When I was in the second grade my school called home to inform my parents that their son had been observed rolling his eyes repeatedly, looking to his left over and over, and even licking his arms. This was not to be taken lightly, the school advised, and suggested that something might be seriously wrong with me. From that call forth I was pulled out of class almost every day to meet with the special education specialist and/or school psychologist, and after school my mother drove me to hospitals and doctor’s offices all around the San Francisco Bay Area in hopes of learning why I did these things.
I, of course, was well aware I was doing these thing. But no matter how many times I was told “to just stop it,” or that “I could cut it out if I really wanted too,” I couldn’t. I sure wished I could though. After all each eye roll angered my teacher, each glance to the left made the kid sitting beside me uncomfortable, and each lick of my arm drew howls of derisive laughter from my classmates.
After enduring numerous MRIs (that revealed nothing) and taking a medley of medications (that did little more than cause me to fall asleep at my desk) a doctor diagnosed me as having a chronic tic disorder that fell on the Tourette’s spectrum. He suggested that we wait to see how things progressed because 85% of kids with tics either see them lessen or go away entirely as they grow into adults. Fortunately, I ended up among those 85% of kids. Unfortunately, I wasn’t among those whose tics went away entirely. Instead, my tics just lessened while remaining a major annoyance in my life.
Like many people who suffer from chronic tics, I learned how to “cover” them when out in public. For example, I somehow manage – most of the time – to move my tics away from my face to places less visible such as my back and stomach muscles. These back and stomach tics often prompt people to ask me if I have the hiccups, and instead of telling the truth, I just say that I do. Similarly, when people see me blink too much and assume I have something in my eye, I don’t correct them. I sometimes have to remind Heather that I’m not rolling my eyes at her, it’s just a tic. And when someone makes an all too common Tourette’s Syndrome joke, I just let it pass. I’ve been able to cover this way, for the most part, the entirety of my adult life.
Even at their most manageable, however, my tics still cause me great trouble. There is pain and soreness caused by repeating the same action over and over, there are back spasms from the constant flexing of my back muscles, and there is always a kid around to ask me why I keep “making that face” (thus reminding me that I don’t cover my tics as well as I think I do). Still, these are the days I long for, because there are also times when my tics get worse. During these flare-ups (for lack of a better word) I am constant in pain, exhausted, afraid to go into public, and even reduced to tears of frustration with it all. Right now, unfortunately, is one of those times.
I don’t know why my tics are so bad right now – my flare-ups aren’t stress related and come at all times – so there is no obvious cause. This makes sense, I guess, since Tourette’s and chronic tics have no cure, and are, to a large degree, still a mystery to science. Nevertheless, I went to Dr. Looove today and got medication that may help. Hopefully, in time my tics will return to their “normal” level as they have in the past when I’ve had a flare-up.
I’m “coming out” about this, so to speak, for a couple reasons. First, I hope that by giving a personal connection to someone suffering from tics it might inspire people to tell fewer Tourette’s jokes. People make these jokes all the time assuming that, because no one is yelling obscenities in the room, there is no one there to be offended. But that’s not true. 19% of children suffer from some kind of tic disorder. So whenever someone makes one of these jokes there is a chance that 1/5th of the people around them struggled with tics as kids, and don’t find Tourette’s jokes funny.
More importantly, I am discussing this because I am tired of “covering” my tics. This is just part of who I am, and someday, when Annie asks why daddy blinks so much, I’m not going to be ashamed to tell her the truth.