Happy Tourette Christmas

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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:

  1. Grunting
  2. Eye rolling
  3. Blinking and grimacing
  4. Blowing my breath up across my eyeballs
  5. Leg punching
  6. Itching
  7. Pinkie chewing
  8. Stretching intercoastal muscles
  9. Tongue twisting
  10. Tooth grinding
  11. 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.

In honor of Christmas, Cann style, I’m posting a link to Dominick the Donkey.

May you and your family have a wonderful Christmas or Solstice Plus Four or whatever holiday you might be celebrating today.

21 thoughts on “Happy Tourette Christmas

  1. I am NOT going to listen to the song. Nope. Ben has had the movie Annie on repeat for a week. I’ve got earworm problems of my own😂 At least it’s not Alvin and the Chipmunks. That got 2 months play and several months of earworm after. I cant image being stuck like that for longer periods.

    Intercostal muscles… I had to Google. Now when one of mine cramps from a weird stretch I can quit calling it a ‘boob cramp’ and use the correct term. Who am I kidding? It’ll still be a boon cramp. Its funnier.

    Merry Christmas to you and yours!🎄🌟🎁

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Dominick the Donkey is new to me! Worried it would become an earworm, I stopped listening after the first refrain 🙂 I’m thinking the squirrels and birds were pleasantly entertained by you as you ran through their forest. Merry Christmas, Jeff!


  3. I always have a song playing in my head, from the moment I wake to the moment I fall asleep. Thankfully, it is not always the same song, more like my personal radio station. The weird thing is if I play music, the songs seem to cancel each other out, and I don’t really “hear” either one. Someone once suggested my brain was bored and was creating a diversion, and by playing music it has work to do… actively shutting out the distraction. Who knows. Our brains are mysterious places.

    Hope you and your family have a very Merry Christmas, Jeff. ❄🎄❄


  4. Ooooh, I am NOT going to click on the link. I don’t need that earworm!

    Bill is not much of a talker either while we are running. It’s nice to be able to have that comfortable silence and think my own thoughts sometimes. I also like running with friends and carrying on a conversation during an easy run.

    Liked by 1 person

    • C’mon, Dominick is a good song. I’ve never liked chatting during a run. My tendency is to do everything at tempo pace, so speaking more than a sentence doesn’t happen. When I slow down for Susan, the ability is there, but then I don’t know what to say. It needs to be a one sided conversation.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m glad you liked this but stream of consciousness definitely wasn’t what I was going for. I wanted to have all the threads tied up by the end of the post. Back to the drawing board.


  6. I’ve never heard the song but listened to it a while. Oh, that would be an obnoxious ear worm, I’m afraid. I learned a lot from this post. I was not aware of mental tics. I am also curious about the fact that you were just diagnosed six years ago. Haha, I guess that might be a life story I missed in a post before I started following you???

    Liked by 2 people

    • Like most people with TS, I had extremely obvious tics as a tween/teen. I’m not sure what my parents thought about them. My mother died decades ago, and my father seems to have no memory of this. By the time I was in college any obvious tics were gone. This post sort of gives the run-down from there. https://jefftcann.com/2019/09/14/wise-speech/
      I also had some pretty awful OCD symptoms as a kid –checking lights, locks, stoves, etc. constantly. If my kid had all this going on, I’d take him to a psychiatrist in a second, but this was the 70s, I’m not so sure what we all knew yet.


      • Thanks for pointing me to your previous post sharing your history of TS. Great post. In reference to the 70s, I graduated from college in 1973 with a degree in special education. If memory serves me, I learned about vision impairment, hearing impairment, speech difficulties, physical impairment, learning disabilities, and cognitive delays. (Most of those topics went by labels we would never use today.) I never heard of TS, ASD, OCD, ADD, RAD, SPD, ODD, or a host of other terms. After years away from education, I went back to teaching in 1994. Even then, many of these labels were not in common use in the educational community. Their use evolved over the 20 years I taught. I think it was not until we reached the 2000’s that parents, doctors, and educators stopped becoming as fearful of labels.

        Liked by 2 people

  7. Great tale and appreciate the ongoing education you and I talked about recently. May explain some issues we’re having with one of our kids, that list of yours. Thanks for sharing Jeff.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Kids frequently get tics without being diagnosable with tourette. My daughter went through a period where she had two or three obvious tics. We even took her to a neurologist. He said don’t worry about it, and after a half a year it all went away. The things I’d really worry about are OCD and a possible draw to substance abuse.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Too relateable. Not the parenting bit, the OCD and possibility of substance abuse part. I have depression, so I must say that while i do NOT partake in drug use, I must say that it has crossed my mind before.

        As for tics, mine came in waves, and they changed over time. When it did stop, it was merely a respite. Lol. Unfortunately, it went from physical tics to physical tics AND coprolalia. Hurhur.

        Ah, damn it.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. I read a good bit about Tourette. Anecdotally, I stumble on the relationship of TS and substance abuse from time to time, but I don’t see much written about it. It’s undeniable that I successfully medicated myself with alcohol for 20+ years. Now was I medicating the TS or OCD or both?


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