Hey! Chingedy ching, hee-haw, hee-haw
It’s Dominick the donkey.
Chingedy ching, hee-haw, hee-haw
The Italian Christmas donkey.
Tourette Syndrome (TS) is a weird disorder. It makes you do things you don’t want to do. Yes, we’re all aware of the stereotyped guy who f-bombs in church, but he’s a pretty slim minority. Most of us do far less obnoxious things—like grunt and blink and flex strange muscles. These actions and vocalizations are called tics. When I was diagnosed six years ago, I read up on TS, reviewed lists of common tics and made mental checklists of all the things I do.
I have a mild Tourette case, I think. Which seems pretty common. I’m in a TS Facebook group. People recount their tics—many are just like me, but some folks have it pretty rough. Of course, we’ve got the cussers, but others shake their heads, fling their arms and twist their bodies until they hurt. When I compare, I have it pretty easy. The other day, a teenage girl wanted to know how many different tics people have. I guessed three or four for myself. And then I started counting:
- Eye rolling
- Blinking and grimacing
- Blowing my breath up across my eyeballs
- Leg punching
- Pinkie chewing
- Stretching intercoastal muscles
- Tongue twisting
- Tooth grinding
- Saying weird shit
I’ve probably missed a few. So essentially, I’m a twitchy dude, but none of these hurt or get me kicked out of church. Since I was first diagnosed, the list of common tics has been amended to include Mental Tics. These are words and phrases that pop unbidden into your head in a disruptive fashion. I’m not sure I buy this. Yes, this happens to me frequently (all the time) but I have OCD. Obsession is the kingdom of unbidden thoughts.
In the Facebook group, I floated a question: Are ear-worms a mental tic? Do you know this word? In Germany, they use the term “Ohrwurm” for a bit of music stuck in your head. It literally translates to ear-worm. It’s gaining traction in the English language. My question went mini-viral. In three hours, I got fifty responses describing various ear-worms that people live with all the time.
Like the people in my TS Facebook group, I spend my life with a mental song-loop on repeat. I once asked a therapist about this, and she said it stemmed from OCD. Right now, I know everyone reading this post is saying: “Wait, I have that too.” I think there are different levels of severity. At one point I was mentally paralyzed and driven to tears by Neil Young’s Travel On.
This afternoon, Susan and I went for a run. We’ve taken a bit of a break from running recently. Her knee and hamstrings have been twanging. It’s nothing serious, just some overly tight muscles, but we took a few weeks off for her to get on top of the problem with lots of yoga and foam rolling. Today we drove to a pretty part of the Gettysburg battlefield and ran the Slyder Farm loop. This is one of my favorite runs in the park, and I incorporate it in almost every run I take. It starts down Slyder Farm’s long dirt driveway, passes through a park ranger’s front lawn, crosses a wooden bridge and then dives into the woods on a double-track trail. When it pops back out of the woods, it rejoins a different part of Slyder Farm, where a tight trail through head-high grass brings you back to the driveway.
When Susan and I run, we don’t talk. She hates talking while running and I don’t like talking in general. So we prance along lost in our own thoughts. Sometimes my thoughts are “Hmm, I wonder what Susan’s thinking right now.” I want to ask her, but there’s that whole no-talking thing, so I don’t. I have no idea if she wonders this about me, or if she ever wants to ask. If she did today, she would have gotten “Chingedy ching, hee-haw, hee-haw…”
After Susan and I finished our run, she went off to stretch against a civil war monument, and then she planned to drop by Rite-Aid to buy candy for Christmas stockings. I headed back into the woods to run the three-and-a-half-mile trail to my house. When I run alone, this is when my Tourette symptoms are most prevalent. I grunt, loud and long. And when I force myself to stop grunting, I make a horse sound by blowing air between my lips.
Most people with TS will tell you that their tics get worse with stress. Am I stressed when I run? No, but I feel a level of distress, and that seems to work like stress. Today, in addition to the grunting and horse sounds, my mental tic of Dominick the Donkey was in full swing. I blame myself (and my daughter Sophie blamed me too). Every time I walked by our Echo Dot over the past week I said “Alexa, play Dominick the Donkey.” I know this song tends to get stuck in my head, but I was curious to see how long it would take for my kids to tell me to knock it off. Is this a tic? I said it was.
The nice part about trail running on Christmas eve is that no one else is around. I brought my Dominick the Donkey out loud and clear for the squirrels and birds to hear.
May you and your family have a wonderful Christmas or Solstice Plus Four or whatever holiday you might be celebrating today.