Madelyn was a second place winner of a 2023 NJCTS Scholarship Award.
This was the essay she included with her application.
Kindergarten – I watched as my classmates eagerly hung their perfectly folded and snipped creations. Looking at my paper snowflake, it was clear mine was different. The wrinkled, light blue mess had no particular pattern and the orange string attached was fraying, about to snap. As I walked through the judgmental gazes of my peers, I found the darkest corner of the room and hesitantly hung my awkward creation.
First grade – I was sitting cross-legged on the school bus riding back from camp happily reflecting on the day’s excitement when I was suddenly startled by a loud yell that silenced the entire bus. As I looked around to find the unfortunate target and saw all eyes aimed in my direction, I realized, it was me! I stared up at my counselor, confused, frozen, I didn’t know what to do. The counselor confronted my mother about my “disrespectful behavior” and expressed how I continuously rolled my eyes at him, how I refused to stop, even as he was scolding me – how this was not “normal” behavior.
Freshman year – As I focused intently on my math test, from the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of my classmates staring and smirking. I knew what was coming; it was routine by now. I looked up at my teacher and saw that familiar, baffled, and somewhat frightened, look I have become accustomed to when someone sees for the first time my excessive twitching or eye-rolling. So, I put my head down to spare myself the ridicule, but not soon enough to avoid the typical comments, “weird,” “freaky,” and the all too familiar, “that is not normal.”
Normal. “Conforming to a standard; usual,typical, or expected.” As a kid with Tourette Syndrome (TS), the word followed me like a shadow. I found myself doing things I never saw my friends do. It constantly made me ask myself why I couldn’t be “normal” like everyone else.
Being diagnosed at five, I didn’t fully grasp what it meant to have TS, but I did know I was “different” I never saw my friends squinting or rolling their eyes for no apparent reason. No one else had to squat every few minutes or dropped their pencil because their fingers involuntarily spread apart. I couldn’t control it, no matter how hard I tried – and I couldn’t control the constant stairs of confusion, and judgement, by classmates, teammates, and teachers.
Standing in a circle behind the stage with my cheer team was one of the most nerve-wracking yet exhilarating feelings. Scared and excited while also feeling like my eyes were being pulled and my fingers were about to snap. My tics were so heavy they physically hurt, but they disappeared as soon as I stepped on the mat. I learned that when my emotions are heightened, my tics become excessive, and doing something I love reduces them. I relied heavily on cheer as a form of relief from my Tourette’s, until I suffered two back-to-back concussions, which put an immediate end to cheer. Devastated, not only because I had given up something that had meant so much to me, but more importantly, what I thought was my only relief, what controlled my tics – kept me “normal” – was gone.
Art. There’s no judgement, no restrictions, it’s freedom. There’s no “normal,” no “odd,” it’s pure expression. As I sit at my desk surrounded by art supplies, I lose myself in my ideas, my creativity just waiting to be unleashed. I am calm, free, I am myself with no boundaries. Art is my relief. It always has been. It inspires and encourages me to test limits, to stand out, to be different – to question, defy, and reject norms. Art is me.