Motions of Tourette

Eyes clenched, squeezed like a pair of fists, seconds before a fight. Eyeballs lurch, left then right, pushing ripples behind my bunched-up lids. Rapid eye movements in a dream of pain. Probing for that sandpapery spot—oh, they itch so much.

I think no one is watching.

Teeth on edge, scraping, my jaw gliding, forward and back, chin bobbing an undancable beat. Enamel upon enamel, microscopic fragments cascade in a daily toothfall. Year by year, eroding my smile to a border of graying stumps. Spearmint gum dredged from the glove-box restores a sense of calm.

Chewing my pinky just above its base on the outside of my hand. The part of my fist I pound on the door when I’m pissed or just need to get in. A callus, small and hard as a button, catches, offering something to pull at. At least I’m not scraping my teeth.

Thumb-knuckle protruding, jabbing at my outer thigh. Sharp, piercing, repeated with every step, just beyond my reach. Hinge at my waist, raise my knee, a practiced movement, unconscious, like flipping your keys or checking your phone. Something to occupy my hands. A soothing snack of pain.

“Why do you do that?”

This heats my cheeks, my vision-edges fade, my hearing turns to fuzz. “It’s a neurological disorder,” I say, “I don’t have control.”

I escape, conscious of who I am.

24 thoughts on “Motions of Tourette

    • So I spent a weekend at a writers conference over the summer. Lots of socializing with people I didn’t know. Tourette Syndrome escalates when I’m stressed. And for those four days, I thought I might explode. On my walks back and forth from my hotel to various workshops, this ‘poem’ materialized in my mind. I essentially just made note of what I was doing and I wrote it down to the best of my ability.

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    • To the degree that they reduce stress, yes. However a hard run or ride will cause some *distress* which heightens my tics. I’m a pain in the ass to be near in a race. I make this motor sound in my throat with every breath, and every now and then I make a horsey lip-flapping exhale sound. During the spin classes I would instruct, I would grunt. I have tics for certain occasions. Those are my running tics. My office tic is scraping teeth, my meeting tic is eye-rolling, my dealing with people tic is pinky chewing, etc. I can better control them with more medication, but that brings me down. I’m at a happy balance of mildish tics and anxious directed energy.

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    • Thanks L. My viscera was practically exploding as I wrote this. This was my first foray into prose-poetry after learning that it is a *thing*. I was happy with the result and submitted it to a handful of poetry journals. They all passed on it fairly quickly. Self-publishing (blog, KDP) seems to be my future.

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    • Anxiety and OCD are frequently comorbid (co-occurring) conditions with Tourette. While the 1st three paragraphs are my physical reactions to the disorder, the final paragraph is the anxiety-affect that the tourette movements have on my psyche. I assumed my physical reactions (sight, hearing, etc) to anxiety were somewhat universal, and based on your comment, I suppose they are. I’m sorry you go through this, but I’m happy you connected with me.

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    • I really enjoyed the conference, although the living experience of being out of town, out of my element and surrounded closely by people I didn’t know escalated my anxiety and my tourettes. In hindsight, I loved it. In the moment, I definitely struggled a bit. Writing wise, it gave me a pretty nice kick. I haven’t been writing much because life is getting in the way, but what I’ve written over the past two months (IMO) is better.

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      • I’m so proud that you went to the conference and have come back feeling positive about your experience. Attending events like that for anyone can be tough – my anxiety increases at similar events. So pleased that it helped with your writing – definitely time to look at Gassy Ghost methinks 🙂

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  1. Thank you for this. I have to say that sometimes I feel like a crap parent that I don’t always see that my kid can’t control these movements. I wish he’d take meds or something, but he chooses not to, and that is totally fine. It’s me who needs to let go. I NEVER want him to feel less than, as I would never want someone to judge me. And so, once again, through you, I”m reminded to shut up and know that he’s doing his best to manage something not easy to manage. I appreciate your post.

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    • For me, personally, I’d love to ditch my tics. I’m lightly medicated which helps, but a higher dose seems to impact my motivation. I spend way too much time feeling less than (since I quit drinking 3 years ago) and I’m pretty bleeping sick of it. TS is just one more thing that makes me feel odd. The thing is, I’m not sure if anyone actually judges me on the tics, and my wife feels that they aren’t really noticeable–although I got “caught” at work today with a vocal tic when I thought the coast was clear. How old is your son… I know I should know this because I’ve read your posts. I was thinking he was pretty young.

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      • Hi Jeff – My son is 15. He is 6’5 and on his way to being 7 feet easy. Cracks me up! He’s my gentle giant. He is so incredibly kind and sweet. No joke. I just want to be the best mom I can to him. In this case, it’s letting go of trying to manage a condition he says doesn’t bug him. (Not 100% sure, sometimes, if this is just bravado, but he’s got straight A’s, a load of sweet nerdy friends and is going to the movies these days with a 17 year old girl, so I think I had better continue to keep my trap shut.) Advice? Do you think, from the perspective of someone with tics, I am doing the right thing to let him manage it? How did your folks handle it when you were growing up? Bottom line: I don’t want to mess it up! (Famous last words of neurotic moms, right?)

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      • My tics were obvious in my tweens, but that was the early 70s. I don’t know what my parents thought about it but there was never a diagnosis–and my father swears no memory of it whatsoever (he has TS too, but doesn’t know it).

        I had a long bout of alcoholism starting in my teens as self-medication for my comorbid OCD and my tics pretty much disappeared. Once I started getting my drinking under control, my tics reemerged, but it took years and a ridiculous number of doctor appointments to get diagnosed.. I think if your son understands the disorder, I think he should make the decision on the meds. I over medicated (risperidone for TS and OCD) for a year and had a rough time of it. I hate to admit it, but the OCD is apparently a pretty big part of my motivation. 7 feet is absurd. He’ll probably get more attention for that than any tics he carries into adulthood.

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      • Ha ha ha on the attention for the 7 feet. Thanks, Jeff, for your input. I am an alcoholic also! Yay for over-medicators who find sobriety! (Am I supposed to type this? Does this not make me anonymous and break tradition?) Anyway, a big part of my own story was drinking to cover up things in many years I could not change. I am very sensitive now to “forcing” others to change what they don’t want to. I can only change myself with God’s help. I thank you so so much for your kind responses. I’ll be back! You’re in my reader now!

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