The author of this essay was a winner of a 2020 NJCTS Scholarship Award.
This was the essay that was included with their application.
In the third grade, at the age of eight, I was diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome. This was followed by my subsequent, rapid development of involuntary head shaking, screeching, counting, and anxiety. I was placed on medication to help manage my symptoms, but they were still very prevalent in my elementary school-age years – especially in fourth grade. That time of my life was filled with intolerance and ignorance from my peers and adults alike. Other students would tease me for my Tourette’s and tell the teacher I said curse words even though I did not have Coprolalia. This led to numerous time-outs, lunch detentions, and harassment from my teacher. She would call me an idiot, disrespectful, and encourage my classmates to pick on me. When she did not want to deal with me anymore, I was sent to a counselor’s office inside a small trailer where I would remain for hours while doing nothing but pathetically spin around a purple dreidel I won from Chuck E-Cheese. Once my parents caught wind of what was happening, I was pulled out of the private school and placed back into a public school to finish the remainder of my education.
My anxiety, tics, and low self-esteem were drastically amplified by how I was treated in that private school, and I turned to playing basketball as a coping mechanism. This was the first time I was able to utilize my diagnosis to my benefit. My dad took me to the park to shoot hundreds of shots per day in the scorching summer heat, and I practically lived at a training facility called “Hoop Group” in Neptune. I used basketball as an outlet for me to take a break from having uncontrollable tics and anxiety. All my vocal and motor tics seamlessly faded away when I was playing and I slept more at peace than ever before: the only thing I would count were the many, many shots I took per day on the court. My OCD would not allow me to stop practicing until I made a certain amount of shots, which led to my skills improving exponentially. In fact, I commonly practiced among high-schoolers at the age of ten. The amount of discipline I taught myself from such a young age, with the help of my condition, would continue to benefit me in my future years when I quit basketball to focus more on my academics.
By the time I entered high school, I was not practicing any sport and, instead, filled my schedule with honors and AP-level classes. My anxiety levels rose exponentially since I did not have an activity to relax with. Instead of giving into my challenges, I choose to face them head on. I studied constantly and maintained nearly straight A’s while discovering coping strategies for my anxiety and tics. I then went on to accomplish amazing things during my high school years. I started a Mindful Psychology and Wellness Club to encourage my classmates to discuss topics surrounding mental health, earned my way into five honor societies as well became an officer member in a few, was chosen to attend several leadership conferences by my principal and school administrators, won a “goal-setting” award for my efforts in school, published many of my original poems online which reached a “national” status on Fusfoo.com, volunteered as an EMS cadet and rode in ambulances for over 210+ hours, will graduate in the top ten of my class of 326 students, and am currently on track to graduate from EMT school this May. I know I will continue to prosper in my future because I have discovered from a young age that Tourette Syndrome does not have to be a detriment to my life, for I can turn its negatives into positive habits and ambitions. I proudly acknowledge that my having Tourette Syndrome is what helped me pull through my hardest times and always come out on top.