Tourette’s and OCD, Cousins or Siblings?

I have yet to meet another person with Tourette’s who does not also have at least one comorbid condition. For me, there has not just been one, but at least three of these ‘cousins’ as they are frequently called.

There are so many disorders and syndromes that are so closely related and occur simultaneously that I could not possibly begin to list them all. the symptoms of some disorders are so similar that it is easy to mistake one for another. There are many people who go misdiagnosed because of this. This is why comorbid conditions are often referred to as “cousins”, because they are so similar and closely related, just as members of a family might be.

I have family members who have been mistaken for each other either because they sound like the other person over the phone or because they look so much alike that someone who has not seem either one of them in a long time mistook one for the other. For example, when my sister and my cousin were younger, people mistook them for sisters rather than cousins when they were together. My sister has always looked as though she belonged to my aunt rather than my mother.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is one of the conditions that can co-occur with Tourette’s. A person with OCD has obsessions and compulsions. Basically, you have an obsession, a thought that will not leave and causes you anxiety, and the only way to relieve that anxiety is to carry out a compulsion. The obsessions and compulsions can consist of a variety of things.

Everyone forgets what day of the week it is once in a while. At least, I think everyone does that once in a while. I’m really hoping it’s not just me. For me, though, it causes this anxiety and I think, “Oh my gosh, I thought today was Saturday and it’s really Friday. What if I forget what day it is tomorrow and something bad happens because I forget what day it is and forget to do something or go somewhere?”  Actually, it feels a bit more like this as it goes through my head,

“OHMYGOSHITHOUGHTTODAYWASSATURDAYANDITSREALLYFRIDAYANDWHATIFIFORGETWHATDAYITISTOMORROWANDSOMETHINGBADHAPPENSBECAUSEIFORGOTWHATDAYITISANDFORGETTODOSOMETHINGORGOSOMEWHEREORSOMETHINGLIKETHAT!?!?!?!?”

To relieve the anxiety caused and keep ‘imagined bad thing that will happen because I forgot what day it was’ from happening, I repeat this over and over in my head or even out loud if it feels necessary, “Tomorrow is Saturday, not Sunday because today is Friday, not Saturday.”

For a lot of us who have both OCD and Tourette’s, it is sometimes easy to mistake the two as siblings.

Our tics and our compulsions can be so similar that it is sometimes hard to tell the difference, especially for those around us observing from the outside. If I am in a situation that makes me particularly anxious, I rub things. The chair, the wall, the table, whatever is nearby. I’ve been asked if it was a tic before and had to explain why I was really petting random objects like they were a fluffy kitten.

Not only do the symptoms of the two disorders get confused a lot, but they merge and devise plans to confuse you even more by happening simultaneously. One way this happens for me is that my counting compulsion takes effect as I tic. I count how many times I squeak.

With my hitting tic, I count how many times I hit myself. I count how many times I tense or flex a certain muscle. So, on top of the exhaustion of the constant motion and vocalizations of our tics, we are bombarded with the exhaustion of our anxiety, compulsions, and need to repetitively check, tap, rub, count, or whatever it is your particular compulsions may be.

Basically, there are many conditions that are considered to be a ‘cousin’ to Tourette’s. Anxiety, depression, sensory processing disorder, autism, and the list goes on and on. OCD is one that is included in this list as well, however, I feel that the symptom’s of my OCD and Tourette’s can be so close. For a long time, it was very difficult to tell the difference at times. I have learned to distinguish my tics from compulsions over time, though.

A tic is preceded by what is called a premonitory urge. You feel the urge building up in your body and it keeps building until the tic just happens. The best way I have heard it explained is that it is like the feeling you get before you sneeze or hiccup…multiplied by 1,000. When you have to sneeze or yawn, you can feel it coming and building up. Sometimes you can stifle a sneeze or a yawn, but it will eventually have to be released. Nobody can hold a sneeze forever.

There are times when we are able to suppress our tics, but it is so extremely uncomfortable that we absolutely HAVE to let it out eventually. We can not hold them in forever. If we could, we wouldn’t have Tourette’s! Sometimes tics are like a sudden case of the hiccups. Our bodies just spontaneously erupt in movement and noises and whether we like it or not, it is going to happen. There is no stopping and no holding back!

Compulsions, on the other hand, are something we to stop the anxiety inside our heads. We have a thought or series of thoughts that we can’t stop. They cause a terrible anxiety and we realize that the anxiety we have over these thoughts is irrational. We know the fear we feel and the scenarios we picture are unrealistic, but a part of our brains tells us that it’s not unrealistic. It tells us that to keep said scenario from becoming a reality, we must carry out our compulsion to tap or count something or repeat that mantra.

I have heard  people who do have both of these disorders say that they feel the same way. I wonder at times, just how fine is the line between the two? How closely related are they really?

If you have any other examples of how your OCD and Tourette’s are strikingly similar, leave me a comment. I would love to share experiences with others like myself.

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