diagnosed with Tourette’s, and just knowing that his affliction had a name brought him relief. To bring closure to his struggle — and to support others who suffer from the condition — he has written a play that details his experiences.
“Me & Myself” will be presented Friday and Saturday at Main Street Theater in Columbiana.
Couchenour discussed the one-man play in a recent interview. “[‘Me & Myself’] is a retrospective of my life with Tourette’s,” he said. “What makes me unique is that I lived with it for 26 years without knowing. I was 13 when it first came on.”
In the play, Couchenour will talk to the audience as a narrator.
“I will go into a flashback for an actual event in my life, and when I do that a video of me will come on,” he said. Tourette’s Syndrome comes and goes in episodes, which Couchenour presents as a mysterious figure that follows him around.
Music is the antidote. “When I play music, it helps me get rid of this guy,” he said. The play includes live performances by Couchenour.
“At the end, I’m sitting with my family, explaining that this is how it has been my whole life,” he said. “A transformation comes from knowing that there is a name for this.”
Couchenour likens a TS spell to an involuntary function, like a sneeze. “You can feel it coming on and you can suppress it, but sometimes it comes out,” he said. Tourette’s manifested itself in Couchenour with head twitches.
“I spent years trying to figure out what this was and why I did these things,” he said. “There just wasn’t that much information when I was growing up with it.”
Writing “Me & Myself” has helped Couchenour come full circle.
If you go...
What: “Me & Myself”
When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Where: Main Street Theater, 5 N. Main St., Columbiana
Tickets: $10; call (330) 482-9647
“I have found that through the writing and memorization that it has been cathartic and good for me personally,” he said.
His ultimate goal, however, is to help young people accept themselves.
“I really believe that each of us has his own Tourette’s,” he said. “Maybe it’s that someone said we are dumb, or don’t look good. We have to accept how we are wired. I have a faith belief that it is God’s plan, and we have to accept it.”
Couchenour will present a matinee at 1 p.m. Friday afternoon for local high schools.