Last night I watched Chicago Hope. It’s a medical drama, I think. This episode was about a hospital, and I assume they’re all about a hospital, so let’s go with calling it a medical drama. In this episode René Auberjonois, the actor who starred as Father Mulcahy on the TV show M*A*S*H, played a surgeon with Tourette Syndrome. The episode, named Oh What a Piece of Work Is Man was recommended on Facebook as a realistic and sympathetic portrayal of Tourette.
What do you know about René Auberjonois? I spent some time with him on Google, because other than his role playing a non-judgmental priest, I know nothing about him at all. In fact, when my Chicago Hope episode started, a man walked into the scene honking and doing a little skip-step tap dance thing and touching doorknobs three times, I thought “that isn’t Father Mulcahy, who’s this dude.” I didn’t recognize him without his clergy collar.
Here’s something most people don’t know about me. In addition to having Tourette Syndrome, I have a mildish case of Prosopagnosia (face blindness). I frequently can’t recognize people I already know, especially out of context. On Monday at work, Martha said “Hey Jeff, I saw you at the Christmas parade on Friday. I thought you looked right at me, but I guess you didn’t see me.”
I’m pretty sure I saw her. There was a moment during the night, standing outside of Sweeet, Gettysburg’s retro candy shop, scanning the crowd looking for my in-laws, I thought “Hmm, that woman over there looks familiar.” My very first post on this blog is a humor piece about Prosopagnosia
The Prosopagnosia and the Tourette aren’t related. I’ve done countless internet searches on the two disorders, and I’ve never found a connection. But René Auberjonois, every single picture I see of him, I can’t conjure up Father Mulcahy.
Oops, I was just looking at a picture of Father Mulcahy on Wikipedia, and I noticed that the actor’s name is William Christopher. René Auberjonois was in the movie M*A*S*H. Not the same guy. So in addition to Tourette Syndrome and Prosopagnosia, there’s clearly something else wrong with me.
Next topic: The point of all this is while watching René Auberjonois tic away with Tourette, fidgeting, poking, twisting, knocking and even screaming Bitch, Bitch, Bitch in a fancy restaurant, I started getting a weird feeling. Wow, this guy has Tourette. Suddenly, I felt like a fraud. Is it possible to be not disabled enough?
In the TV show House (another medical drama), Dr. House, who walks with a cane, finds his handicapped parking spot has been transferred to another doctor, one in a wheelchair. The subplot throughout the show is ‘who’s more disabled?’ Is it the guy who limps everywhere, clearly in pain, or the woman who can’t use a normal bathroom stall or walk with her colleagues to the next floor because of her wheelchair? This subplot was used for comic relief. Two adults arguing, trying to prove that their life is worse than the other’s.
I spend considerable time worrying about Tourette Syndrome. There are my hallmark Tourette tics, grunting, scratching, eye-rolling and a dozen other movements and sounds that come and go. All in all, they’re pretty innocuous. Many people swear they’ve never noticed them. But that doesn’t stop me from bumming out. Sitting in my office, I’ll realize I’m grunting, suddenly worried that Sara, four feet away on the other side of a wall, can hear me. Or while driving, repeatedly rolling my eyes, worried that maybe I’m not giving enough visual attention to the road. Every time I catch myself, it reminds me of my differences. And then I dwell on it.
There’s a medical buzzword in the Tourette community, comorbidity. Comorbid conditions are an extensive list of additional mental health conditions that frequently accompany Tourette Syndrome. OCD, anxiety, substance abuse, depression all make the list. If you read this blog, you’ve read about each of these here. When I write about Tourette Syndrome, I’m writing about the tics AND the obsessive thoughts AND social anxiety AND the years I wasted drinking AND the days I missed work depressed.
For whatever reason, all of this feels behind me right now. For the past two months (with a brief hiccup over Thanksgiving weekend) I haven’t felt mentally ill. Yes, I’m still ticcing, but less than normal, and I’ve already suggested that normal isn’t that bad. It’s my reaction to the tics that is the problem. The depression, anxiety and obsessions churn in a feedback loop with Tourette—fueling more tics, which fuels the comorbids. For the first time in a decade, I’m not feeling this.
Watching Chicago Hope reminded me that I don’t have it so bad. I don’t get ostracized because of my tics, thrown out of restaurants, kicked out of movie theaters, I don’t scream Bitch, Bitch, Bitch at a young family walking down the street. And now with my absent comorbid conditions, I’m feeling a little lost. Part of my identity is missing right now, the disabled part. It’s something I’ve grown accustomed to and I feel a little naked without it.
It seems a little scary at first, but I think I can get used to this.