How to be a Student with Tourette’s

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As of a few weeks ago, I am again a student. This time, though, instead of studying modern languages, I am studying a law conversion course – an intense nine months which essentially condenses a three-year law degree into just one academic year.

Challenges abound. It’s a new campus, a new subject matter and a new cohort of classmates. It’s also an entirely new experience for me, because, as I developed Tourette’s at the age of twenty-one (at the very end of my undergraduate degree) I’ve never really been a student with Tourette’s.

Consequently, I’m starting to find out what I had always supposed: being a student with Tourette’s is tough. There are three main problematic areas:

  • Concentration (or a lack thereof). Knuckling down is what the course is all about. You’re given tonnes of new information to digest each week, and each week, you are required to read, understand, write an awful lot. Alas, as reading, understanding and writing take up a lot of brain power, this often proves difficult, especially when you’re trying with all your might to suppress your tics in class.
  • An inability to sit still. How people sit down for eight hours a day is beyond me. I am a fidget, even when I’m not ticcing. I like to move, stretch, pace. What’s more, my Tourette’s demands it.
  • An inability to stay quiet. There are few things that make me want to tic more than perfect silence. This is especially problematic in libraries and exams – in other words, the stomping ground of students.

On top of this, there is the stress of an unrelenting workload, the anxiety that a near constant barrage of exams brings, and the awkwardness of coming out as having Tourette’s to a bunch of new people,

There are a few things I’ve done to make things better though:

  • Suppressing, suppressing, suppressing. It’s hard to explain what suppressing feels like, but I would liken it to being a can of fizzy drink that’s just been shaken. It also feels a bit like holding your breath. For a release, in between classes I make sure to walk around the nearby square so I can let it all out.
  • Coming out as having Tourette’s as soon as possible to all my classmates. I did this via a group WhatsApp chat, so I wouldn’t have to tell everyone individually. I explained the reason I was twitching and making random noises in class was that I had Tourette’s Syndrome. I said I hoped it wasn’t too annoying or distracting, and mentioned that although I try to suppress as much as I can, I can’t hold them all in. Finally, I warned them that my tics are especially offensive these days.
    The support I got back from my classmates was slightly overwhelming. They told me they admired my courage for telling them, and urged me to ask them if I needed anything. This was very sweet of them, but it didn’t take much courage to tell them. It was just necessary.
  • Coming out as having Tourette’s I came out as having Tourette’s as soon as possible to all my tutors. I actually asked my personal tutor to do this so I wouldn’t have to.
  • On top of this, I use all the tricks I mentioned in my previous post: switching an offensive word half-way through to something else – i.e. switching “shit” to “sugar”; changing the offensive word to something that rhymes – i.e. switching “fuck” to “duck”, and turning vocal tics into “mental tics”.

Whatever happens, it’s going to be an interesting nine months. But as to how I am going to be a lawyer with Tourette’s, well, I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.

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