Or it may cause you to shake your head, as I do.
There is no cure for Tourette syndrome, but some drugs can lessen the severity of its symptoms. Researchers believe that in some cases Tourette syndrome is
genetic, and there is evidence that it runs in families, although not in mine.
My Tourette's was mild in comparison to others' at the conference. But it was bad enough. Since it wasn't always obvious, some other delegates asked me
about my symptoms. So I told them.
Ever since I was young, I said, I've felt an impossible-to-describe tension in my body. It's a constant, anxious uneasiness. But even that's not a good
description. There just aren't any words that do it justice. Whatever it is, it's always building, worsening. The tide is coming in. Sometimes it comes in
gentle ripples, other times in larger waves. And sometimes it's a tsunami. Whether it takes two seconds or two hours, eventually the urges becomes so
strong that it's impossible to focus on anything else. At such a time the only three things I care about are getting rid of the feeling, getting rid of the
feeling, and getting rid of the feeling. And the only way to do that is by ticking, which in my case means wrenching my neck or shaking my head in a
certain way until it feels right. Even if the relief only lasts a few seconds, it's worth it.
When I told the stories to stranger after stranger they nodded their heads. They knew too well what I was talking about.
Back home, almost nobody knew. Trying to tell someone about Tourette's who doesn't have it is like trying to teach trigonometry to a ten-year-old. You can do it, but only to a point. One
of my neighbors said, "You're making that up," before realizing I was serious.
A lot of people are fooled by Tourette's. Just ask all the doctors in Pennsylvania or Nebraska who failed to diagnose me with a single medical problem. Or
my father, who was a PhD and a voracious reader. Or my mother, who had a master's degree and worked as a newspaper reporter. Or my uncle Dick, a
psychiatrist who first suggested I go talk to somebody. Or any of my neighbors or teachers or counselors or ministers or friends. Nobody knew why I shook
and twitched -- least of all me.
When I was a boy there were very few sources of information about people with Tourette's. There was no Internet, no support groups, no HBO specials, no
books, associations, nor national conferences. But it could have been worse. I could have lived in the Middle Ages, where I can only imagine people with
Tourette's were thought to be possessed by the devil. When not being flogged or burned as witches, they were likely confined to asylums. Such draconian
treatments eventually disappeared.
Unfortunately they were replaced by ignorance of a different stripe. Well into the twentieth century the public and medical community thought children with
tics were likely the result of abuse or bad parenting. Even in 1990 some doctors still misdiagnosed people with Tourette's as having psychological issues,
epilepsy, or schizophrenia. More than one hundred years after the first case of Tourette syndrome was described in 1885 by French neurologist Georges Gilles de la Tourette, you'd think everyone
would be familiar with Tourette's.