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Strength in Coping

The author of this essay was a winner of a 2022 NJCTS Scholarship Award. 

This was the essay that was included with their application.

“Is there something on my face?”

After noticing a pair of girls staring at us in the mall, my sister asked the question. I monotonically answered “nah,” and followed with a routine sigh as I once again had to explain the true culprit for the attention. The tendons and muscles in my neck were bulging rhythmically, almost itching to escape. Upon hearing my Tourette’s was to blame, my sister laughed relievingly, knowing she had no reason to feel shame.

Was I to feel shameful then?

My tics were first noticeable at age three, when there was no observable reason that caused my facial twitches, prompting angry outbursts from my traditional parents. Time after time, my family would grimace and shout at me for being “weird”. As young as I was, all I could muster was a face of confusion and hurt, for I rarely knew what I was doing wrong.

It got harder when I entered middle school, for along with acne, crushes, and the general sense of awkwardness encapsulated by puberty, I was forced to navigate through Tourette Syndrome as well. I suddenly noticed students and teachers throwing inquisitive glances my way, whispering as I passed. The reason was usually because I would furiously furrow my eyebrows, drop my chin to a shoulder, or anything else that warranted attention. The already dim school corridors seemed to be getting darker the more I noticed others noticing me. Eventually, my tics started affecting the way I played soccer, my default escape from unwanted attention. As a goalkeeper for my travel team, an onset of heavy repeated blinks just as a curving ball was making its way in my direction was arguably the worst thing that could possibly happen at any given moment. When I started conceding goals resultantly, my teammates turned on me, and soon enough my escape had been diseased by my condition as well.

I was formally diagnosed in 8th grade and attended therapy the following summer to address my disorder. My family had been educated on Tourette’s at this point, finally accepting my condition.

Upon my first meeting with my therapist, I immediately felt consoled, for he too would tic during our sessions. For 45 minutes every week, I felt truly comfortable, free to tic without judgment. My doctor later told me that I was one of his fastest patients to comprehend and implement comprehensive behavioral intervention therapy. I attribute my dedication to therapy to the insecurities that consumed me for 14 years prior.

Entering high school, I had shed the unbearable weight of self-consciousness that overwhelmed me for so long. I had both learned to control my tics and accept them as part of my identity. Overtime, my default response to people asking me if living with tics was hard was, “it sucks, but what can you do but cope.” And overtime I did realize that yeah, it may suck, but coping through my Tourette’s has made me stronger, taught me to show humility and have resilience, and kindled my passion for helping others.

I don’t know exactly what the future has in store for me, but I’m certain that whatever I may end up doing will give me an opportunity to help others who may suffer from similar conditions. As I progress into this role, I will incorporate my own experience from Tourette Syndrome in order to bring as much benefit as possible to both myself and my community.

I was thinking about that moment at the mall a few hours afterwards and softly chuckled: I had absolutely nothing to feel shameful about.

briannab

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