One of the most common questions I get after telling someone I have Tourette Syndrome is, “Wait, so like, what are your tics?” I think this question is harder to answer than actually telling people I have Tourettes. It feels like I’ve just told them, “I do weird things,” and then it feels like they ask, “So what weird things do you do?”
It can be intimidating to tell people that I have vocal and physical habits that “deviate” from what’s considered normal. Unfortunately, thanks to mass media, many people assume I’m going to confess my great love of cussing (Because we’re all just dying to break out in a string of cuss words in public for fun, right?), so it surprises people often when I explain my tics. They’re not what people think.
“Well, I blink, making squeaking sounds, rub my thumb on my lip, and tense up my muscles, to name my most common ones,” I tell them. “I have more, but they only come out when I’m really stressed.” Most often, the response is a blank stare, followed by, “So those are tics? I didn’t think those could be tics. I thought you cussed a lot.”
So What is a Tic?
Having tics is the defining symptom for having Tourette Syndrome, its less severe sibling, Chronic Tic Disorders, or other disorders such as PANDAS (Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections). They can also show up after a severe injury to the brain, such as one might sustain in a bad car accident, or as a side effect from certain medications, according to NHS England.
Pretty much anything can be a tic. If your body can do it, it can be a tic. WebMD’s article, “Tic Disorders and Twitches,” defines tics as,
“…spasm-like movements of particular muscles…These short-lasting sudden movements (motor tics) or uttered sounds (vocal tics) occur suddenly during what is otherwise normal behavior. Tics are often repetitive, with numerous successive occurrences of the same action. For instance, someone with a tic might blink his eyes multiple times or twitch her nose repeatedly.”
KidsHealth.org’s article, “Tics,” defines a tic as,
“…a sudden, repetitive movement or sound that can be difficult to control.”
Healthline’s article, “Transient Tic Disorder,” describes tics as,
“A tic is an abrupt, uncontrollable movement or sound that does not relate to a person’s normal gestures.”