This is the essay I submitted to the NJ Center for Tourette Syndrome & Associated Disorders (NJCTS) for their 2016 Youth Scholarship Award contest. I hope you enjoy it!
To be diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome is to be taken on a roller coaster that very few people can comprehend; its a fierce, vicious whirlwind of nerves carefully tucked behind a constant burning desire to be “normal”. For me, Tourette’s showed itself in ways far more complicated than tics. It came paired with anxiety disorders and insomnia that, at times, seemed to take over my life. During early childhood, Tourette’s was my worst nightmare; I went through school living in constant fear that my classmates would notice my tics and ostracize me for my differences. Through the duration of middle school, one seemingly small tic caused anxiety beyond anything I had experienced before. It was my eye-rolling tic, a tiny movement seen by teachers as the ultimate sign of disrespect. When this tic became a problem in school, I had no option other than to tell my teachers, and subsequently my fellow classmates about my Tourette’s. The time in my life that I experienced this was difficult; anxiety overwhelmed me daily to the point that on some occasions I couldn’t go to school. However it was this difficult time that made me the person I am today. As I grew older I began to see the gifts that Tourette’s has given me. It has taught me to be resilient, never giving up in the face of adversity no matter how great the challenge. As I grew older, I became a firefighter, swimmer, and US Naval Sea Cadet, all challenging, yet rewarding endeavors, that I likely would have never attempted without the courage and strength I learned from having Tourette’s syndrome.
Through the process of growing into the young adult I am today, my diagnosis of Tourette’s Syndrome has never ceased to open windows of opportunity in my life. At the age of 13 I was selected as the sole New Jersey representative to attend the Tourette Syndrome Association’s youth ambassador training.This training equipped me with the tools I would need to advocate for myself and others, as well as taught me a great deal of leadership skills that would prove to be important in the future. Today, my experience with Tourette’s has come full circle. As a petty officer third class in the US Naval Sea Cadet Corps, I faced many challenges. These hurdles came quickly and never seemed to end, from trying to remain in a statue-like state, to nights with very little sleep, getting to the rank of petty officer was not an easy feat. My efforts were rewarded, however, in September when I became the squad leader for eight middle school, and four high school students. When I met my eight younger cadets last fall, I quickly learned that many of them had neurological disorders themselves, from Asperger’s syndrome to dyslexia. My experience with Tourette’s and associated disorders has given me the ability to create an effective path for communication with my cadets and their parents, as well as taught me how to promote unity within my squad. Seeing my cadets’ confidence blossom, and their leadership skills take off at our annual inspection was one of the most proud moments I have experienced in my lifetime. As I prepare my cadets to go to a two-week boot camp this summer, I realize for the first time just how great a gift having Tourette Syndrome is. It allows me to do the unthinkable, it allows me to understand the misunderstood.