I recommend listening to the audio version of this post. It will give you a better understanding of my symptoms. You can click the audio player below to start listening. Or if you would like to save the audio as an MP3 file so you can take it with you, please right click here and choose “save as.”
After Part 2 of How To Have Tourette’s, someone who had listened to the audio asked an interesting question that has a strange answer. If you didn’t listen to the audio, my tics were kind of exciting that night and I made some weird noises.
Here was the question: “Do you make those noises all the time? I’ve never heard you make them in your videos.”
The answer is yes…sort of. I make the noises all the time, meaning daily or even hourly–but not constantly. They have to come out sometime, and if I clamp down on a vocal tic because I’m sitting in a meeting, it just means that my foot or hand or neck or shoulders are going to start doing something. It’s like there’s a measurable amount of lame-o symptoms that have to come out, and it can’t be stopped– only diverted.
The reason that it doesn’t happen during the videos is, oddly enough, because the videos aren’t about Tourette’s. This has always been my experience: when I’m around someone with Tourette’s, both of our tics get worse. When I talk about Tourette’s, something about having it on my mind stirs things up. Right now as I’m typing this I’m having tics that I haven’t had all day and it’s because I’m thinking about tics.
It’s been a morbid dream of mine to go to the national Tourette’s convention in Washington D.C., if only to see the asylum of hooting and gnashing teeth and writhing bodies and tics in children. If we all set each other off, multiply that number by a few thousand of us and WOO WOO! hold on to your hats.
It is exactly these sorts of questions I welcome and, to some extent, beg for. Thanks to all who have asked so far.
Now on to Part 3.
Between second grade and my freshman year of High School, it doesn’t sound like much happened, Tourette’s wise. My tics were always there, but they were no big thing. It didn’t stop me from making friends and it doesn’t sound like I went around feeling sorry for myself.
I played little league soccer and baseball and learned that my tics were nearly always worse when I started breathing hard, but worse wasn’t that bad. Except for one thing that was usually just an annoyance but at times could be painful: I began tapping on my crotch–often much more forcefully than I liked.
This wasn’t the crazy compulsive masturbating that my mother talked about in Part 2 . This was a stupid urge to hit and rap and smack things with my knuckles–things that are better left unsmacked, at least without a safe word in place to protect myself. This resulted in a lot of stomachaches and groaning, but it wasn’t traumatic. However, much later when my wife and I started losing pregnancies, I found a way to blame my earlier testicle knockery.
Things changed in ninth grade. My symptoms had reached the point that my parents took me to get checked out by a doctor. They didn’t get much worse in terms of severity, but the tics were suddenly just as vocal as physical.
I have only the vaguest memories of going to that doctor. He said only that yes, it was Tourette’s, and no, it wasn’t severe enough to require treatment. It might never require treatment.
On the way home, my mother tells me that I kept saying how relieved I was. That it was weird, it was annoying, but it was a relief to know that I had “a real thing,” and not that I was crazy.
As far as the vocal tics, they swung back and forth from excessive throat clearing to a really high pitched humming in the back of my throat. Sometimes it was a high pitched sound like this: dee dee, or sometimes deep deep deep. I’d need to do it in the middle of class and of course I tried to do it softly. But softly didn’t cut it. It had to feel right. I had to do it a certain way or it didn’t feel right. Remember when I talked about that feeling when you’re just about to sneeze? If I didn’t do it until it felt right, then it was like never letting the sneeze out.
Getting it right usually meant making it loud enough, which didn’t always sit well with classmates. During a math class in 9th grade, I kept clearing my throat so loudly that a boy named Steven Salazar turned around and yelled at me to shut up.
I was a pretty sensitive kid. I apologized and tried to explain, knowing it would get worse. He got angrier and I went in the bathroom and made myself puke so I could go home.
Calling the teacher
My mom got concerned enough about the amount of noise I was making to call one of my teachers and ask if I was being disruptive. She was pleasantly shocked when the teacher basically told her to back off and that yes, I was doing just fine. My teachers all loved me: I was a good kid who did his work and had good manners. Never a headache for them.
But that wasn’t why that teacher defended me.
“It is wrong to label kids,” she told my mom. “You can’t give him the idea that he’s different or he’ll always act like he’s different because he’ll think that he’s different.”
She says this put her mind at ease for the time being. I’m sure it was a relief–one less thing for her to have on her mind.
This was my first year of high school sports. I was already very tall, at least 6’4″, and I was pretty coordinated. I also weighed 130 pounds and gave off a palpable frailty. You might have taken me in like a stray kitten. Okay, that’s a little much. But I was skinny.
Our team was good and we traveled a lot. My dual status as a tall, reasonably good player and twitchy weirdo with a giant red afro made me an immediate favorite of hostile crowds. And you’ve never seen hostile crowds like those in rural Nevada. There’s nothing else to do except go to high school games and yell.
I remember shooting free throws during a game in Reno as the crowd chanted “twitch twitch twitch.” I obliged. I also made the free throws and flipped them all off when we won. This was poorly received by my coaches and the fans of the team we had just killed with my dagger-like shooting.
That was my first hint that I could fight Tourette’s with anger and competition. This would cause me a lot of problems later, but in those early days, as long as I could win at something, it stung less when people made fun of me. If someone called me a twitchy gimp, I could ask how it felt to get bested by a twitchy gimp.
End of freshman year
All in all, things were okay. I wasn’t popular, but I had friends. In a lot of ways I was the opposite of popular. For instance, at the end of the year we had the assembly where they give out the awards to students. Best of this, best of that, most likely to, et cetera.
I was shocked when they called my name. “And for the fastest typist in the school, Josh Hanagarne, please come down.”
That was the longest walk of my life. Those bleachers could have been the steps of Chichezn Itza. Top it all off, they gave me a blue ribbon that said “Best in show” on it. I’m sure that weeks earlier, it had pinned to some pig’s curly tail at the State Fair.
Thanks for reading. If you know someone with Tourette’s, please send this to them.
If you liked this post, please Subscribe To The RSS feed.