I Hate Mindfulness

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The early twentieth century gave us psychoanalysis, the late twentieth century gave us cognitive behavioural therapy, and then came mindfulness. Stemming from the meditative practices of Buddhist monks – a demographic who experience very little depression or anxiety – mindfulness has been lauded as a treatment for myriad conditions, including but not limited to: depression, anxiety, insomnia, ADHD, chronic pain, and yes, Tourette’s.

As someone who’s prone to mental health wobblies, professionals have been advising me to take up mindfulness for years, initially with my depression in mind.

Please believe me when I say I tried. I downloaded the apps and even paid for subscriptions. I put up with Headspace’s Andrew telling me to have a “nice soft gaze” for the umpteenth time. I sat down at the same time every day, trying to be aware as possible of my breathing.

Through it all, my friends, dizzied by their recent mindfulness epiphanies, raved about the benefits to me: mindfulness increases concentration and focus, decreases stress, eliminates anxiety.

And I’m sure they’re right. I sure they did feel more focused, less stressed and less anxious, because there is concrete evidence that mindfulness is the way forward for treating depression, anxiety and its related symptoms.

But whatever it is, mindfulness isn’t a panacea. As someone with Tourette’s, it is so hard it’s basically impossible. After all, a requirement of the practice is sitting still and shutting up: a challenge for someone with a condition that makes you speak and move randomly.

Much to my dismay, when I did try mindfulness, I actually found that meditating actually exacerbated my tics instead of alleviating them. I would writhe, twitch and yell when I was supposed to be quiet and still.

Thankfully, I have found plenty of things which have helped my depression which aren’t mindfulness, and a couple of things which have even helped my Tourette’s too.

Things that have helped my depression which aren’t mindfulness:

  • A gentle jog or leisurely walk
  • Sitting in the sun, even if it’s for five minutes, and even if it’s cold out
  • Cooking a healthy meal and then eating it
  • Having a good old chin wag with a friend and a glass of wine
  • Being creative: writing a little story, blog post, drawing a picture, colouring in
  • Taking a bath
  • Dressing smartly even if I’m not leaving the house
  • Getting a haircut
  • Sleeping well
  • Kurt Vonnegut
  • Time

Things that have helped my Tourette’s which aren’t mindfulness:

  • Aripiprazole
  • Clonazepam

Of course, none of these things have cured my depression or Tourette’s, but that said, they have helped a bit, which is more than I can say for mindfulness. I think the truth is that there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to treating these conditions. After all, each person’s brain is different, and just like some people respond to certain medications but not others, it’s only logical that some people are going to respond to some therapies and not others. And that, I would suggest, is quite alright.

More Questions People Ask People with Tourette’s

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  • Why do people with Tourette’s swear and not tic “nice” words?

Firstly, only 10 to 25 percent of people with Tourette’s experience coprolalia. Secondly, I tic lots of nice words (“Lemon”, “Botticelli”, “woo hoo”). Thirdly, no one really knows why certain words become tics and not others.

  • What would happen if you didn’t know any swear words?

If, hypothetically, you didn’t know any swear words, then you would tic other rude things. For instance, yelling “you’re fat” to someone who’s chubby, “get hair” to someone who’s bald, or “I hate you” to someone who may or may not inspire in you such a feeling.

  • Have you ever got into trouble because of your Tourette’s?

Sometimes people ask me what I’m doing in a rather irritated way, but I just explain I have Tourette’s and then they’ve always been fine with it. I think it helps to be a woman in these circumstances.

  • How do you sleep?

My tics vastly reduce when I’m asleep, so I have no problems with insomnia due to Tourette’s. However, getting to sleep can sometimes be tough. Often, I’ll tic while I’m half-asleep and wake myself up. This is annoying.

  • Is there any medication for it?

Yes – antipsychotics are used even though psychosis has nothing to do with Tourette’s. These aren’t for everyone as many people suffer quite badly with the side-effects which are sometimes worse than the tics themselves. Also, the drugs don’t work for everyone. Unfortunately, there is no cure for this condition and even if medication is helpful for some people, it’s not going to get rid of the tics entirely.

  • What triggered you getting Tourette’s?

When people ask this, I assume they think Tourette’s is like a mental illness caused by a stressful life event. This isn’t really the case. Tourette’s is neurological – it happens because there is something wrong with your basal ganglia. It’s often inherited but not always, and is more likely to occur if you have things like ADHD and OCD running in your family. As such, nothing triggered my Tourette’s. It just happened.

  • How does a tic feel?

Like this. But also like you’re a puppet being controlled by some hyperactive and rude five-year old child, and also a bit like you’re possessed.

Dealing with Racist Tics

I thought I’d had all the bad tics.

After all, I’ve punched windows, slapped friends, thrown a glass at my manager, shouted out the f-word, c-word and s-word, yelled “pigs” at police officers, and hit my head repeatedly against a wall.

I was wrong. It turns that things could get worse. Now, regrettably, my Tourette’s is coming out with racial slurs: an unfortunate but rare facet of coprolalia.

This is obviously awkward, to say the least. Now, it seems I’m going to be offending a lot more people, at a much deeper level.

At a loss as to what to do, I asked the internet for advice, and this is what everyone said:

  • Explain quickly to anyone who has overheard my racist tics that I have Tourette’s.
  • Wear a badge saying I have Tourette’s.
  • Try to turn the vocal tics into “mental tics”. “Mental tics” is not a medical term, it’s just what I call the silent tics that interrupt my thoughts. They feel much like an intrusive thought, but it’s made up of words instead of images.
  • Switch the tic. For example, if the racist tic is coming out, sometimes it’s possible to switch the word to something else half-way through.
  • Alternatively, if the tic has to come out, say something that rhymes with the offensive word instead.

It’s early days – I only started ticcing racial slurs a few days ago – but I’ve since found that tic-switching and finding a rhyming word really works for me.

As general rule, I find that tics come and go. I can’t wait for this one to go away, but for now I’m putting the internet’s advice into practice, and taking each tic as it comes.