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!
At a young age, I was faced with a choice. Let the diagnosis I just received define me, or accept it as part of who I am and embrace life head on. I chose the latter. I was diagnosed with Tourette’s, OCD and ADHD.
When some people hear Tourette’s, they automatically think of society’s inaccurate portrayal of a disorder where people shout out obscenities or inappropriate words. They treat it as a joke, as if people who live with Tourette’s choose to do the things they do, or could stop it if they wanted to. Very few people understand what having Tourette’s is really like.
Over the years, l’ve experienced a wide range of tics. My motor tics included excessive blinking, sniffing, jerking my neck, and popping my shoulder, often making everyday life uncomfortable and awkward. l’ve had vocal tics where I would constantly clear my throat, grun! or make strange noises that would often draw confused and disapproving looks from those around me.
Living with this disorder has been far from easy, fraught with physical pain and many ups and downs. When I was younger and just learning to cope with my Tourette’s, my tics would make it difficult to focus in class. Having an eye blinking tic or neck tic would make it difficult to read. Nevertheless, I pushed myself to make the honor roll every marking period from third grade on.
Whenever the classroom got quiet and the teacher was speaking, I would feel the eyes of my classmates burning deep into the back of my neck. lt was as if they had laser vision, with eyes fixated on me, examining my every move. Regardless of whether anyone was looking or not, I was different, I stood out and thought they were staring at me.
I would try to suppress the tic. But that’s just like trying to stifle a sneeze or resisting scratching an itch. Eventually you just have to do it, just as I do when the urge reaches that point of becoming no longer bearable. With time, therapy, and educating myself on Tourette’s, l’ve learned to adapt to the struggles this disorder entails.
My parents instilled in me at a young age that I could do anything or be anything. There would be no limitations. I was never to look at myself as a victim. I immersed myself into a variety of activities. I joined Boy Scouts, karate, soccer, and football. Through these activities I was able to gain self-confidence.
As my self-confidence grew, my self-consciousness faded. My mom introduced the NJCTS website to me a few years ago, and it was truly an eye-opening experience. I was able to see that there were many others that struggled with the disorder just as I did. I was not alone. The website has been an invaluable resource for me and my family. As I matured, I realized when I am open and honest about my Tourette’s and I am just being myself, people got to know the real me. They see me, Mike, not my tics.
In high school I have continuously challenged myself, dedicating the past four years to becoming an athlete while remaining a top student. I lettered on both the Varsity Football and Varsity Track teams, and was selected as a Greater Middlesex Conference Scholar Athlete. My struggle with Tourette’s continues, as my tics wax and wane in severity, but I have learned how to do what needs to be done without excuses and am proud of my accomplishments. I never let my Tourette’s hold me back and I never will.
Having Tourette’s has taught me tolerance and compassion. I have empathy for others struggling with their own personal challenges. I look forward to sharing my story and being an example of strength over adversity. I will continue to be an advocate for Tourette’s, which not many people thoroughly understand.
I have learned first-hand that with awareness comes acceptance. I look forward to continuously challenging myself both academically and socially, and I will continue to live my life by these two words: no limits. Dr. Seuss so wisely said, “Why fit in, when you were born to stand out?” And stand out I will.