This is the essay I submitted to the NJ Center for Tourette Syndrome & Associated Disorders (NJCTS) for their 2017 Youth Scholarship Award contest.
Eleven years ago: I sit, legs crossed, looking down at the brightly colored shapes and
letters covering the carpet below me. I’m in my kindergarten classroom. The teacher walks through the door and abruptly stops. “Tess, are you crying again?” I squeeze my eyes shut and desperately attempt to stop the tears. My teacher stares at me. She’s disappointed, I can tell. “Do I need to call your parents again to take you home?” I nod and get up to follow her out of my classroom.
Getting home always felt good, like I was finally in a place where I could be me. My six year old self never questioned why I felt so out of place; I would just cry in my room because something felt fundamentally wrong. Five months after kindergarten began, I finally realized why. I began to hear countless adults tell me, “You have Tourette Syndrome which means you will experience some movements and sounds that you won’t be able to control, but don’t worry, you’re ok.” However, no matter how many times I heard these words and saw the encouraging smiles that so often came with that sentence, I was still scared. I wondered why I couldn’t finish a sentence without uncontrollably sniffing, or why I couldn’t stop blinking. I didn’t want to do these things, and I hated that I wasn’t in control of my body. I barely understood what I had been diagnosed with, and the unknown terrified me.
For six years, I hid my Tourette. I only told my closest friends and family, and I relied on my parents to explain my situation to anyone else. My coping mechanisms were successful, but nevertheless untruthful. I would lie about my Tourette, telling people I just had a cold or there was something in my eye. Every time I made another excuse I felt guilty about hiding who I really was. My life was good, but I still lacked the necessary skills to advocate for myself and others with Tourette.
Five years ago: I stand in my synagogue, pacing back and forth, holding a speech, my speech, tightly in my hands. I see people file into the room. I start to shake, doubting myself and the decision I have made. Hello everyone, my name is Tess. I’m in 7th grade, and I’m here to talk to you today about a neurological condition I have, called Tourette Syndrome. I think to myself: Can I really say these words and can I say them with confidence? I walk up to the front of the room. I take a deep breath, calming my body and mind. I smile and begin. I hear my voice, a strong powerful voice I barely recognize. I think: Is this really me? Am I really doing this? I am.
Present Day: I sometimes recall memories of when I gave my first talk. It’s hard to even
remember that scared little girl I used to be. From the moment I finished that speech I knew I was not that child anymore. Now I proudly advocate for my disorder and I am not embarrassed about who I am. I want to become a voice for kids who haven’t found theirs yet. I present in classrooms to students with Tourette so they don’t feel the need to hide their disorder in school. I present in hospitals to doctors to share my personal struggles and story. I am finally comfortable in my own skin.
The Future: Educating others and explaining how important it is to accept one another is something I will always be passionate about. I’ve made it my goal to publicly speak about Tourette whenever I can. I want to continue doing this throughout my life. I will always make it my mission to share as much knowledge about Tourette as I possibly can, because then hopefully someday others will too.