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How To Have Tourette’s Part 16: Permission To Fall Apart

My teeth wear eyepatches

Yesterday I was on the phone at work. I was having some tics, but so far I’d been okay.

Then my jaw slammed shut with all the force it could find. I spit a piece of a molar onto my desk.

I looked at that tiny piece of my head, now a tiny paperweight, no longer part of me. I put it in the trash and answered another call.

No shame

Then I cried through my entire lunch hour. I’m always amazed at just how many tears a human being can hold, even when they’re not my size.

There was a time when this would have embarrassed me. No more. When I need to feel like a raging testosterone-beast, there are activities that I more than happy to engage in. But when I need to break down, I don’t pretend things are fine. I break down and move on.

I was not a big fan of the movie 300, but I am a huge fan of the story of the Spartans. Steven Pressfield wrote a wonderful book about the battle of Thermopylae called Gates of Fire. The Spartans are all as tough as you’d expect, but after every battle, they break down, sobbing and quivering. Not only is it not shameful, it is almost expected of them.

Despite my fondness for capes, I’m no Spartan. But I’ve been on the other side where I thought that vulnerability was weakness and that manliness meant being able to gut through anything with a smile.

What a strange idea.

Only what you allow

I refuse to be bullied or condescended to, especially by this thing living in my head. Nobody talks terms to me. Nobody controls me except me.

You’re no different, but there are voices that say otherwise.

There are voices that tell you to be less than you are. To give in. To believe that there is nothing worse than pain. To ignore your birthright to be better than you were yesterday. To believe that achievements and happiness are only for people without problems. That the courage of others is unattainable.

To believe that drawing the curtains is the answer. That you can only be a spectator. That you should sit there and collect dust. That everyone is more interesting than you are. That the sun shines only for them. That pain will get easier with practice. That coping is a noble art.

That theory is more valuable than experience. That knowing how to read is the same as reading. That cowardice has gotten a bad rap. That life should be fair. That you deserve the way you are feeling. That Rock Of Love is a great way to waste an evening.

That you are truly alone. That suffering is the same as pain. That the bend in the road can only lead to a dead end. That an entire box of donuts is the answer. That you are not worth loving. That listening to Nick Cave is going to cheer you up. (I love Nick Cave, just not when I’m depressed).

Refuse to listen

For Heaven’s sake, tell the voices to shut the hell up, get out of your own way, and make yourself happy. Unless you’re a serial killer and that’s what makes you happy. If that’s you, please stay home and watch Rock Of Love and collect dust.


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  • Annemieke February 26, 2010, 1:23 am

    What an impressive post. But what struck me most was the following:

    “I refuse to be bullied or condescended to, especially by this thing living in my head. Nobody talks terms to me. Nobody controls me except me.”

    And I just had to ask: who is this I and me? And who is this thing living in your head?

    Should I think of something like the voice of society that is in your head? Or like a good and bad angel that are both sitting on your shoulder (you know like in a children’s book)?
    Or some part of yourself that just tends to take over at times?

    I think it is just amazing that you share these feelings or thoughts (actually I am also curious about what they are for you, feelings, thoughts or maybe even something else). And I think it is just amazing that you have the ability to write down how that is for you, to give a glimse of what is inside of you.

    I hope you don’t mind my questions and feel absolutely free to not answer them if you do not want to.

    But anyway, thank you very much for sharing this, well actually all the Tourette posts.

    • Josh Hanagarne February 26, 2010, 8:47 am

      Since I was 15, I’ve thought of Tourette’s as another person. It actually has a name, but that’s something I’ll keep to myself:) More than anything else, TS is like being in an abusive partnership. It preys on vulnerability and tries to steal confidence. It threatens to take away the partner’s sense of identity and worth and tries to make all of their decisions for them.

      Not society, not another part of me, just the disorder. It wants to be in charge and bully and make decisions. I used to let it do whatever it wanted and I let a decade of my life slip away while obeying and not getting anything done.

      • Annemieke February 26, 2010, 9:50 am

        Wow, thank you so much for your answer, that made it really very clear.

  • Christopher Kabamba February 26, 2010, 6:26 am

    This is a very inspiring post. At thought it was going in one direction until it made one big turn…it has ENERGIZED me. Had it not been for what i was taught in school, i would have easily said that this post has *created energy* for me.


  • Heather February 26, 2010, 7:03 am


    Sorry to hear about your crudball day. Hope today goes better! Dude—you should have saved that lonely little chunk of molar and had it gold-plated. Just because, well, how cool would that be! Wasting an evening watching “Rock of Love”—wow—you must have been completely fecal-faced to do that. Now, in my younger day, I was well-known for that sort of behavior, but now—-man, there’s just not enough booze in the world to make me that desperate to watch “Rock of Love.” Bet it’s funnier when you’re bombed, though!

    There should be a reality show about kettlebells. That would rock! I liked your picture of your tooth with the eye-patch. Somewhere out there is a dentist who’s missing out on a great tattoo!

    Hope today goes better man!

    • Josh Hanagarne February 26, 2010, 8:48 am

      Heather, I don’t drink and I can’t get through more than 2 minutes of Rock of Love. I still want those two minutes back.

      • Heather February 26, 2010, 10:15 am

        Wow. . . . you lasted 2 minutes longer than me. . . . now about this kettlebell reality show we oughta start. . . .

  • Lori February 26, 2010, 9:27 am

    Loved this post, Josh. By the way, I idolize the Spartans. Spartan wives also were strong women with who wielded much power (social, government, etc.). I read “Thermopylae: The Battle For The West” — great read. In my next life, I hope I get to be a Spartan warrior.

    As for your unnamed TS — I totally get it. I often refer to my uninvited guest as Ms. MS, but call her something I’ll keep to myself when she’s really pissing me off.

    Finally: I enjoy often live this lyric, “It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to.” (But try to not let it get out of hand.)

    Go you.

    • Josh Hanagarne February 26, 2010, 11:17 am

      I wish it felt like a party. I’m going to look up that book, thanks.

  • Debbie Ferm February 26, 2010, 10:30 am

    It is so tempting to just throw in the towel sometimes, but I know you won’t…and can’t. Where would you store up all that creativity you have inside you:)

    Keep believing your voice is worth hearing!

    Also, a box of donuts may not be the answer, but I would totally eat them anyway!

    I mentioned your kettle bells on a tweet to Kelly D., and now I have a whole new bunch of kettle bell followers. Are they ever going to be disappointed they followed me!

    Debbie Ferm

    • Josh Hanagarne February 26, 2010, 11:17 am

      They’re like vultures. Swat them away!

  • Erica February 26, 2010, 10:31 am


    Thank you for sharing, for rallying, for being courageous. I admire you immensely for this.

    The phrase, “That coping is a noble art.” is going to stick with me for a long while, I think…

    Always a fan,

    • Josh Hanagarne February 26, 2010, 11:18 am

      Thanks Erica. I don’t feel very courageous. I feel like I’ve been run over with a bulldozer:)

      • Erica February 26, 2010, 11:34 am

        You are, you are, you are – even if you’ve been run over. Maybe ESPECIALLY when you’ve been run over.

        See? “But when I need to break down, I don’t pretend things are fine. I break down and move on.”

        Only a true bad-ass knows how to do that.


  • Srinivas Rao February 26, 2010, 10:39 am


    Profound and inspiring as always. I would have to agree that Rock of Love is ridiculous. 2 minutes is not bad. I have to admit I’ve watched at least an entire episode. The voices in our heads can be like demons that we cant’ control if we let them do their work. But once we tell them to shut the hell up, I think start to lose their power. It’s a delicate balance. The more you fight them sometimes, the more they fight back. It’s when you just decide it’s time to be at peace they start to lose their power.

    • Josh Hanagarne February 26, 2010, 11:19 am

      All right. I’m sending you all of the seasons on DVD for your next birthday.

  • chip February 26, 2010, 10:40 am

    One of your all time best posts Josh. This is my favorite series on your blog. You may call it “living with tourettes” but I call it “how to be a human being” the lessons you learn in the physical manifestation of tourettes are all of the same things so many of us feel every day. Your affliction is a picture of human suffering and weakness and the way you handle it with equal parts grace and agression are the very definition of what it means to be a man. Tourettes? This is Hanagarne!!! Thank you for being.

    • Josh Hanagarne February 26, 2010, 11:21 am

      Chip, that’s a wonderful compliment, thank you. At this point it doesn’t really feel like an affliction, just a huge, huge, hassle. But maybe that’s another description of being a man:)

  • Claire February 26, 2010, 11:11 am

    This is a beautiful post on a lot of levels.
    Thank you.

    • Josh Hanagarne February 26, 2010, 11:22 am

      Thanks Claire. And I have to say thank you for indirectly introducing me to The Bloggess:)

  • Boris Bachmann February 26, 2010, 12:57 pm

    Very soon I will have a tough time telling myself that boxes and boxes of Girl Scout cookies are not the answer…

  • Bamboo Forest - PunIntended February 26, 2010, 1:58 pm

    Good post. Amazing how we sometimes listen to the voices in our heads believing that’s what we’re supposed to do. When we learn to rebel against those voices, we make serious progress in life.

  • Cyndi February 26, 2010, 2:43 pm

    My memories of Sunday school lessons are sparse at best. In one of the only ones I do remember, a very earnest and remarkably tall young man said: ‘someone always has it worse and is handling it better than you.’ Never forgotten it. It’s humbling to see someone endure what you do on a daily basis and use it to give a much-needed lift to others. Thank you.

    • Josh Hanagarne February 26, 2010, 3:30 pm

      Hey you. That guy sounds like a skinny loser:) I can help you forget him.

  • Cali @caligater February 26, 2010, 3:47 pm

    How uncouth is it to quote another commenter in response to this? Oh well, I’ll just be a boorish commenter. I agree with Chip, above: “You may call it ‘living with tourettes’ but I call it ‘how to be a human being’.” That’s exactly how I see your writing and what you share here — how to be a human being.

    I respect you immensely.

    Stronger, every day. Right?

    • Josh Hanagarne February 26, 2010, 3:51 pm

      Not enough people use or know the word boorish, so you can do whatever you want, since you brought the word in.

  • Carl February 26, 2010, 3:59 pm

    What a great post Josh, you’re ability to understand and emote your issues whether through testosterone bursts or crying it out; exceptional.

    In my own personal experience, having the ability to concede to feeling the grit and grim of life and experiencing loss, sorrow, pain gives meaning to those experiences and frees me from being bound to them unconsciously.

    • Josh Hanagarne February 26, 2010, 4:02 pm

      Thanks Carl. And for what it’s worth, when I’m in testosterone mode, I’m a thing of nightmarish, brutish glory. Just ask my lifting partners or my wife:)

  • Megan Matthieson February 26, 2010, 4:38 pm

    Thank you! I love love love this post. Someone (who?) RT’d it and here I am for the first time. A blessing! I’m a new blogger…and I’m so inspired by you and your work. I am often fighting in my head with ‘someone else’ who wants me to TAME myself and be more….polite, nice, prudish? But the truth is that that voice is coming from ME. So I’m gonna tell her to f*** off from now on….Wish me luck. Better, stronger, louder. Best and Love- Megan http://www.idanceiwrite.com

  • Daisy February 26, 2010, 7:42 pm

    A friend (bloggie acquaintance) just wrote a medical ethics article about treating disabilities not as illnesses, but as part of daily life. Your post reminds me of that. We can try to subdue or treat our conditions (mine is hearing impairment), but coming to grips with our humanity is ultimately more realistic.

  • Kathi Burger February 26, 2010, 8:34 pm

    I really enjoyed this blog. I suffered many abuses at the hands of others. I woke one day and knew that I was worth more and deserved more from myself and others. Everyday I can make new decisions to bring my life in any direction and I like to exercise that right/priviledge. People do not realize their potential – I wish more parents would teach their children how important they. Josh I cannot image the obstacles that you continue to overcome but I am glad that you realize your worth and I am glad that you realize vulnerabilities are not weaknesses.

    You can be anything you want but nothing is easy.

  • Adam February 27, 2010, 12:48 am

    New crowns are in order. This weekend is already off to a superior start. We were talking about you at dinner, I am already hyped over the next time you are out here…which is about 40 days away so get ready. We will talk soon

  • Daniel O'Connor February 27, 2010, 8:25 am

    I read this post very soon after you published it and carried it around with me for a day or so. I wanted-no- I felt compelled to write a comment but did not know what to say or how to say it. Everything I thought of seemed trite and maybe even a little condescending. By carried I mean that it became part of my daily life. I found myself thinking about it on the long drive from Austin to home. While working on my site I would find myself no longer typing.Along with this came emotions. Rage at the thing, sympathy ( I know you don’t want it but there it was) and admiration for you, admitting that I adhere to the stiff upper lip philosophy. And it was not a cerebral kind of thing. It was a visceral sometimes uncomfortable feeling in my gut.

    So, I have only one real comment
    Hooooly Sh——–

  • hoong yee lee krakauer February 27, 2010, 8:54 am

    hey josh
    when i read this post, i had to think about what it taught me about life and the choices we make in living it before i could send you a comment. what i took away from it is the dimensions of your courage in living with tourette’s everyday which is how i aspire to live with my challenges.

    my mother, a very wise 85 year old buddhist from bayside, queens, reminds me on a daily basis to “get over yourself, you are just a speck in the universe”. even she knows how difficult it can be for all of us specks.

    thank you for sharing your good, bad and ugly moments with all of us.

    hoong yee

  • Kelly Diels March 1, 2010, 7:56 pm

    I love you.

  • Danielle LaPorte March 1, 2010, 8:06 pm


  • Lianne March 1, 2010, 8:21 pm

    Dear sweet Josh,

    In developmental psychology we talk about the importance of “coming to your tears” as essential to reach maturity. Boys who are taught not to cry stifle their tears and transmute their frustration into anger – and ultimately hurt themselves (and sometimes hurt others in the process) both physically and psychically.

    So thank you for being a wonderful example of a mature male and sharing your tears with us.

    • Josh Hanagarne March 1, 2010, 8:47 pm

      Lianne, tune in tomorrow for a decidedly less mature Josh:)

  • Nazima Ali March 1, 2010, 8:54 pm

    What a fabulous post. Thanks for writing this.

  • Hilary March 7, 2010, 3:40 am

    Hi Josh .. You cope amazingly with your adversity and I congratulate you .. on being positive and looking on the underside and seeing something that makes us relate to you so well.

    Interesting about the Spartans .. I heard that they shaved their hair, and beautified themselves before battle – so if they died they were ready to be received by the gods. So perhaps the fact they were crying and breaking down .. was in fact in grateful thanks to the gods that they’d lived, and their prayers for the lost souls .. ?

    I’m just amazed at what we learn – & how things tie in .. I wouldn’t have known about the Spartans yesterday .. but more importantly is that you are able to relay aspects of Tourette’s .. which is hugely valuable for us to know about ..

    Wishing you a good Sunday – I came over from Sara .. and her Kreativ award to us .. sarahealy.com