2016 NJCTS Youth Scholarship Award Essay: “Resilience Through Adversity”

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!

MadelynO

MadelynO

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.

2014 NJCTS Children’s Scholarship Award Essay: “I Have No Regrets”

This is the essay I submitted to the New Jersey Center for Tourette Syndrome & Associated Disorders (NJCTS) for their 2014 Children’s Scholarship Award contest. I hope you enjoy it!

When the word “disease” is said, overcoming is definitely not the first thing that comes to peoples’ minds. In my opinion, having Tourette’s is a battle. I have been bullied, ridiculed, and laughed at. I think a lot about the kid I could have become, that is, if I surrendered. But luckily, I didn’t.

I managed to muster the strength and courage to face my problem. In fact, I sometimes convince myself that I no longer have TS. I have accepted the fact that I will never be cured of this. So what does this mean for me? Hide behind excuses for the rest of my life? Succumb to being a nobody? Not anymore.

Ever since I entered high school, I slowly started to see the best out of every situation. I have used my tics to my advantage by channeling my energy into something positive: setting goals and achieving them. Why should I let TS get in the way of challenging myself? I found that I can use this obstacle to my advantage.

When I was in middle school, I definitely didn’t have the same optimism about having TS as I do now. Unfortunately back then, I fell into the trap of self-pity. I would always make excuses for myself. I didn’t challenge myself in school because I thought my mental abilities weren’t sufficient for mainstream classes.

My bizarre motor tics made me feel out of place and ashamed. My fear was that people would make fun of me, especially this one tic in particular (that I still have today) where I tweak my neck to the side to feel temporary relief. If I held my tics in, I felt like exploding. Often times I would tic then nonchalantly try to cover it up by using “normal” gestures, such as cracking my neck.

Once I gained the courage to move into mainstream classes in my last year of middle school, things weren’t as bad as I had anticipated.

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Change someone’s life by being a part of a Tourette walk

This is me and a friend of mine at NJ Walks for TS at Mendham in 2011! We hope to see you there in November!

This is me and a friend of mine at NJ Walks for TS at Mendham in 2011! We hope to see you there in November!

Young people these days have been advancing their technology in so many different ways, and I think that it is so important to channel and use technology to learn and research about what is going on in your community. Not many young people realize how big of an impact they can make if they take a few hours, or even minutes, out of their day to read and care about an issue.

When I started to take time out of my day four years ago as a sophomore in high school to channel my energy into learning about Tourette Syndrome, a great event, great friends and great opportunities came out of it. The stories I have heard and the people I have met through the annual NJ Walks For TS at Mendham have touched my life in a way that is indescribable.

Having adults, as well as small children, come up to me and personally thank me, my friends and my family for our efforts and support is a feeling that I would never give back and give everything for more people to experience.

This event has grown throughout the past several years and will continue to grow. Everyone that has become a part of the event — this year’s walk on Saturday, November 23, will be our 4th! — has enriched their lives not only in feeling good about themselves, but also learning about personal experiences of those with TS. Continue reading