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!
Sometimes, to make it stop, I say Val’s monologue from A Chorus Line. Other times, I translate the prologue from Romeo and Juliet into French: deux maisons, plus
similaire en dignité, en la Vérone belle ou nous poser notre scène… I bought a Tangle to stop my arms, and before that, I used Silly Putty. Lots and lots of Silly Putty.
I was diagnosed with anxiety, ADHD, and Tourette’s Syndrome when I was fourteen years old, after I developed a vocal tic resembling hiccups that began to disrupt my classes. Tourette’s is defined in the Fifth Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) as a chronic tic disorder wherein multiple motor and vocal tics have persisted for more than one year. Motor tics include things such as blinking, shrugging, or jerking limbs, and vocal tics can include things as simple as clearing the throat, but can also include full words and other complex vocal tics. Tourette’s often comes with a myriad of other comorbid disorders-like OCD, Anxiety, ADHD, and Bipolar Disorder.
The thing about living with Tourette’s Syndrome is that it makes me feel out of
control. I can’t stop my neck from contorting into uncomfortable angles. I can’t keep
myself from screaming. I can’t just not tic.
When I hear the phrase “you can’t”, I take it as a personal challenge. There are very few things we as people truly “can’t” do—most of the time, people misconstrue “I can’t” to be synonymous with “I don’t want to”. There is so much in my past I didn’t want to do that I eventually overcame—I didn’t want to interact with other people because I was scared that I would be judged, but eventually I overcame social anxiety. I didn’t want to deal with having panic attacks because I thought it was too hard, but eventually I learned techniques to handle them better. I didn’t want to work through my ADHD because it was easier to let it be an excuse, but I managed to let go of my distractions and perfectionism. After all of this, I thought I’d kicked the phrase “I can’t” out of my vocabulary. But, it turns out, I can’t just stop ticcing.
Tics can be repressed for periods of time, but it can lead to increased tic activity later on. This means that the best method for keeping tics at bay is distraction. Like I said before, fidget toys and monologues are incredibly helpful, but the best method I have found for stopping my tics has been by far the simplest—being happy.
When I sing, I feel absolutely free. When you try to belt, you have to provide a certain amount of breath support to keep from straining your voice. It’s hard, but when you do it right it’s the best feeling in the entire world.
When I’m acting, I’m no longer myself. I’m living another life, in another world, that always has a script. And (usually) that script doesn’t include “MAGGIE tics quietly in the background”.
When I’m with my friends, no one’s going to judge me. When I’m expressing myself, when I’m having fun, I’m not worried about when I’m going to tic next. My focus is so far away from my Tourette’s, it’s almost like I’m how I was before my diagnosis-when there was nothing I couldn’t do.