The author of this essay was a winner of a 2023 NJCTS Scholarship Award.
This is the essay they included with their application.
“So if sine 150 is ½, then what is cosine 150?” I was just like every other kid learning the unit circle on that Thursday. That is until I audibly snorted like a pig from the back of the classroom. Heads turned at me giving me a look that can only be described as saying “what the hell?” My friends looked at me in confusion too, trying to figure out if l had a lot of snot or if my laugh sounded particularly weird that day. I just sat there, pretending nothing had happened. What else could I do? Was I supposed to tell them the truth: the truth that I uncontrollably do weird things and make weird sounds because of a medical condition? No, I wasn’t, because explaining Tourette ‘s is an impossibility.
The issue is people’s preconceptions about TS. All my friends knew about TS from the internet, which spreads the idea that TS is an uncommon disorder that causes people to turn psycho and shout slurs. When someone ‘spazzes out’ or gets angry, it’s not uncommon for one of them to use Tourette’s as an insult. It’s because that’s all they know of Tourtette’s: people ‘spazzing.’ That’s why they could never believe that I have TS. If I’d tell them, they would always assume I was joking. And why wouldn’t they? They thought of me as a normal and cool kid. They’d never seen me have a ‘spaz attack,’ so to them I was nothing like the caricatures of someone with Tourette’s that they had always imagined.
And that’s maybe the worst part of having Tourette’s: not the tics themselves, but the difficulty of explaining them. We can overcome most tics. Even the more severe and invasive ones we can find a way to live with and get used to. What’s worse is when other people don’t understand Tourette’s, which leads them to judge tics instead of sympathizing with them. Ticcing already takes a lot of energy, but it’s so much more exhausting on top of worrying about what tics look like to other people. I don’t mind my snorting tic when I’m in a private place. In fact, I love it. I’ll be the loudest, proudest, most obnoxious pig you’ve ever seen as I tic. But entering a public space changes that. Instead of focusing on school or the conversation I’m having, the only thing I can think about is the most subtle and quiet way to rid my urge to tic. All I can think about is trying not to be seen as a freak.
In the past, I’d never really considered why I was so concerned about people seeing me as a freak. I never really considered why I was so worried about people questioning my Tourette’s. I thought worrying so much about what other people thought of me made sense, especially given the weird things that my Tourette’s made me do. But in reality, the thoughts of others don’t have a tangible impact on my life. They don’t affect my happiness if l don’t allow them to. And the constant stressing about others certainly won’t make me happier either. I think if l had understood that sooner, TS would never have stressed me out as much as it did.
Here’s the thing: I don’t have control over the fact that I have TS. I will probably have tics for the rest of my life. But just because I can’t control my Tourette’s doesn’t mean I have to let them control me. I don’t have to let them upset me. I don’t have to worry about how my tics look in public. And I don’t have to constantly try to hide my tics. If people think that I am weird because of the noises I make with my mouth or the squinting motions I make with my eyes, then they can think that. If they don’t like my Tourette’s, then they don’t have to. I am not going to be someone else to please other people.
TS has taught me a lot. Perhaps the most important lesson is that we don’t need to pay attention to all of the judgment around us. Tourette’s has helped me focus on being who I want to be, without being burdened by what other people think. It has undeniably changed who I am and the way I think for the better. I am a freer, happier person thanks to TS.