This is the essay I submitted to the New Jersey Center for Tourette Syndrome & Associated Disorders (NJCTS) for their 2013 Children’s Scholarship Award contest. I hope you enjoy it! And here is my profile on the NJCTS website.
I was once known as the “Energizer Bunny.” My parents gave me the nickname when I was 6 years old — on Father’s Day, precisely — when my mother noticed I had become abnormally hyperactive and twitchy.
As a nurse, she knew something was very wrong, and she called my pediatrician. The diagnosis: Tourette Syndrome, ADHD and OCD. My parents had never imagined that the baby girl they adopted from China would be diagnosed with all these symptoms.
For years, special events such as going to the movies were off limits for me because it was embarrassing to be stared at. I often though I was the only one who lived with such a disorder. I unfortunately remember coming home from school crying because of the hurtful comments of my fellow classmates and even teachers.
The involuntary tics were a distraction at school to both me and other students. Teachers were intolerant of the situation, but there was nothing I could do to ease the tension. I would lick my lips every second until they bled, bang my head back and forth as if nothing in the world could stop me, and clear my throat over and over again until I cried.
Fairly often, kids would ask why I couldn’t control myself. One day, I decided to answer their questions. I knew it was wrong of me to expect them to understand without first enlightening them. Beginning in the fourth grade, I began giving presentations about Tourette Syndrome.
At my Bat Mitzvah, I made a speech about what it was like to live with the disorder and handed out bracelets to spread awareness. My mother ordered a magazine in which kids with Tourette shared their stories. My story was even published in a book, “Skating Forward,” by Joanne Vassallo, featuring 16 skaters with unique obstacles.
When I was younger, I remember asking God at synagogue why he had made me so different. To my surprise, I learned growing up that I wasn’t alone.
More than a decade later, I accept the fact that I haven’t defeated Tourette Syndrome, but I have learned to work with it. I discovered ways to make my tics temporarily disappear. My mind does not have time to tic when it is focused on something else.
For years, I was involved with soccer, ballet, jazz, gymnastics, basketball and numerous other activities, which my mom suspected would help keep my mind busy. One in particular, however, was the true medicine to my disorder.
I discovered figure skating at a birthday party in the first grade immediately following the diagnosis. One glide was all it took for me to fall in love. Figure skating was something I could turn to after a rough day, and it turned out to be better medicine than any previous pill or therapy.
It has taught me how to set both skating- and school-related goals, how to write English papers during 15-minute ice resurfaces, and how to commit to a sport — regardless of how many half-awake, six-in-the-morning practices it called for.
More importantly, it was a way of taking control of my life from a disorder I once saw as a threat to my self-control, and it helped me become the captain of my own ship. It is the reason I am a member of Team USA and am given the honor of representing our nation all over the world.
I have represented the United States in Sweden, Switzerland, France, Canada, Italy and the Czech Republic as a member of the Skyliners Synchronized Skating Team USA, which has placed in the top five at the Junior World Challenge Cup for three consecutive years, has won a national championship, and has been featured in more than a dozen newspapers and magazines — including the New York Times and Vogue.
I have appeared on “Good Morning America” and the “Today Show” in respect to my figure skating accomplishments. I have also participated in the 2012 New York City Fashion Show, showcasing the Moncler clothing line. These experiences have made me a well-rounded person.
Traveling has opened my eyes to new cultures and languages, and has given me the opportunity to create a worldwide web of friendships. Teams admirably represent their respective countries. Yet in one single arena, we all become something bigger than ourselves. We become one world that shares the understanding of words such as pride, honor, respect and representation.
Tourette Syndrome has led me here. It has given me the passion I have for skating and has taught me one valuable lesson: There is no success without struggle. Despite the challenges it might bring me in the future, I am unwilling to let it become an impediment to my future goals.
I plan to major in a field of study in which I can serve as an example to children such as myself of how one should never quit on a goal no matter how long it might take to achieve and no matter the extent to which a disorder comes in the way.
I will always remember where I come from and stay true to who I am. At age 6, Tourette Syndrome was an insurmountable obstacle in my life. At age 17, Tourette Syndrome is like landing an axle on the ice — hard without practice and effort, but easy once it’s accomplished.