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I have a mild case of Tourette’s Syndrome, which means that although I don’t make involuntary outbursts, I do have a few motor “tics” I feel compelled to do. These include tensing my arm or leg, coughing, wrinkling my nose, blinking, and shaking my head (since a lot of the “tics” affect my face, I joke that I am a “jerk-face”).
It was much more noticeable when I was a boy. I often felt compelled to make short humming noises, even during class. I “had” to flip every light switch at home, knock on every door a certain number of times, and smile at every mirror I passed. If I did any of these things “incorrectly” I would have to start them over.
A couple of kids made fun of me for it, but I actually wasn’t bothered by that so much. The problem for me was dealing with these vocal and motor tics each day. All of the extra movement and anxiety over doing things the “right” way often left me exhausted by the end of the day, and I grew tired of it. Plus, as I got involved in music and theater, I worried that my Tourette’s Syndrome would affect my performances on stage.
As much as I wished as a kid that I didn’t have Tourette’s, I realize now how my experiences with this condition have developed my patience and my ability to deal with the obstacles of adulthood. Here are three things I’ve learned that you may find helpful with your personal obstacles.
1. The “Quick Fix” Option May Not Be What You Want
While I was in high school, my parents and I finally decided to be more proactive and speak with experts on how to treat me. I said I wanted my tiresome tics and compulsions to go away and stop interfering with my life. Our first approach was to visit a psychiatrist.
After explaining my tics and how they affected me, the psychiatrist described a medication recommendation for me. During this conversation, I realized I didn’t want it. The pills would certainly reduce my tics to make them much more bearable, but I personally didn’t feel comfortable taking something that would affect my mind. I knew they would work, they were safe, and they would be great for other patients. However, I felt this option just wasn’t for me.
So, our next stop was to visit with a psychologist. Over the course of the next month, he helped me discover the times and places that triggered my tics more often, and we talked about ways I could reduce my symptoms during those times. I was disappointed to learn that I would probably have to live with Tourette’s my whole life, but I felt much more capable with this increased awareness of the daily ebb and flow of my symptoms. For me, knowing how to handle my condition was far more empowering and valuable to than trying to fix it instantly.
2. Talk About Your Struggles with Those Who Care
Although I wasn’t bothered by the teasing in middle school, I was far more socially conscious in high school. No one made fun of me but I worried what others thought of me and my tics. My parents encouraged me to talk with my closest friends about my Tourette’s. In spite of my apprehensions, I found an opportunity to talk about my tics with my friend Kyle.
I explained my condition to Kyle and asked what he thought about it. I was so surprised when he said that although he had noticed my tics at first, he didn’t notice them anymore. He was also impressed that I considered him a close enough friend to talk about it with him. That made me feel so much better. I left that first conversation knowing that those who truly care about me can and do look past my quirks and oddities.
3. It May Not Be Your Enemy After All
Earlier, I mentioned my concern about my tics acting up while performing on stage. Here is where I was especially surprised: they never became an issue. I discovered that my tics all but vanished when I was relaxed or focused. I was often at the height of my focus while singing, dancing, or acting on stage. In order for me to play my part convincingly, I dedicated myself to the part. On stage, I could play a character without Tourette’s.
I’ve carried this skill to many other parts of my life. When a situation needs me to listen empathetically, speak convincingly, or participate wholeheartedly, I can dedicate my whole focus to that one thing or person. What people call “in the zone” has become one of my places of respite from the tiresome tics.
In this way, what I thought for years to be a hindrance has become a help. Knowing this sometimes makes me wonder what other issues or concerns in my life are just costumed blessings.
Keep Calm & Carry On
To me, overcoming something isn’t always about the issue being over; sometimes it’s about coming to terms with it. In other words, Tourette’s syndrome isn’t overcoming me anymore. It’s still there; I’m still a literal “jerk-face,” but I’ve accepted its place in my life. I’ve been able to keep it under control by keeping calm and focused. The condition has become much more mild over the past decade, and what remains of it continues to strengthen my patience and focus.
What are some of your obstacles—large or small—and how have you overcome them to do what you love? Share with us in the comments below!