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How To Have Tourette’s Part 8: A Long Walk

The family

A different sort of deliverance

I’d been married for two years and trapped in the house for nearly as long.  I’d withdrawn from school again because I couldn’t be in public.  For one, I was a real nuisance in class.  Teachers would have accommodated me, and students would have done the same.

But I wasn’t there mentally.  I couldn’t handle the stares.  I couldn’t answer the questions. 

I couldn’t make eye contact.  I couldn’t smile.  I couldn’t hold a book still long enough for my eyes to turn the letters into words. 

I was only 23.  I was in constant pain and  too self-conscious to laugh it off like I’m sometimes able to now.  It was all questions, no answers.

I had no hope.  No reason to think things would ever change.  But even in that sorry state, I got  bored and stir crazy sitting in the house.  I needed to get out, to move, to walk.  To prove that I existed outside of my own mind.  Outside the walls of 855 Stratford Avenue.

One day I walked out the front door of our apartment and started walking.  I kept my head down when I passed people.  I apologized to the air each time I screamed. 

I was soon hyperventilating with the futile effort of trying to squash the tics. 

I kept my head down and walked faster and faster.  I am going to walk three more blocks and then I can go home I told myself. 

“Sorry.” 

About one block later, I took a long, deep breath.  I was alone on the street.   My house was less than one minute away.  It was early autumn and the leaves were falling from the trees, drifting, swirling down to the sidewalk where they landed silently.

 They fell at such a rate that I wondered how the trees weren’t all bare after one hour.  And yet, the leaves would fall for nearly a month.

“Sorry.”

I held my breath, trying not to break the stillness of the moment.  Then I realized that the moment wasn’t nearly as placid as I had thought.  My own noises had drowned out the absolute pandemonium taking place in the air around me…

Every dog within what sounded like a mile was either barking or howling.  At me.  With me. 

The difference between the world as it was and the world as I would have it was so profound that if I had been able to see the abyss that separated my simple wants for my bitter reality, I might have gone mad.

“Sorry.”

Wobbling.  Weak.  Barking.  My ragged breath in my ears.  Hands became fists that cramped and whitened.  I fell to my hands and knees on the sidewalk.  The tics returned.  I looked up and across the street.  On the other side of a chain link fence, three golden retrievers stared at me while they ran the length of the barricade. 

“Sor–” I began to say.

They looked happy.  No need to apologize. 

I made a harsh noise.  They barked back. 

The hair on my neck stood on end.  They think I am some big, weird dog, I thought.  My eyes watered.  Ah, to laugh or to cry?  If I start laughing, will I be able to stop?  Will I ever come back?  

The dogs in the neighborhoods all around me got wilder and wilder as I got to my feet, my own noises filling the air as I let it go without restraint. 

“I’m not sorry.” 

I began to laugh.  I walked across the street and put my fingers through the fence.  The dogs licked my hands while I scratched their heads. 

I laughed harder.  I looked at the sky.  Everything was the same.  Nothing was the same.  My apartment came into view as I walked.  I stopped and stared at my front door.  Behind that door was a couch with the permanent imprint of my prone body.

In the bedroom behind the couch was a bed that was rarely made anymore.  I was always in it. 

 I listened to the dogs.  My friends.  My pack.  My stomach ached constantly with the dead weight of misery it was so accustomed to carrying.  Now it hurt because I had laughed more in five minutes than I had in the previous year. 

I turned and walked away from the house.  I walked with my head up.  My neck ached from the unfamiliar alignment.  About a mile later I entered a pet store and bought a giant bag of rawhide dog chews.  I took the long way home, passing out favors and “thank yous”  to my new friends.

I walked until the bag was empty.

Josh

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  • Dean Dwyer November 25, 2009, 5:01 am

    It’s funny Josh I read this today because yesterday I was thinking about animals and what we can learn from them. I have a cat (inherited from a friend who was allergic) and a rabbit (rescued from a school…they were leaving him in the cage on weekends by himself.)

    I love animals but wasn’t looking to own any. Sure sometimes they drive me crazy at times. The rabbit is a pooping and peeing machine. He does this thing where he quite literally throws his bum at the cat and flings his pee. Sometimes I get caught in the crossfire. Nothing like getting hit in the face with rabbit pee.

    And the cat knows exactly when I need to awake…4am. That’s not the time I want to get up, but each morning he licks my nose and then sits on my chest, until I finally pry open my eyes. He stares at me like, “Dude, you slept in. Hey no need to thank me. Just get your butt out of bed and feed me and then let me head out and prowl the neighbourhood.”

    But they make me laugh literally everyday. They are joy personified and they accept me for who I am, even on my worst days.

    We may be the smarter species, but we are not the most accepting one. So kudos to the those dogs who accepted you for who you are.

    Thanks for sharing my friend.

    Dean

    ps…I loved the suggestion about adding “be hilarious” to the Dwyer Manifesto. It has since been updated 🙂

    • Josh Hanagarne November 25, 2009, 9:59 am

      Dean, I might not have the good humor to accept a face licking at 4AM, but I know what you mean.

  • Annabel Candy November 25, 2009, 5:46 am

    Animals and kids are non-judgmental, forgiving and totally accepting. They have heaps to teach prejudiced, blinkered adults.

    • Josh Hanagarne November 25, 2009, 9:58 am

      What does “blinkered” mean? I think I get the gist, but that might have just become my new favorite word.

  • Eric | Eden Journal November 25, 2009, 7:17 am

    I love little epiphany moments like this. The realization that you are free to be you is so powerful. About the time you mentioned the hair stood up on the back of your neck, mine did the same. I got chills thinking of the realization you made and your new found friends accepting you unconditionally.

    • Josh Hanagarne November 25, 2009, 10:00 am

      I wish the moment had lasted longer. Things did not get easier after that, but I could see them through a new lens. It was not a cure in any sense, but everything after that moment was different. It has been nearly eight years since that day. I still think about it every day.

  • Sreekala November 25, 2009, 9:09 am

    Hi Josh, I came across your blog quite by accident but read all 8 parts of your “How to have Tourette’s”. Somehow, one name kept coming up in my mind and I had to get it across to you. Dr. Brian Weiss. http://www.brianweiss.com/ Being in the US, do you think you could perhaps arrange a consultation with him or perhaps familiarize yourself with his books if you haven’t already been through them? I don’t know why I am doing this – I just felt prompted to. God bless you!

    • Josh Hanagarne November 25, 2009, 10:03 am

      I’d love to look into his books, thanks. I’ve made my own peace with my condition, but my little son might have it. If so, the day will come when these questions are all forced on me again. I want to have answer before then, that’s for sure! Much appreciated, Sreekala.

      • Kevin November 25, 2009, 10:34 am

        Josh,

        Is Tourette’s strongly hereditary? I’ve seen you mention your son and your concerns a few times. I also have a question for you if you don’t mind.

        My disabilities are not visible usually, unless I write without editing assistance. My daughter has CP. She is Six and her disability is visible. She is not significantly impared but her walking is noticably different. What should we teach her about people’s reactions? What would you teach your son? People stare because they don’t know what to say or do? Is it appropiate to ask “whats wrong with you” Obviously the question is wrong, because nothing is technically wrong with you but you walk differently or you talk to the air, whatever. If you notice someone starring do you ignore it? Is there an easy way to let them know it’s okay to ask? DO you even want to be asked or would you perfer the person pretend to ignore you? I ask because I’ve seen this problem with people looking at my daughter and I have to imagine you’ve experienced the same thing.

        The one thing we have done when my daughter was called weird eariler this year was write a book. Sombody in her class called her weird and so we wrote a book about CP and how Haley is not wierd. She then brought it into the class and read it to them. We are actually working with PublishAmeric to have it published now.

        • Josh Hanagarne November 25, 2009, 10:48 am

          Kevin, if you want to send me an email, I’ll be able to respond better to some of those questions. I certainly don’t know the answers to them all, but I’m happy to talk more.

  • Cheryl from thatgirlisfunny November 25, 2009, 9:45 am

    Hi Josh,
    Awesome share! To laugh or to cry? What a question. It’s always the choice, but more often for me, it’s “shut down and ignore” with no option for anything else. This time of year always brings up sadness for me. Holiday time, family time, what did I do all year assessment time. To laugh or to cry – at least emotions are felt and our brains are free to search for remedies. What a brilliant one you allowed yourself to come up with. I’m grateful for those old soul dogs who knew just exactly what to do. Thanks for sharing your story with us.
    love,
    Cheryl

    • Josh Hanagarne November 25, 2009, 10:02 am

      “Shut down and ignore” is a fanstastic way to describe much of what keeps people spinning their wheels. I like your style, Cheryl, but you know that.

  • Srinivas Rao November 25, 2009, 9:53 am

    Great post Josh. Per our first conversation, my best friend has Tourette’s so I’ve probably had more of an understanding of it than the average person. I love this story because it just shows us how the slightest shift in perspective can shift what we see. My best friend even once said “dude, we should go to a Tourette’s convention and film it because that would be awesome.” Anyways, great story.

    • Josh Hanagarne November 25, 2009, 10:02 am

      I’d love to meet your friend. I’ll take him to the Tourette’s Convention one day and we’ll go flip-camera crazy.

  • Helen Hoefele November 25, 2009, 11:39 am

    Great post, Josh! I haven’t known you that long, but I’ve always been impressed with your confidence and sense of humor. I never realized you weren’t always that way. Love the honesty of your sharing. Can’t wait to read your book when it comes out, I’m sure it will help even those without conditions that you or your readers are currently living with. 🙂

    • Josh Hanagarne November 25, 2009, 12:10 pm

      Helen, the person I am today has only been around for about 18 months. You would not have been inspired by much of what I’ve done or who I’ve been before that. The majority of this story is incredibly dark and not much fun. That is one of the reasons why I work so hard at being joyful today. I feel like there is an imbalance, a debt of positivity I owe that might never even out the negativity I’ve caused in the past. More to come:)

  • Ayelet November 25, 2009, 11:46 am

    Thank you Josh. I’m going to come back to this when I have a paralyzing moment of not wanting to deal with people who don’t speak my language. If you can go out into the world barking it up, then the least I can do is return something to the store in German.

  • Josh Hanagarne November 25, 2009, 12:10 pm

    Just start barking. It’ll work.

  • Niel November 25, 2009, 12:35 pm

    Hey Josh, if you were digging the dogs, maybe you’ll love hyenas.

  • Beth L. Gainer November 25, 2009, 1:00 pm

    I love this posting, Josh. You certainly were the leader of the pack. Maybe this works with wolves as well?

  • Vanessa November 25, 2009, 1:58 pm

    Your picture of the shepards is what made mr stop and read today. I’m supposed to be working!
    You made me cry. Hard. Not sad tears but more, I guess I relate somehow deeply.
    Joshy was on his lonesome at the park last week, It was grey and sad, he was especially lonely I felt, when this little Australian Shepard with bright blue eyes charged him from a distance and jumped into his lap, Sat down like, ‘hey bro long time no see.’ Joshy was so happy. Pure joy. Then the owner came and reclaimed her fur baby. Josh cried, hysterical. This is a kid who gives himself a black eye without a tear! I think we’ll start carrying dog chews.

    • Josh Hanagarne November 25, 2009, 4:04 pm

      Back to work Vanessa! Glad you stopped for a second, though:)

  • Laura Cococcia November 25, 2009, 8:28 pm

    Just like Vanessa, I cried when I read this. All the way from South America. You are probably the strongest person I know … just being honest. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving – I’m grateful our paths have crossed, my friend.

    • Josh Hanagarne November 25, 2009, 9:41 pm

      Laura, Laura, Laura. No crying in Peru! I’m glad too, though. I’ll be sending you some stuff tomorrow, by the way. (wink!)

  • Karina November 26, 2009, 4:45 am

    Hi Josh. As always, beautiful post. It’s hard when you’re that one person who sticks out – I’ve been there too, although only because I was a giant, on the heavy side and I used to dress funny. But nevertheless, people stared at me and kids would always make fun of me. It got to the point where I would spedt my recesses in the bathroom, sitting on the toilet so that the teachers wouldn’t see me. I’d even eat my lunch there. i went through middle school, high school and some of university feeling disgusting. When people went out to party, I sat at home reading or writing. I wouldn’t even go to class most of the time because I felt like people were judging me all the time. I’m still working on this negative imagine that I have of myself today, but I do feel like I’ve come a long way. Perhaps self acceptance gets better with age?

  • Victoria Vargas November 26, 2009, 9:22 am

    Great post and powerful story! Animals do indeed remind us of what’s important and what unconditional love and acceptance is all about. My cat is absolutely my best friend – she’s pulled me through some tough losses over the past two years just by reminding me of the power of simple joys and gut-rocking laughter. She makes me laugh constantly! So, what’s the status on your book?

  • Yusuf November 26, 2009, 10:39 am

    Hey Josh,

    Just want to say a simple thanks for documenting your path and your personality. It’s riveting, helpful, and inspiring.

    Continued Success,

    Yusuf

  • cj wylie March 2, 2012, 2:06 pm

    hey josh this is cj from the familys together conference thank you for telling me your story

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