No, You Don’t Have Tourette’s

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Sharon Osbourne, a 66-year-old TV personality has reportedly said “Sometimes I think I have Tourette’s without too much swearing.”

I have never met Sharon Osbourne, but I am willing to bet she doesn’t have Tourette’s.

First things first, you don’t have to swear to have Tourette’s. Most people – between 75 and 90 percent of people with Tourette’s – don’t experience coprolalia.

Secondly, Sharon Osborne doesn’t have Tourette’s. What she has is a condition called “verbal diarrhoea” – an affliction that causes people to talk utter crap.

Thirdly, everyone needs to stop using Tourette’s as an excuse for bad language.

Bad language and Tourette’s are not synonymous.

I have had numerous people tell me they think they or their boyfriend/partner/cat has Tourette’s because they swear so much. But swearing is a small part of an incredibly complicated condition – a condition which can be the source of physical pain, isolation, and unemployment, a condition which causes much more motor tics than it does vocal, a condition which has been ridiculed by celebrities and non-celebrities for far too long.

It’s time to stop using Tourette’s as an excuse for poor behaviour. If you really think you have Tourette’s – if your body and voice are doing things out of your control – then see your GP. If you think you swear a bit too much, then maybe just chill out.

The Funniest Tics, The Least Funny Tics

Some of the Funniest Tics I’ve Had:

  1. I am at Christmas party in the presence of my boss’ boss’ boss – an elegantly dressed American millionaire – and tell her that she is, in no uncertain terms, “a low-calorie bitch”.
  2. I am on a Tinder date and stroke the face of the other person before I have a chance to introduce myself.
  3. It’s my first day of work, and I say to my manager, “I’m going to fucking kill you, you little bitch”.
  4. I am closing down the bar, as the last customers leave, say: “You’re all dead inside and drink to fill the void.”
  5. “You’re a bitch,” I tic to my three-year-old niece. “I’m not a bitch,” she replies, quite rightly too.

Some of the Least Funny Tics I’ve Had: 

  1. It’s snowing in London. The pavements are icy and I have to walk from the bus stop to my flat. It’s now that my Tourette’s decides now to stop me walking. My knees buckle and my legs jerk. It’s a miracle I don’t fall and hurt myself. I creep my way back home, clinging on to walls, too stubborn to take a taxi. The ten-minute journey takes half an hour.
  2. I am at work behind the till. I take a sharp intake of breath, then another, then another. I vaguely wonder if this is a panic attack. But it’s not. This is just my Tourette’s deciding that I’m not going to breathe that day.
  3. I am in hospital and my whole body is shaking. “Is she having a seizure?” a nurse asks.
  4. I am in my flat, relaxing. Suddenly, my fist clenches and punches the wall. In the days that follow, I punch the wall innumerable times. In the months that follow, I break three windows.
  5. “N*****!”

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.

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.

What Are You Laughing At?

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The other day – I had a catch up with someone I used to know. We hadn’t seen each other in almost a year. During our meeting. I told him about what I’d been up to, the jobs I’d been working, and the books I’d been reading. I also told him about the months where my Tourette’s had been pretty bad.

“I even had trouble walking,” I said.

“How?” he asked.

“I would just keep falling over,” I said.

My former friend then took this opportunity to laugh as if not being able to walk were the funniest thing in the world.

“I’m sorry,” he said, not sounding sorry at all. “It’s just so funny.”

I was little bit confused. I didn’t remember not being able walk as being funny at all. It was, at the time, incredibly frustrating not being able to get from A to B without staggering all over the place.

But the encounter, and my acquaintance’s reaction, got me thinking. Is Tourette’s funny? In my experience, people certainly seem to think so. Sometimes, I only have to tell people I have Tourette’s and they laugh.

This can be annoying, especially when my Tourette’s is playing up. I have had, in no particular order, tics in my legs which have impaired my walking, tics in my eyes which have impaired my sight, tics in my lungs which have impaired my breathing, tics in my arms which have made me punch walls, tics in my arms which have made me punch windows, tics in my arms which have made me punch mirrors, and tics in my arms which have made me punch my face. None of these have been particularly humorous.

Most of the time, though, people don’t think of these kinds of tics when they think of Tourette’s. When they think of Tourette’s, they think of one thing: coprolalia – the compulsion to utter expletives and other socially inappropriate phrases, something which affects only 10 to 25 percent of people with Tourette’s.

Admittedly, a condition which makes you do something bizarre as swear compulsively does sound quite funny. The problem is, though, that is although it sometimes has a humorous side, coprolalia is more often than not embarrassing, isolating, and downright awkward. Indeed, it would be fair to say that most of coprolalia isn’t funny at all.

Despite all the un-funny tics Tourette’s can throw at you, despite the fact that the condition can be a cause of social isolation, unemployment, bullying, and embarrassment, if you listen out for them, you’ll hear many jokes where Tourette’s is a punchline. For some reason, it is socially acceptable to mock Tourette’s in a way that it isn’t with other disabilities.

Although laughter might be an excellent medicine, the culture of poking fun at Tourette’s has had many negative effects on those with the condition. Thanks to the innumerable Tourette’s jokes out there, the struggles people with Tourette’s go through are laughed off to such an extent that some even go so far as to say they wish they had the condition.

Ultimately, the comedy surrounding Tourette’s is due to a lack of understanding, and it’s this lack of understanding which makes having the condition far more isolating than it needs to be.

 

 

Pros and Cons of Having Tourette’s

Pros:

  • Sometimes, it’s funny.

Cons:

  • It hurts.
  • It’s embarrassing.
  • It’s exhausting to be ticcing all the time.
  • It can be harder to get or keep a job.
  • You probably have another condition like OCD, ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, depression, anxiety, or all five. All of these comorbid conditions can make life harder to live.
  • People laugh at people with Tourette’s.
  • People stare at people with Tourette’s.
  • People don’t really know what Tourette’s is, meaning that those with the condition have to constantly explain what it is.
  • People think Tourette’s is just about swearing, so if you’re one of the 75 – 90 percent of people with Tourette’s who don’t swear, people accuse you of not having the condition.
  • Tics which are rude or offensive can put you in danger of angering or offending someone.
  • People think people with Tourette’s are just pretending, that they are just saying what they want to say and then acting as though it was a tic.
  • People with Tourette’s have to put up with being the centre of attention.
  • Tourette’s is an incurable, chronic condition.