Fear and uncertainty have altered Noah Cummings’s life. He’ll explain Thursday on the big screen 

By RAY DUCKLER

Monitor staff

Published: 05-10-2023 6:20 PM

After years of searching for some clarity, former Pembroke Academy basketball star Noah Cummings of Epsom knows his anxiety attacks will return.

And that took a while to accept.

Cummings doesn’t know when it will strike again, nor can he possibly predict where he’ll be. But he knows it’s there, waiting to cloud his mind with thoughts of terror. He remembers the feelings from a decade ago, caused by a mental illness that has shaded his life like a pesky defender guarding him on the hoops court.

That’s what occurred in grade school, where Cummings had crying episodes and was allowed to leave class to call his parents anytime he wanted. He’d grab the seat tightly to stop his parents from pulling him from the car at the start of school. Then, trouble in middle school, then high school, then Springfield College.

Nationally known psychotherapist Lynn Lyons of Concord began treating Cummings about 10 years ago. His sincerity and candidness apparently filled her office, because she asked Cummings to join her in a documentary called “Anxious Nation” – a frank discussion featuring about a dozen young people opening up about their suffocating fears and depression.

The movie, directed by Oscar-winning filmmaker Vanessa Roth and New York Times best-selling author Laura Morton, will be shown Thursday at Red River at 6 p.m. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. A panel discussion will follow, led by Lyons, who was unavailable for comment on Tuesday. Filming began in 2019.

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“She asked me if I could be in (the film). I said yes,” Cummings said about Lyons. “Anything I can do for Lynn, I will do it. I will do anything with Lynn. I trusted her that the movie would be something I would want to be part of.”

The relationship fostered by the two continues to play a key role in Cummings’s fight against irrational fears. The darkness attacks with no warning, petrifying Cummings, even in recent times in college.

That’s one of the strange elements here.

Cummings was a star basketball player at Pembroke Academy, named the top player in the state after leading Pembroke to the Division II championship. As the point guard, responsible for directing traffic while also leading the team in scoring, Cummings played in front of 1,500 to 2,000 fans during the state playoffs.

He was cool. He was clutch. He was the center of attention, the spotlight white hot. And he excelled.

He was the starting point guard as a freshman on the Springfield College basketball team in 2019. Yet he begged his parents to let him come home. Then, after one season, he left the team, saying he has no regrets about giving up basketball. That calmed his nerves.

“I was miserable as a freshman,” Cummings said. “I had a terrible year. I was on the starting team and playing well and we had over 20 wins and we hosted the tournament and the whole time I was mad. I felt lousy leading up to games and in practice, but I was fine playing. It was automatic, but getting ready to play was very rough.”

And last September, at the start of his final year, Cummings says he was a mess as well. He has no idea why, but he made sure he was in close contract with Lyons.

“September of ‘22 was worse than when I was little,” he said. “I don’t remember what it was like, but to me it felt as bad or worse. I had a really horrible health anxiety.”

He graduates soon with a degree in applied exercise science at Springfield College. He already has a job lined up. He has a girlfriend. And a support group of family and friends who refused to allow Cummings to drown in his own sadness and fears.

Strong and confident enough to show his vulnerability in front of strangers, Cummings was the perfect source to air his feelings in the movie, showing an intimate view of how the paralyzing effect of anxiety can, if left untreated, stop an individual from tapping into their potential and flourishing.

“I’ve stopped trying to make it go away,” Cummings said. “Something else (Lyons) teaches is not trying to make it go away. When it does come, I can handle it. It will always be part of me but it will never define who I am.”

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