Updated: Mar 2, 2022
There are ALWAYS things that we don’t like about ourselves, that’s pretty normal. There are ALSO things that we don’t like about ourselves that we’d rather not have attention drawn to as well. (Did you know at one time I had over 10 warts on one hand? Don’t worry warts aren’t contagious and besides, I had one of them removed and the rest of them just disappeared.) Most of the time, these things can escape scrutiny and are only noticed if we have drawn attention to them. Other times our idiosyncrasies are on FULL DISPLAY and there is very little to no chance of keeping them hidden.
My name is Mark and I have Tourette’s (TS - Tourette’s Syndrome that’s nineteen less letters I have to type). There I said it. In our culture we are not defined by our abilities or disabilities but they sure do play a huge role in how WE SEE OURSELVES. A lady in our church asked me last year (not maliciously) "why in the world are you making those chicken noises?" I froze and every cell in my body ceased to move as I filled with the panic of "how to answer" this simple question.
There are people who have much more difficult experiences to live with, deal with so I am not looking for sympathy. I am writing this, simply to inform, to educate, and because a lot of people have “asked.” That’s not a judgement, it’s a recognition that people love me and just want to know more about what makes me “tic.” (Get it? Little Tourette’s pun that hopefully made you literally laugh out loud.”
Ever since I was a little kid for as long as I can remember, I had signs of having TS. I would make noises when I was little that sounded like “EP” but vocalized itself sounding like a hiccup sound (go ahead try it..you’re probably reading this by yourself and if you’re not, you may get some interesting responses). I was told by my parents “Stop it” or “Cut it out” or they would simply repeat the sounds I was making in an effort to make me stop. Although at the time it was hard to deal with, I look back with great compassion for my parents they were dealing with a lot and had no idea what all we were dealing with. Most of my tics were vocal but I also had a blinking tic for most of my teenage years and a head jerk that prompted a few premature haircuts from my well-meaning grandparents. The most difficult tic was a very short phase (thank you Jesus) where I would put up both of my middle fingers. That lasted only a few months in high school and I kept my hands under my desk or covered by my shirt etc. Keep in mind, these are completely involuntary. Tics are usually worse in the teenage years and then tend to taper off as you age into adulthood. This is NOT always the case and unfortunately, for me, this did not happen. Here is a great video from Akron Children’s Hospital explaining Tourette’s.
Before having a tic there is often what’s described as a pre-tic or a pre-monitory urge. This is a feeling that precedes a tic. It gives the impression that in order for me to feel “okay” I have to let this urge/tic out of my body and the only way to get reprieve is to tic or let it out. Sometimes I can divert a tic in a different way such as a finger snap or get this: I make bird calls like a whippoorwill or a loon. (hah! The irony of the name "loon".) These are more socially acceptable "sounds" and often garner a positive rather than a negative response. 😌
What it boils down to with the tics is an impulse control issue. It should come as no surprise to anyone that knows me that my having ADHD contributes to this. In fact, most people with TS also have an ADHD diagnosis. 50% or more kids with TS have ADHD while only 20% of kids with ADHD have TS.
There are several ways I currently deal with TS. One is teeth grinding. I can often be seen in pictures chewing on a straw, or a highlighter, or some other "thing." (Fun fact, I have been accused of being a smoker because a few times 2 or 3 inches of a white straw was protruding from my mouth and apparently looked like a cigarette.) Chewed pens can be seen littering my work areas.
Although I do also use mouth guards, much of the damage has already been done since I have been grinding my teeth for many, many years.
The biggest area I struggle is one that is not seen. It can't be viewed or heard coming from my office but it definitely affects my mind. It's in the area of confidence. I am convinced that there are people that will probably never talk to me because they think I'm weird or quirky (although my wife and I are convinced that EVERYONE is quirky and weird in their own ways). This also goes the other way around. My confidence in talking to people who seem to "avoid me" whether intentional or not, causes me to shy away from what I feel like may be inevitable rejection. Teens deal with their OWN insecurities so I work very hard to try to bridge that gap despite "how I feel."
Can't You Just Make Yourself Stop Doing Them?
Great question, and by the way you sound like my 4th grade teacher. 😝 Tic Suppression is something what I often do when chatting with others although it can come at a price. "What in the world is that supposed to mean?"
Think about pinching a water hose with the water turned up full blast and what happens when you finally release the stream...it's a violent explosion of water and pressure.
Okay, you got the mental picture, that's why tic suppression is difficult and taxing mentally. Eating or drinking coffee is another way of dealing with tics (and ADHD by the way) as it engages my mouth in another activity other than making the noises. The downfall is that it only works for as long as I am chewing AND depending on what I am eating/drinking weight gain.
Isn't THAT Interesting
Did you know that while I am preaching I don't tic at all? It's so very odd to me and to me it serves as proof of the calling that God has placed on my life as a youth pastor and maybe one day...more. Since God has called me to work with individuals that can some times be the most unforgiving and brutal in their judgment of what they feel is "normal"I need moments like that to give me confidence.
Also, while I am playing video games I am less likely to tic as well. This goes hand in hand with the ADHD instant feedback gratification cycle. The fact that there is instant feedback while gaming that is usually positive provides a way of focusing my energy into something MORE "productive."(See the quotes. I know video games are pointless and not very productive) I also get the same instant feedback from video editing/social media creation/playing guitar for Saturday Night worship). No tics...no problems.
2 Corinthians 9:8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things, at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.
I am writing this to inform you, dear reader, so that you have an idea of "why" Pastor Mark makes those funny noises. "So, can I ask you questions in person?" Absolutely. Please forgive me if I appear awkward or "off-balance" for a moment. Talking about this is new to me. I have only recently (in the past couple of years) come to terms with having TS although it has been present for over 40 years of my life. (Can you say....DENIAL? lolz) But talk I must if I desire for God to use EVERY PART of my story for His Honor and Glory. If I believe that "all things work together for the good of those who LOVE God and are called according to His purpose..." then I need to make sure that I am acting like it.
Thank you dear friends, for putting up with my noises (my wife and kids especially...Pastor Tom who shares a wall with me at the church) and for loving me despite my quirks and in spite of them. This is another stop on my journey towards healing and towards finding purpose in my struggles and allowing God to bring healing through my doubts. God is bigger than our doubts, bigger than our fears or anxieties.
2 Corinthians 9:8 declares: And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things, at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.
If you have any QUESTIONS DROP them below in the COMMENTS section and I will answer them.
HELPFUL INFO about Teens and Tourette's
1. TIC TOC Causes an Increase in Teen Girls experiencing Tourette's?
2. The Difference Between Tics, Twitches, and Tourette's
Link to other info about Tourette’s
1. What is TS :: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CFaiN_nZsYk
2. Tourette’s and ADHD :: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4737687/
4. Tourette's Info and Help :: https://tourette.org/