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2015 NJCTS Youth Scholarship Award Essay “Tourette Syndrome: An Artist’s Journey”

This is the essay I submitted to the NJ Center for Tourette Syndrome & Associated Disorders (NJCTS) for their 2015 Children’s Scholarship Award contest. I hope you enjoy it!

Shtick is the Yiddish word for ‘weird habit.’ I am a young woman who has multiple ‘shticks’. For the most part, it doesn’t bother me as I have always blinked my eyes, jutted my chin, jerked a leg or twitched my nose. These shticks first appeared when I was three years old and each would come and go like old friends dropping by to say hello and then moving onward after a brief visit. My friends noticed but didn’t care (they knew to sit to my right during lunch or else be kicked by a leg with ‘a mind of its own’) and I did well in school and life went on.

EmilyB

EmilyB

In my freshman year of high school things changed. My once relatively innocuous shticks were seizing greater control of my body and mind. Rather than dissipate, they lingered longer and longer. I started to tap a finger. It was just one finger and a tap here and there but like an avalanche, the taps started multiplying faster and faster until the action monopolized my thoughts. Tap. Tap. Tap. I became distracted in school and at home.

Tap. Tap. Tap. My finger bruised and calloused. Tap. Tap. Tap. It hurt. Tap. Tap. Tap. I couldn’t stop.

A visit to the doctor diagnosed Tourette Syndrome with accompanying Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). What I hadn’t realized until that moment was that I was riddled with OCD behaviors which were slowly strangling my thoughts and dictating my daily routine. I had to fight back. The neurologist armed me with klonopin, a narcotic which in her words ‘had street value’ and ‘should be hidden away’. With the endorsement of my parents, I tore the prescription up as soon as I left the office. I was determined to combat

this diagnosis on my terms with a lucid mind. I googled “Tourette Syndrome’ and my journey began.

I’ve always had a passion for painting, sketching, and expressing my emotions through the visual arts. Art serves as both an escape and catharsis. When I paint, my mind is completely focused on line, texture, shadow and form. I am drawn into a world of my making as I interpret the world around me. I am temporarily free from the hindering effects of Tourette Syndrome and OCD but like an electric charge that needs to be released, the urge is never completely dormant. My canvases reflect this struggle. I employ chiaroscuro or the use of strong contrast between light and dark. My surfaces are never still as the eye follows the ever changing pattern. There is an energy that simmers beneath the surface of my compositions. Form is never completely encapsulated by line. It seeks to break free.

A google search of Tourette Syndrome led my parents and me to the New Jersey Center for Tourette Syndrome (NJCTS) located not far from our home in central New Jersey. The center offered a wealth of educational material and guidance. We learned the official definition; “Tourette Syndrome is an inherited, neurological disorder characterized by repeated involuntary movements and uncontrollable vocal (phonic) sounds called tics”. I like shtick better.

From the information we received at NJCTS, I was led to the office of a wonderful behavioral psychologist who I have been working with for the past three years. Ridding the shackles of OCD is not easy. It is difficult work. The process is slow. There are often tears. Yet, it is also empowering. I now understand how my body and mind react to Tourette Syndrome. I am able to quell OCD tendencies before the behaviour grows

suffocating tentacles. I am in control.

I painted recently a canvas of a young woman holding a pair of scissors. The cool steely blades frame her eye and are poised to snap shut on her eyelashes. Her compulsion is not to cut her long black hair which frames her face but to hack off lashes which normally would fall out quietly. The image is unsettling. I wanted the viewer to experience anxiety triggered by OCD. However, upon closer inspection, the viewer realizes that the hand holding the scissors as well as the scissor’s handle are non-existent. The long silver blades trail to the edge of the canvas and then disappear. They are literally ‘cut off from the mechanism which can cause the blades to open and close. She is safe.

I will always be an artist. I will always have Tourette Syndrome. While I will continue to strive to understand how each influence the other, I am empowered to shape the direction of my journey. Looking back over several years of struggle, I found that art was my way to break free. This fall, I will be attending the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, Rhode Island. I am excited to immerse myself in everything which RISD offers and look forward to a career and life filled with creative possibilities!

EmilyB

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