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.

Tic Attacks

Tic attacks, tic fits, tic status, whatever you want to call it, they suck in a serious way. Imagine being unable to control your body or voice for hours on end. Imagine hitting your head against the wall, grunting, throwing objects, breaking stuff, jerking your arms, constantly writhing and shaking, falling to the floor when you try to walk, not being able to string a sentence together without your Tourette’s interrupting it with all sorts of random expletives.

I’m in week three of a job at an advertising agency. I love the place. They couldn’t be more supportive of my Tourette’s. They let me go home early if my tics are too disabling. They send me in a taxi if the Tube is too hard to handle. They let me take more frequent breaks. They have let everyone in the building I know about my condition so no one is alarmed or surprised when I suddenly let out a profanity.

The problem is my Tourette’s is bad at this job. I’ve had three tic attacks in three weeks which is unheard of for me. The problem is I don’t want to be seen as the sick, disabled employee who can’t handle a 9 to 5 workday like everyone else. I want to be well, to work consistently, to knuckle down like everyone else. The problem is I don’t want to have Tourette’s, and yet I do, there’s no cure, the treatments I have had have only alleviated some of my symptoms but by no means all of them.

It’s a big problem – one that, as of yet, can’t be resolved. All I can do now is be thankful that my employers are so understanding, be grateful that I have regular access to a neurologist, and be happy that my friends and family are supporting me through my Tourette’s – whatever it brings.

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*****!”

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

  • 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.