SIGNATURE REPORTS

Utah Boy Shares Reality of Severe Anxiety – On Stage

Oct 15, 2018, 10:15 PM | Updated: Oct 16, 2018, 1:13 am

OGDEN, Utah — Oliver Kokai-Means, age 11, struggles with an anxiety disorder – an all-too-common story. About one in eight children struggle with anxiety. Oliver’s story, however, is unique because it takes a dramatic turn, ending up on stage.

Oliver’s mom, Jennifer Kokai, says her son was always a “very careful child.”

“If he was climbing at the playground, mom or dad always had to be right there with him,” she said.

Oliver was eventually diagnosed with a generalized anxiety disorder.

“If you have generalized anxiety disorder you have constant and persistent fears that pop into your head,” said Kokai.

At school, she says Oliver would worry over and over again that the teacher was going to get mad at him. To get rid of the thought, he would simply do something to make the teacher mad.

“We had had a number of encounters with teachers who saw him as a trouble-making kid and not a kid who was being very brave just by showing up,” said Kokai.

Now Kokai and her husband, who both work, juggle their schedules to homeschool Oliver.

Oliver and his father Eric Means work on a home-school assignment.

Three years ago, Jerry Rapier, the director of the Plan B Theater Company, asked Jennifer Kokai, a professor and playwright at Weber State University and a member of Plan B’s playwriting lab, if she was interested in writing a play for school kids.

“I had no idea where she would be headed with that,” Rapier said.

Some time later, Kokai submitted a rough draft of a play called ‘Zombie Thoughts,’ co-authored with her son, Oliver.

“People keep assuming that… Ollie helped Jenny but it was Jenny writing the play,” Rapier said, “but if anything, it’s the opposite.”

Together, mother and son wrote a play about two characters: Sam, who has anxiety, and Pig, who doesn’t.

A scene from Plan B Theater Company’s “Zombie Thoughts.”

The two make their way through a video game and navigate Sam’s anxiety disorder, the “zombie thoughts” that Sam can’t get rid of. Their paths are guided by input from the audience of fourth-through sixth-graders, who hopefully in the end have a better understanding of what people with anxiety face.

“I don’t think people necessarily understand it’s something you can’t really control,” Oliver said.

“Just think of happy thoughts,” he says people tell him, “and it doesn’t seem so hard to them but it’s kind of like saying when you’re stuck in a tornado ‘oh just jump out of it.’”

‘Zombie Thoughts’ is now touring public schools. There is a free public performance of the play, Thursday, October 25 at 4:30 p.m. at the Glendale Branch of the Salt Lake County Library system. The show is also being produced in Hawaii and Maryland.

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

Signature Reports

...
John Hollenhorst, KSL TV

BYU professor discovers ‘dead zone’ in Antarctica

In the history of science, there have been big discoveries and little discoveries, fantastic findings and obscure observations. But here's a very special case: A professor at Brigham Young University is gaining attention for literally discovering "nothing."
11 months ago
Victoria Karpos works on her computer in her company's warehouse space. (Ray Boone/KSL TV)...
Ray Boone, KSL TV

Statue Sculptors In Salt Lake City Achieve International Recognition

Like all civilizations, every business starts out small. The one sculpted by Victoria Karpos and her husband in Salt Lake City has spread far beyond the Aegean Sea, thanks to a little help from the internet.
1 year ago
The Antelope Point launch ramp is closed due to dropping water levels at Lake Powell. (National Par...
John Hollenhorst, KSL TV

Love, Hope, Worry & Fear As Lake Powell Water Levels Drop

Normally at this time of year, Lake Powell's water level would have risen substantially due to spring runoff, but not this year. It continued to drop through the month of May. 
1 year ago
Richard Ledbetter, 88, began writing poetry after his wife, Elicia, succumbed to cancer in 1987. (K...
Peter Rosen, KSL TV

Elderly Man Shares His Big Heart By Writing Inspiring Love Poems

Love inspires, no matter who you are or how old you are. At his job as a security guard last year, Saxon Porter made a discovery — a new poet with a lot to say about love. The writer was 88-year-old Richard Ledbetter, the guard who worked the overnight shift.
2 years ago
(KSL TV)...
Shelby Hintze, KSL TV

KSL Special Report: COVID-19 Vaccine

In this COVID-19 Vaccine special report, KSL TV breaks down what is known about each vaccine and what the process for rolling out the vaccine will look like.
2 years ago
...
Ashley Moser, Keri Wilcox & Aley Davis, KSL TV

The Quiet Crisis: Utah Law Enforcement Share Mental Health Struggles With KSL

In 2018, more police died by suicide in the United States than died in the line of duty. And the number of law enforcement suicides went up dramatically in 2019. KSL heard from officers statewide about their mental health struggles in an exclusive survey.
2 years ago

Sponsored Articles

tips how to quit smoking...

7 Tips How to Quit Smoking | Quitting Smoking Might be One of the Hardest Things You Ever Do but Here’s Where You Can Start

Quitting smoking cigarettes can be incredibly difficult. Here are 7 tips how to quit smoking to help you on your quitting journey.
Photo: Storyblocks...
Blue Stakes of Utah 811

Blue Stakes of Utah 811: 5 Reasons To Call 811 Before You Dig When Working in Your Yard

Call before you dig. Even at home, you could end up with serious injuries or broken utilities just because you didn't call Blue Stakes of Utah 811.
Days of...
Days of '47 Rodeo

TRIVIA: How well do you know your rodeo? Take this quiz before you go to the Days of ’47!

The Utah Days of ’47 Rodeo presented by Zions Bank is a one-of-a-kind Gold Medal Rodeo being held July 20-23, 25 at 7:30 PM. The Days of ’47 Rodeo How well do you know your rodeo trivia? Take the quiz to test your know-all before heading out to the Days of ’47 Rodeo at the […]
cyber security through multi factor authentication setup...
Les Olson IT

How multi factor authentication setup helps companies stay safe

Multi factor authentication (MFA) setup is an important security measure that every company should implement for their workers. It’s also wise to install it for your personal and home accounts.
...
Lighting Design

Check out these stunning lamps with stained glass shades

Lamps with stained glass shades are statement pieces that are more than simply aesthetic. They also meet a functional requirement: to light up a room.
Address Bar of internet browser shows internet access...
AARP Utah

Utah voters 50+ support increased access to Internet

The AARP surveyed Utah voters aged 50 plus about internet access and if they support the expansion of broadband, especially in rural areas currently lacking it.
Utah Boy Shares Reality of Severe Anxiety – On Stage