Dominic was a second place winner of the 2020 NJCTS Scholarship Award.
This was the essay he included with his application.
As a kid I often felt like a misfit, and developing Tourette Syndrome didn’t help. I’ve always been quirky, but for a while, TS made me glaringly strange. Unlike a lot of kids with Ts who start to tic when they are very young, my tics seemed to appear from nowhere when I was fourteen. I was ashamed of it and afraid of how other would see me. I didn’t understand my TS, and know others wouldn’t either. For a while I tried to hide myself away, but after two months of isolation and coming to terms with my disorder, I know I had to go back.
So, when I developed the courage, I met with school administrators to develop some plans. It was my first experience advocating for myself and it made me more confident in my abilities to talk openly about my TS. Back in public, I received a lot of support from friends and adults, but also pity and some looks of annoyance or disgust. I came to realize that these negative reactions did not stem from malice, but from an ignorance of TS. I felt a responsibility to talk candidly about my disorder to dispel the stigma around it. When I gave people the opportunity to talk about Tourette’s, they had lots of questions, and my TS started to lose its status as taboo and weird. The difference that open honest conversation made in my life motivated me to become a Youth Advocate for the New Jersey Center for Tourette Syndrome.
My Tourette Syndrome has provided me the opportunity to do meaningful work that I love. It has allowed me to share my story, build my confidence and public speaking skills, and make a difference in others’ lives. I get to have conversations about TS not driven by mockery or stymied by fear of offending, but spurred by genuine curiosity about someone else’s experience. At my presentations, I try to spread ideas about understanding and empathy that are universal and not particular to Tourette’s. I speak about bullying and becoming more aware of how our actions affect people. Through volunteering as an advocate and advocating in my own life, I have learned that although my struggle is unique, struggling is not. When I open up, others are more willing to be vulnerable, and the differences that isolated us become connections.
Whether I am ticking, advocating for TS, or just going about my daily life, Tourette Syndrome is an inseparable part of who I am. For years my tics have waxed and waned, but mostly been mild. Still, I feel energetic, spontaneous, and motivated much of the time, often experiencing the sudden urge to go for a run or climb a tree. I am goofy, witty, and frequently make jokes or dance whenever I feel like. This energy and impulsiveness may be related to my Tourette’s or it may just be who I am. Honestly and philosophically, there is no difference. Having Tourette Syndrome has been challenging and confusing for much of my life, but it has made me stronger, more empathetic, and more mature. I believe I am better off because of my Tourette Syndrome, but I cannot say it with certainty. All I can say is I do not know who I would be without it.