We caught up with A Level student Ellen to have a chat about all things TS.
How old were you when you got diagnosed with TS and how did you feel about this?
I have had Tourette’s for as long as I can remember, but I was never properly diagnosed until I was about 14. My parents tell me that I used to blink excessively when I was little, which, at the time, they just thought was down to me watching too much television, but I now know to be a tic.
Since I am quite good at suppressing my tics in public I was less sure that what I was doing had an actual name. I was always worried about what people might think if they found out the full extent of my tics and, what with the wide array of problems you find yourself faced with in your teenage years, having people discover that I had Tourettes Syndrome was not top of my priorities list.
Getting properly diagnosed was like a weight off my shoulders. To be able to give it a name and to know that I wasn’t the only one was a relief and it made me feel so much better about myself. I could now think, “Right, OK, this is what I have, and this is how I am going to deal with it”, instead of always worrying about why I was doing what I was doing and how other people might react.
How has school been supportive and in what ways have they helped you?
I first approached my school with the fact that I have Tourettes in the winter of year 11; the year of the dreaded GCSE’s. My parents and I explained how my Tourettes manifest and how high levels of stress affect my ability to suppress my tics in public.
Since the exam period was approaching my teachers and I discussed ways in which my exams could be made as stress-free as possible. Obviously, that time of year can be stressful for anyone, but, with Tourettes thrown in for good measure, I was worried I would struggle to cope.
My school offered me with the ability to do my exams in a separate room, and I could take time out if my tics became really bad. It gave me that extra bit of reassurance to know that I would be able to release my tics as I pleased, free from the inquisitive gazes of anyone else.
What inspired you to want to talk about TS to your sixth form?
I really wanted to raise awareness of what TS actually is and how it manifests in different people. The media often twists the reality so as to make it seem more interesting and attention-grabbing for people who don’t know much about it. I wanted to talk about what having Tourettes really means for people, especially teenagers, and how difficult it can be to deal with it, but also how it changes you as a person and the way you see the world. I was also tired of hiding and, in telling other people about my Tourettes, I felt better about accepting it in myself.
Were you nervous before giving your presentation?
I think nerves are unavoidable in any situation that involves speaking to lots of people. I am a theatre lover, and do love being on the stage, but I did feel a few butterflies. A small number of my close friends have known for a long time that I have Tourettes Syndrome, so it gave me comfort to know that they would be supportive no matter what happened.
What feedback did you get from your friends, do you feel you raised awareness of TS?
One of my main worries was that people would judge me for something that doesn’t define me as a human being. I felt that I was able to show that even though there are people who have Tourettes, it doesn’t make them incapable of being and doing other things. I wanted to be remembered as more than just “that girl with Tourettes” and everyone at school proved that that would not be impossible, which I am so grateful for.
What advice or knowledge would you give to other students who have got TS?
Don’t let it rule you! There is always someone that you can talk to, whether it is a doctor, a teacher, or a family member. If you have any worries about Tourettes or how it is making you live your life, don’t bottle them up inside you. Finding a way to deal with TS is different for everyone, but once you find what suits you, it can make all the difference.