2015 NJCTS Youth Scholarship Award Essay: “Like Holding in a Sneeze”

This is the essay I submitted to the NJ Center for Tourette Syndrome & Associated Disorders (NJCTS) for their 2015 Children’s Scholarship Award contest. I hope you enjoy it!



Even as a child, I felt different. I would often undergo a momentary sensation that my whole world was about to end, and a split second later would experience deep mental clarity. I learned to call these moments “ticks,” and lived with a constant aura of discomfort that followed me everywhere and interjected itself into every social situation. Trying to control a tick is like trying to hold in a sneeze from when you wake up in the morning until you fall asleep at night. I became quiet and withdrawn, avoiding one-on-one conversations and any sort of eye contact because I didn’t want to risk someone noticing my ticks.

At the age of 13, I was diagnosed with Tourette’s Syndrome. I had suspected that my impulses had a name, but when the Doctor said “Tourette’s” I immediately thought of people randomly yelling curse words, which was not me. To leam the name of my neurological disorder made me sad, for its name alone meant lots of doctors for years to come. However, it also gave me hope—because I thought maybe, since medicine had a name for it, there might also be help available for people like me.

Shortly after my diagnosis, we were on a family vacation when my nine year-old sister threw a tantrum. She was having trouble solving a Rubik’s Cube. To quiet her down, I picked up the cube and taught myself how to solve it. Before I knew it, I was hooked. I practiced every day, and within a few months I was good enough to compete in Rubik’s Cube tournaments. Soon enough, no one seemed to notice or care about my ticks; they were only interested in my speed and accuracy. My personal best solve time is 11 seconds. I have competed at places like Princeton and Harvard, and I participated in the U.S. National Championships earlier this year. Among hundreds of kids in competition, I have consistently finished in the top 100. I even started a Rubik’s Cube Club at my high school. I can solve a Rubik’s Cube with one hand and am working on solving it blindfolded. I have realized that for me, solving a Rubik’s cube is akin to solving the puzzle of my Tourette’s through medicine, therapy, and sheer determination.

Living with Tourette’s is not easy. Ticks can interrupt anything I do, from shaving to raising my hand in Calculus to introducing myself to someone for the first time. These moments can be overwhelming and unpredictable. Sometimes reading a book can take twice as long as it should. Virtually every task requires a little more thought and a little planning. But I refuse to let Tourette’s stop me. My diagnosis has helped me discover my strengths, giving me confidence when I need it most. Over the objection of my parents, I made the decision to refuse any classroom accommodations to which I was entitled under law. I had to prove to myself that I can do anything anyone else can do; I just have to work harder at it.

Yes I have Tourette’s Syndrome, but I am also logical, hard-working, and determined – and my future is bright.



One Comment

  1. Hi Michael, I am doing a project for my school about Tourette Syndrome in order to raise awareness and inform my peers. I wanted to ask permission to use your story in the presentation that I am making.

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