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How To Have Tourette’s Part 6: Nightmare In The Airport

I am interrupting the Halloween extravaganza for an update I think you may enjoy.  13 Days of Darkness is back tomorrow.  When I wrote this I was sitting in the Salt Lake City airport at the end of a really difficult morning with Tourette’s Syndrome.  Actually, this might count for the Halloween series.  It does have blood in it.

The crowds are the thing...

The crowd's the thing...

I am standing in line in a crowded airport in Salt Lake City and I can’t stop barking.  “Arf!  Woof! Yip yip yip!”

The other people in the line are not very happy about this.  I’m not sure what to say to them.  I guess I could say, “Was that me or you?  RRRRR.  Woof!”

Finally it gets to me.  I’m only about ten back in line at this point, but I have to get out of the line.  Something is coming.  I duck under the rope and sit down in a chair between two of the vending machines and try to sit on my hands–but I’m too late.  One of my hands turns into a fist and smashes into my nose.


I look down at my bloody shirt and think: I’m not going to be home for six days.  Who’s going to wash this shirt for me? Oh well, no time to worry about this.  I don’t think anyone saw me.  I put my hands over my nose and run to the bathroom, dripping through my fingers.  I throw my duffel bag into one of the stalls and sit on the toilet to regain my composure.

The fist is still flying.  This is one of the worst things about Tourette’s.  Once I actually injure myself, that is what my brain wants me to keep doing.  My poor nose…

“You all right in there?”

I look through the crack in the door.  A custodian is standing by the sinks.

“Yeah, thanks man,” I say. “I just have a bloody nose.”

I sit on my hands and drip onto the floor.  It isn’t stopping.  I look for a way to distract myself, but I sat down in the only stall in the world without any graffiti on the walls.  Quickly I unzip my duffel bag and pull out a bag of 60d nails that I have been trying to bend. I quickly wrap one of them in leather, stand up, and bend it with my hands.

Then another.  And another.  And one more.

My nose is still dripping, but all I can think about is the PR I just hit.  My previous record with these nails was three in 30 minutes.  I just did four in under two minutes!  Woo hoo!

I clean up my nose and walk out of that stall with a big smile on my face, only to slip in the puddle of blood I left on the floor when I walked in.  I hurry back into the stall, strip to the waist, and change my shirt. But first I get out the training diary I keep in my bag and mark down:

4 60d nails in two minutes.  Hell yes.

It was a good morning after all.  I look at myself in the mirror.  I look into my eyes trying to see this other thing that lives inside my brain.

I see it.  I win again, I say.  If you had a throat, I would strangle you, Tourette’s.  But you do not, so I will do the only thing I can–the thing you hate the most:I will live my life as if you do not exist.  You are only as real as I decide you are.

I head back out, check my bags, and get on my plane.  I am twitching again like crazy but I don’t care.  Five hours later I will land in Monterey,  There was a day when I would have spent the afternoon in bed, curled into a ball.

Instead, I will check into my hotel, ask where the most crowded spot in town is, and I will walk there and stand in the middle of the crowd, just to prove that I can.  Just to spite this monster in my head.

I win again.


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  • Greg October 26, 2009, 2:06 am

    All I can say is Wow. That’s a powerful story.

    I can’t imagine living with that each and every day. It’s the sort of story that makes a reader want to say they’re sorry, except that would not only trivialize the situation — it’s part of who you are. For good or for ill. Would I want someone telling me they felt sorry for me if I had to deal with that? An effort to be understanding — definitely wanted. Pity — I don’t think so.

    The timing’s spot-on , too. Just today, my 5-year old niece had relapse into epileptic seizures after 18 months of no seizures. I was down to visit my family when it happened, and it absolutely tore everyone up. There was nothing any of us could do to help her. She ended up at the E.R.

    Part of what defines us is how we deal with our own personal demons. We all have them. You’ve obviously chosen to be the commander of yours. Your attitude and approach to this takes true courage. As does writing about it. I salute you.

    • Josh Hanagarne October 26, 2009, 8:22 am

      Greg, it’s a hard thing. Sometimes sympathy is nice, but can easily lead to pity. You can also start to love and expect pity, which is absolute poison. I’ve been in both places and the person I am now has only been around for about two years. I put off the choice to be in charge for far too long.

      I’ll be thinking about your niece. It sounds like she has a supportive family. Best of luck with everything. Thanks as always.

    • Laura Wall October 26, 2009, 9:17 am

      An amazing story, Josh. I think you rock. Now Greg – not to be a worry wort, but I want to make sure that your niece has the correct diagnosis of epilepsy. I work for the SADS Foundation (Sudden Arrhythmia Death Syndromes) which are often misdiagnosed as epileptic seizures. If she can, she ought to see a cardiologist who is informed about Long QT and other SADS conditions. These conditions can be easily and inexpensively treated (usually with beta blockers) and children live and thrive with them and have long, healthy lives. For more information, please look at http://www.StopSADS.org or call us at 1-800 STOP SAD.

      Sorry for the commercial break, Josh – now back to bending nails! You are an inspiration.

  • Laura Cococcia October 26, 2009, 4:51 am

    Josh – Sorry I’ve been a bit MIA…

    I got chills reading this story. I tried to place myself in the situation as I read it. I don’t know if I could have the strength that you do, but I think there’s a part of us that rises to the occasion when we need to. Maybe it’s part adrenaline, part awesome demeanor and strong ability to adapt.

    You totally won.

    • Josh Hanagarne October 26, 2009, 8:17 am

      Laura, you could do the same thing if you had to, but you don’t have to. I think that’s the point. You can almost certainly handle things I can’t, but I think that’s whey they’re yours to handle.

  • Heather October 26, 2009, 7:02 am

    WOW. . . . Josh a bazillion, Tourette’s zero. SCREW YOU, TOURETTE’S, JOSH WINS AGAIN!!!!!!!!!! WOW! All those nails, in next-to-no-time-at-all! Dude, you so totally rock!

    • Josh Hanagarne October 26, 2009, 8:24 am

      Heather, thanks. As always, you said it as only you can:)

  • Dean October 26, 2009, 7:45 am

    That’s an awesome PR but, were they going to let you on the plane with those nails? I’m not into nail bending myself , are they sharp on the ends? Just wondering.

    • Josh Hanagarne October 26, 2009, 8:17 am

      Dean, no, they wouldn’t have let me on the plane with nails, unless they’ve dropped the national alert level from orange to pink:)

  • Eric October 26, 2009, 8:04 am

    “Was that me or you? RRRRR. Woof!” That made me laugh. Like Dean, I was also wondering how they let you on the plain with a box of nails.

    On a more serious side, your stories are consistently inspirational. You have amazaing strength to stay positive and turn bad situations into good ones.

    • Josh Hanagarne October 26, 2009, 8:16 am

      I didn’t make it onto the plain with the nails. I wasn’t trying to. They were in the big bag I was trying to get checked in.

  • Casey Brazeal (North and Clark) October 26, 2009, 8:11 am

    Fuiste a Monterey? Que guay!

  • Victoria Vargas October 26, 2009, 8:17 am

    Josh, I gotta say I’ve been a staunch supporter of you and your website since I first stumbled on you, but now I’m afraid it’s veering into hero worship. Hell yes, you won. Go, man, go!!! And you inspire me to rise above the crap life throws at me more than anyone I’ve ever met or author I’ve read.

    I had a yoga teacher once tell me that “your body is not you. Your body is yours. You are not your thoughts. Your thoughts are yours.” I found it profound at the time, but you’ve taken it to a whole new level. I, too, salute you, my friend.

    You’ll love Monterey. I go at least once a year to visit my brother and his family and that town always leaves me refreshed and invigorated. Enjoy!!!

    • Josh Hanagarne October 26, 2009, 8:20 am

      Victoria, I love Monterey already. I want to move. Be careful who you let inspire you. I have plenty of things I do that are the absolute opposite of inspirational. Once I had a handful of croutons for dinner.

      • Victoria Vargas October 26, 2009, 8:28 pm

        Ah, but see that works. Take the croutons to the Monterey Aquarium and feed them to the pretty fishes. Everyone wins. Okay the marine biologists there might not be so amused, but I bet it’ll inspire the heck out of the mantarays. They are so cool – you get to touch them (at least you did last year…). Hope you get a chance to check it out. The jellyfish are my favs.

        • Josh Hanagarne October 26, 2009, 8:33 pm

          Victoria, I’m going to go on Thursday. Further bulletins as events warrant.

  • Stephanie Smith October 26, 2009, 9:03 am

    Yoda -my hero!
    I am raging against the world today and since I can’t bend nails, I shall box the crap out of the “fake”man from the sporting store that is the face of everyone who pisses me off, then I will hang upside down on my new inversion table and ponder why hitting things makes me feel better, since I was never a violent person before.
    Seriously though, I give you your due. Not pity and not sympathy, but admiration for not curling up into a ball. You have acheived something few people ever truly find…the courage to accept that which cannot be changed and bend what you can to bring peace out of chaos. Bend…get it.. ok- lame metaphor, but I tried. 🙂

    • Josh Hanagarne October 26, 2009, 12:47 pm

      Stephanie, well-crafted. That needs to be on a t-shirt: “I bend peace out of chaos.”

  • Srinivas Rao October 26, 2009, 9:40 am


    More power to you for facing it head on. I think it’s amazing to have such an incredible internal personal transformation. Some people would not deal so well but you have definitely taken your condition and used it to your advantage.

    • Josh Hanagarne October 26, 2009, 12:46 pm

      It has taken a long time to get to this point. 9 out of the last 10 years were years spent curled up in a ball. No more. But thanks for the kind words.

  • Larissa October 26, 2009, 10:02 am

    I really wish that my son was mature enough to read this post and understand what a great victory this was for you. A vocal tic just reared its ugly head about two weeks ago (his fist vocal) and he is really having a hard time with the kids asking him to “shhh” and “be quiet” during class. They are not being mean about it, but I think it’s just hard for him now that they are really noticing that something is just not normal about him. 🙁
    Anyway, I am going to be printing out some of your posts to save for him some day when he is older and is in need of encouragement and understanding that I can’t give him. Thanks, Josh. 🙂

    • Josh Hanagarne October 26, 2009, 11:21 am

      Thanks Larissa. It is so much worse to deal with when you’re younger. Tell him he can write to me or call me at any time if it might help.

      • Larissa October 26, 2009, 12:13 pm

        Your kindness has truly brought me to tears. . . I will definitely talk to him about it tonight. Be prepared though, as you might receive an interesting drawing of a crazy robot along with a letter. 🙂
        I have a question for you also: Can you remember anything that your mom/dad might have said/did to encourage you when you were 9 or 10 that really was helpful?

        • Josh Hanagarne October 26, 2009, 12:43 pm

          Larissa, sadly, not really. I was raised in a very loving family, but nobody can step inside your shoes or your body. They encouraged me in all the ways that parents are supposed to, but none of that really translated for me into making things easier to deal with. My symptoms back then weren’t nearly as hard as they are now, so our situations might be hard to compare.

          I never wondered if my parents loved me. That was the main thing that mattered. No matter what else happened, I was safe at home.

        • Janette H October 26, 2009, 8:14 pm

          Larissa, my sister’s kids have Tourette’s and have dealt with some pretty awful stuff growing up. They’re now 18 and 14 and continue to tic. When I asked her what she did to help ease the situation, she said simply that they made home the safe place to be. Her family is really tight, maybe more so because of the challenges Tourette’s has given them. It hasn’t been easy by any means, but they have really pulled together as a family. Good luck to you. I’m pulling for you.

  • pseudosu October 26, 2009, 11:20 am

    Hi Josh-
    Go you! Awesome! I battle some of the things that live in me sometimes, but none of them have ever tried to punch me out in an airport. Way to grab the reins and give your brain another job to focus on. Great story!

    • Josh Hanagarne October 26, 2009, 12:46 pm

      If any of those things do try to punch you out, tell me and I’ll punch them.

  • Gayze October 26, 2009, 11:34 am

    Okay, my first instinct as I read this was to launch into Mommy Mode and want to rush at you with a hug and an ice pack….

    And then I thought, “Bending nails? Crap, I can’t even bend a paper clip!”

    You rock, Josh!

    • Josh Hanagarne October 26, 2009, 11:49 am

      Gayze, I did get an ice pack later, so your instincts are right on there.

  • Oleg Mokhov October 26, 2009, 12:05 pm

    Hey Josh,

    Difficulties make you stronger.

    Rather than succumbing to Tourette’s, it looks like you’re embracing it as part of your life to help you get stronger and grow as a person. It’s like going for a run with weights attached to your legs – it’s tougher, way less pleasant, but boy does it make you a LOT stronger.

    Awesome and inspiring.

    You’re a soldier. Thank you for sharing your interesting and insightful stories on living with Tourette’s,

    • Josh Hanagarne October 26, 2009, 12:45 pm

      Oleg, I’m no soldier. I do what I do because the alternative is terrifying. Life goes by too quickly to mope. Most of what I do that inspires people is pure self-defense on my part. It’s how I live instead of cope. I do it because I don’t know how not to. But that doesn’t mean I’m not thrilled that it seems to help some people.

  • Boris Bachmann October 26, 2009, 2:36 pm

    I really know next to nothing about Tourette’s. When you train, do you have tics? If the mind is fully occupied and focused (as in bending), can you control the tics? Does meditation help you at all? I asked some of these questions in the sleep post I had, but I don’t know if you saw them.

    • Josh Hanagarne October 26, 2009, 3:06 pm

      Boris, I don’t have tics when I train. Before and after, yes, but during–no. My commitment to strength and kettlebells originally came out of the realization that when I focus on lifting something heavy, it is a respite from my symptoms. I choose voluntary levels of discomfort so high–think SSST and heavy bending–that it makes the involuntary pains and discomforts of Tourette’s seem insignificant in comparison. At least, that’s how it usually works. Sometimes it’s just hard and horrible, but those days are more infrequent these days.

      Basically, playing the guitar, writing, speaking, and lifting take up all the room in my brain. While I am doing those things, my symptoms are tolerable. Standing in a line, sitting in a movie theater, classroom, or at church…those are impossible situations where distraction is nearly impossible. And whenever the greatest amount of people are most likely to notice me–like in a quiet theater–that’s when things really tend to ramp up.

      Meditation is ok, insofar as I can concentrate. But today I literally have not had one minute of stillness. I have been scratching myself and shouting all day long. I am constantly trying to increase my mental toughness, so I do try to meditate each day. But it is typically a matter of adding ten seconds to my capacity for stillness, and I might add 10 seconds in a week.

      Thanks for the questions. Please feel free to email or call if you want more details than I can write here.

  • Danielle October 26, 2009, 4:19 pm

    Josh, being new to this site, I looked at part of your bio. last night: I was meant to accidentally land here. I even spoke of Cicero and quoted Mark Twain not knowing your interest.
    Your story is one people from all walks of life need to hear. When I was in my late teens/early twenties I suffered from the most debilitating anxiety attacks that eventually turned into agoraphobia. A trip to the supermarket was llike climbing Mt. Everest.
    I too became homebound and curled up in a ball.

    I also practiced some similar “coping” mechanism that grew out of the desire to move out of the “simply-surviving” mode-not bending nails, more like biting them- Fortunately, with time, self-acceptance and experience the COPING phase morphed into finally LIVING.

    My “Dis-ease” can not be compared to the severity of yours; but from my limited personal journey of struggles; I can just begin to imagine in a tip-of-the-iceberg manner what your experiences must be like. You know you should be VERY proud of yourself.

    As mentioned, I was meant to land here. Although I no longer suffer from those debilitating bouts, I seem to have temporarily lost my way during the last 2 years. Some of my behavior has regressed back to the cope/survive phase. You are a reminder that I must take action again, as I did years ago. That’s why I was rereading Viktor Frankl. In Googling Frankl, I found you:
    All the more poweful, living inspiration. Thank you

    • Josh Hanagarne October 26, 2009, 4:37 pm

      Danielle, you made a good day even better, thank you. I think agoraphobia must be one of the strangest disorders out there, and it sounds like another one that’s very hard to get people to empathize with. I really cannot put myself in your shoes, because the symptoms of agoraphobia are so alien to me that I can’t even begin to imagine it. Of course, I don’t have to imagine it, because I probably couldn’t deal with it. That’s why I don’t have it.

      Maybe you couldn’t deal with Tourette’s. who knows? I really do believe that unless something kills you, it is bearable. And you can always improve on bearable if you want to.

  • Megan Horton October 26, 2009, 6:46 pm

    🙁 Sorry. I remember when you used to have the face punching tic all the time. That sucks, but at least you told Tourette’s to go screw off!!

    • Josh Hanagarne October 26, 2009, 8:18 pm

      Megan, it’s fine. I will suffer any indignity as long as it means I have a great story to tell. But I accept your sorry. I can’t wait to come out for thanksgiving.

      • Megan Horton October 27, 2009, 8:00 am

        Yeah we can’t wait either! It will be fun. Are you guys flying or driving?

  • Kelly Diels October 26, 2009, 7:03 pm

    “What if this is all I get?”

    This story is the answer. You really do bend peace out of chaos.

    Your words rock me.

    • Josh Hanagarne October 26, 2009, 8:24 pm

      hmm…I suppose I do. I wish I could bend a doughnut out of thin air right now and eat it.

  • Ronna Detrick October 26, 2009, 7:28 pm

    Your story – and vulnerability – is such a profound example of what it means to blog well, to reveal, to tell the truth, to be seen. Thank you. I’m better because of you.

    • Josh Hanagarne October 26, 2009, 8:22 pm

      Careful, Ronna. Don’t forget, I know how great you are and if you start telling me I’ve made you any better the weight of my big head might send me plummeting into the bottom floor of this hotel.

  • Daisy October 26, 2009, 7:57 pm

    On a side note – have you read Oliver Sacks’ Anthropologist on Mars? It’s a collection of stories, and one features a surgeon with Tourette’s.
    I picked it up because of pieces on blindness and autism (my son has both), but I found the entire book fascinating.

    • Josh Hanagarne October 26, 2009, 8:19 pm

      Daisy, I did read it. I also saw a documentary about that surgeon. I would let him operate on me without any fear, because I know the zone he goes into when he focuses.

  • Beth L. Gainer October 26, 2009, 9:12 pm

    Josh, finally a post I can read. Those consecutive days of horror scare me too much to venture into them. Don’t like the horror genre because I believe everything I see and hear.

    That being said, I’m really sorry to hear about that Tourette’s incident at the airport. At least you hit the PR in the nails department.

    • Josh Hanagarne October 26, 2009, 9:15 pm

      Thanks Beth. Halloween will be over before you know it:)

  • Amy Nisbet October 26, 2009, 10:51 pm

    Bravo Josh!

  • sas October 27, 2009, 2:50 am

    you are a total rockstar!
    consider me subscribed.

    • Josh Hanagarne October 27, 2009, 8:12 am

      All right Sas, I consider you subscribe. I love people from the UK. And reheads. Consider me subscribed as well.

  • Linda Hanagarne October 27, 2009, 8:06 am

    I remember one time at the dinner table you hit yourself so hard you knocked yourself out. So – I’m glad you didn’t miss your plane. Love you kid. Mom

    • Josh Hanagarne October 27, 2009, 8:10 am

      Mom, I’m glad too. I almost missed the second one, but that was the fault of the airport, not me.

      • Linda Hanagarne October 27, 2009, 8:32 am

        Do you also remember, adding insult to injury, that after all the commotion, I had to take your car keys away because I was worried you would cause an accident and you were so mad at me. Those were hard days. Mom

        • Josh Hanagarne October 27, 2009, 8:59 am

          I don’t remember that, but I’m sure I wasn’t happy.

  • Shane Hudson October 27, 2009, 11:29 am

    Oh wow. This is an incredibly powerful post because it can relate to almost every single situation ever imaginable. Thank you for posting it.

    I have seen your posting on Problogger and other blogs, I am not sure why I am not a regular reader… that is going to change.

    • Josh Hanagarne October 27, 2009, 11:37 am

      Shane, thanks very much. What other situations can you see this post applying to? I’m very curious to know when you get a chance to respond.

  • Cutthroat Stalker November 1, 2009, 3:01 pm


    I’ve been reading your blog for a couple of months now–very inspirational. An incident at the store yesterday prompts me to leave this comment/question.

    A man at the store was bent over his cart and it looked like he was pressing a plastic container of orange juice quite hard against his head. My wife and I wondered if we should stop and help. We passed him up and continued to debate it when about 10 seconds later we heard a crash. We turned around and this man was on his back with the shopping cart tipped over. We rushed back to help, but a couple of others closer to him got there first.

    After our delayed reaction, I’d have to say always offer help. I know you can only speak for yourself, but my question is, when you are having an attack, would you prefer people ignored you or offered help?

    Thanks, and keep up the great posts!

    -scott c

    • Josh Hanagarne November 1, 2009, 3:46 pm

      Scott, the thing is, I don’t mind the offers, but there is literally nothing that anyone else can do. I usually just tell people, “I’m okay. No, really, I am.” there are relatively few episodes that would actually qualify as an “attack.” Usually the weirdness is just business as usual. The offers to help are always made in the right spirit, and I’m grateful if unable to suggest ways to help. The occasional offer to “help,” meaning, “I’m annoyed by you, how can I make you quit?” are not taken well and I delight in making their days a little more frustrating:)

  • andy November 16, 2009, 8:36 pm

    Wow! Just been reading your articles and the way you describe your condition is intense – feel like I am right. You should definetly consider writing a series of short stories on your incidents.

    Good luck making it through every day! On my reader now.

    • Josh Hanagarne November 16, 2009, 8:47 pm

      Thanks Andy. I appreciate that. There’s a memoir in the works. You’ll have all you can handle:)

  • Matt January 26, 2010, 7:31 pm

    Fantastic attitude. Very inspiring.

  • Jett March 16, 2010, 9:05 pm

    Josh, this story took my breath. I’ve been waiting to hear a strong literary voice on the web from someone with TS ever since I wrote about my son’s struggles nearly a decade ago.

    You were expansive and warm and funny up until this post; those are some of my favorite characteristics in a writer (and human beings in general). In this entry, you are FIERCE, which ranks in the top three things I look for in a friend.

    Thank you for putting your experiences out there.

  • Jill June 24, 2010, 7:25 pm

    Wow…I am hooked! Thanks for the inspiring story!!!