The author of this essay was a winner of a 2023 NJCTS Scholarship Award.
This was the essay they included with their application.
When I was eight, I was diagnosed with a neurological disorder called Tourette Syndrome, which causes me to experience involuntary movements and sounds called tics. It’s difficult to know all of the challenges it brings me, because I’ve never known life without it. Still, I can’t help but fantasize about living in a body of stillness and a brain of silence.
In second grade, I took an acting workshop at a community theater and fell in love with performing. At the class’s final showcase, I felt a swell of pride from the boom of applause in the audience. The buzz of excitement I felt on the car ride home quickly fell to a murmur when I watched a video of the performance, and thought, What am I doing with my face? Why am I flapping my hands? Do I always look like this to people?
At this point, I started to understand what it really meant to have tics. It seemed ironic that I chose a hobby that involves hundreds of people staring at me for an extended period of time when I felt deeply insecure being looked at. Despite my insecurity, I felt a yearning to sing, to be free in my own body, and express my deepest emotions under the guise of performance. Two choices presented me: embrace my differences and continue to perform, or give into the self-doubt that urged me to conceal my flaws. Even at eight years old, the choice was obvious: nothing was going to stop me from doing what I love.
As the years went by, I learned to manage my tics. I try to sleep seven or eight hours every night, since my tics are more frequent when I’m not rested. I listen to music in order to find a sense of calm when I feel particularly uncomfortable in my body. And I’ve learned to replace obvious gestures with ones that are more socially acceptable, even hidden. Where I once frantically shook my arms, I now tap my fingertips together. Both movements follow the same rhythm, but now their annoyance is only mine to deal with. Masking my tics has been a slow, somewhat subconscious process—I’m not sure that anyone would guess I have Tourette Syndrome now, but nonetheless, it’s there. Even though the noise has dimmed to a hum, I can still feel it, at the back of my mind, or on the tip of my tongue.
The ability to shake off my insecurities has proved to be a talent that helped me out in the long run. I stuck with performing, and since my first incident on the local stage, I have performed at the Paper Mill Playhouse to an audience of two thousand, in choirs at a state and national level, and even on a Broadway stage. I’ve learned that even though I don’t let my disorder define me, it’s still a part of me that I’ll always have. And rather than be ashamed of it, or squash it down, I embrace the challenge it brings me, and I don’t let it keep me from anything.