This is the essay I submitted to the NJ Center for Tourette Syndrome & Associated Disorders (NJCTS) for their 2017 Youth Scholarship Award contest.
One of my all time favorite quotes is by Scott Hamilton, “The only disability in life is a bad attitude.” From my own experience, I can honestly say this is very true. Life with Tourette is very unpredictable and sometimes you just have to learn to roll with the punches. I am not always the best at this, according to my parents my attitude is, “less than awesome.” At least it used to be, with age and acceptance it has improved tremendously.
As a twelve year old who’s tics were becoming more obvious by the day, I decided to make a difference. I wasn’t going to let my so called ‘disability’ hold me back. I knew without explaining myself the kids at school were going to make fun of me because they didn’t understand. That’s why I did research and wrote my own speech to present. If the kids are uneducated and pick on me it’s just because they don’t understand, but if they understand and still are unwilling to accept me then that’s their problem. I gave my very first speech to my class in the sixth grade which coincidentally was also the day I got my diagnoses. All the positive reactions empowered me. During my research I came across the National Tourette Syndrome Association’s Youth Ambassador Training program in Washington, DC, and the New Jersey Center for Tourette Syndrome (NJCTS). I was trained to be an advocate for TS and given a presentation to use in schools. I began presenting professionally to small classrooms but it wasn’t until I became involved with NJCTS that I really began making a difference. I attended the first patient center education training and another training on how to present in classrooms. My sophomore year of high school I spoke to around 50 doctors and other medical professionals about Tourette. Every presentation I did gave me a little boost of confidence, which for a shy kid was life changing.
Though my transition through it all seemed like smooth sailing was far from it. To put it gently, freshman year I was a hot mess. I had developed coprolalia and let it get the better of me. My bad attitude really was crippling. I focused on what was going wrong instead of focusing on how I could use it to my advantage. [NJCTS Family Retreat Weekend at] Camp Bernie changed that for me. I made amazing friends who I am actually talking to as a write this four years later. Hearing their experiences and sharing coping techniques was huge for me. Being in a place where my differences were not only accepted, but embraced as well, was utterly life changing. Steven, a teacher who also struggles with coprolalia, made me realize that even if I didn’t improve I could still be successful and teach special education as well. Once I was able to come to terms with my Tourette I was able to help others do the same.
Now I am a happy, successful, eighteen year old pursuing my dreams and doing my best to empower those around me to do the same. My favorite example of this was a presentation I did a few years back. A third boy was being bullied for his TS so I did a presentation at his school. After the presentation, he came up to me and said, “Thank you, I think I’m going to have friends now.” It all starts with a good attitude and self acceptance.