2016 NJCTS Youth Scholarship Award Essay: “Visible”

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!

NoelleG

NoelleG

My parents always wondered why I could not stop sniffling. I did not have any other symptoms of a cold, and my sniffling was continuous, far longer than a cold would have lasted. I was prescribed a nasal steroid spray. The doctor thought I had allergies. As it turned out, my sniffling was not a result of allergies but was rather one of my earliest identified tics. I have Tourette Syndrome. My mother noticed my odd, seemingly involuntary movements and brought me to a neurologist. I was diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome, and we realized that my sniffling was actually a tic. As the years have gone by I have expressed a multitude of different tics, most of which were motor tics. I had a few minor vocal ones dispersed within the rest, but as a whole my tics are motor tics.

When I was young I was a walking paradox. I adored attention and loved being in front of people, but at the same time I was dreadfully shy when it came to people I did not know very well. I would dance in the school talent show and not sweat it but I could not hold a conversation with another fourth grader for the life of me. This weird mix of feelings made having Tourette’s very difficult. I loved having people look at me, but when people looked at me because of how my face moved on its own accord I felt uncomfortable. It felt like the wrong kind of attention. I already struggled to fit in because of my inherent social anxiety and lack of friends, so feeling like something was fundamentally wrong with me made my social life and self-esteem pretty pathetic. I could not even control my own body. How was I supposed to blend in? Kids at church made fun of me for my tics. They imitated them and counted how many times I would tic per minute. It was a fun game for them, but I cannot describe how anxious and hurt it made me feel.

As happens to many children, my tics have subsided a bit with age. In fact, most people

in my new town do not even realize I have Tourette Syndrome. The tics are most visible when I am anxious, and they are far more manageable. I do not find myself frequently sporting sore muscles and joints as a result of ticking anymore. The tics still exist, but they are less frequent and less exhausting. I am pursuing acting as a profession. I am glad that I have grown to accept my condition for what it is. I have selected a career path that I am passionate about, and it happens to be a career which is very visible. People will be watching me, whether I am on stage or on screen or in an audition room. Yes, I have Tourette’s. Yes, I do have involuntary motor tics. But they do not significantly distract from the artistry of what I am performing. And they have shaped me into who I am. Would I be the same person if two boys did not count each tic for minutes on end? I probably would not. I am incredibly conscious of other people’s insecurities and disabilities. Would I be the same person writing this today had I not overheard the other cheerleaders whispering to each other about the weird throat-clearing noise I made? No, I would not. I make it a point not to talk about people like that. Would I be the same person if I did not have a peer ask me “What’s wrong with your face?” No.

Having Tourette Syndrome has afforded me skills and life lessons which are unique to the condition. I am coping with it every day, and I am succeeding. I no longer mind when people look at me. I am strong and can even explain what is happening if they would like. I have Tourette’ s. And it is visible. But it’s me.