It was more than 23 years ago that I was diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome.
I’ve learned a lot in that time. About myself, about others and most of all, that our relationship with mental health and conditions like TS is far more challenging than it should be.
My parents had a lot on their plate, jobs, managing a household, raising 3 children (one with considerable special needs), when I started developing some unfamiliar behaviours. A reoccurring urge to violently shake my head was one that began to frighten them. I once became so distracted with this urge that I stopped my bicycle in the middle of the road to indulge, without paying attention to the flow of cars around me. Sometime after that we began seeing doctors and specialists and figuring out what was going on.
Tourette Syndrome is a neurological condition that essentially causes repeated involuntary movements and sounds that are referred to as “tics”. It affects everyone differently, and contrary to what you may have seen in movies, most persons affected by it do not swear uncontrollably.
Tourette Syndrome was something seemingly unknown to most people and there was lots of learning for all of us to do. What was most challenging for me wasn’t necessarily my life at home or these urges (“tics”). It wasn’t that I had to live with them that caused me the most trouble, it was that I was expected to live a normal life in a world that wasn’t always going to just let it happen.
From experience, I quickly knew that each time I gave in to my tics, someone was going to notice. I knew that each time someone noticed, they were going to make choices. Were they going to pretend nothing happened? Were they going to exploit the opportunity to make a spectacle of it and lead others in a chorus of teasing and diminishment of my character? Or were they going to simply get “weirded out” and lose trust in even being near me?
Naturally, thinking about all of these things stressed me out and just fuelled more of a need to indulge my tics. Trying to hide and suppress them took a lot of energy. During the worst of it, there were probably days where I spent most of my time managing these expectations and very little on school work, engaging with friends or anything else until I finally had a moment of privacy. I was usually too exhausted to do a whole lot with those moments.