Tics. Part 45.

Tics: Involuntary sounds and movements associated with Tourette Syndrome.

I admitted to my boss, I’m having trouble. It started with a nasty cold. Not Covid, my doctor tested me twice. The coughing never went away. It’s no longer the chesty, phlegmy cough of my three-week illness, the cough that stirred up mucus in my lungs, leaving it just below my trachea, out of reach of the involuntary hocking that followed my violent barking. No, my cough morphed into a weak, hacking, nonproductive thing that starts at the top of my throat—caff, caffcaff, caffcaff. A brief pause, and then again, caff…

“You still have that cough?” I don’t. I have Tourette Syndrome. My coworkers seem uncomfortable talking about this, so instead of explaining, I tilt my head side to side, a universal motion that says ‘you know how it goes.’

My cold started on Black Friday. On Thanksgiving, taking a break from my all-day socializing responsibilities with my in-laws, I found a quiet corner and clicked on the CNN app. They found a new Covid variant in South Africa. Even that initial article made it sound ominous. Day after day, the Covid news became more dire; I became increasingly anxious; and that cold, man, it just kept getting worse.

Years ago, feeling anxiety, I often retched. Setting up the spin room before instructing a class, at the start of a run, almost daily while getting ready for work, I doubled over dry-heaving. Sometimes I threw up. I saw a therapist at the time. I described the problem. “I think it’s a Tourette tic.” She seemed doubtful. Anxiety or OCD, she said. Never resolved, regardless, it stopped when I medicated the Tourette.

It started again. A few days into my cold, into the Omicron news, my cough frequently ended in gagging. I told Susan about it. “I know, I can hear you through the bathroom door.” As my cold cleared up, the retching continued. As an added annoyance, wearing a mask also sets it off. Panicked, I strip off my mask at odd intervals lest I retch. Omicron set me back.

Two months ago, in the Problem Solved Problem, I wrote about a new medication regime that sent my Tourette Syndrome practically into remission. Omicron ended that. My coughing waves seem continuous—concerning for my family, “Dad, are you sure you’re OK?” And distressing for my coworkers “Should you get tested again?”

I correspond online with others with Tourette. The coughing thing is common. The disorder can make people behave egregiously. Spewing out the n-word around people of color, f-bombing in church, spitting in public, barking in the library… and coughing during a pandemic. Some of these actions are fairly unusual, others rather rare, but based on the people I communicate with, the coughing is practically universal.

Mental illness, for me, is a rollercoaster. No, Tourette Syndrome isn’t a mental illness, but the symptoms, the tics, are fueled by stress and anxiety. Changes in medication and changes in my life cause the tics to wax and wane. Clearly waxing now, I figured I should let my boss know in case the coughing becomes an office complaint.

Omicron is just the latest phase of the coronavirus pandemic weighing on my psyche. Like everyone else, I’m worn out by it. Related to the pandemic, I have much to be thankful for—no one in my family has gotten sick, we have no vaccine holdouts, and none of us has an underlying medical condition. We’ll weather the storm, I hope, and I’ll deal with anxiety and Tourette tics as best as I can. Still, I hope this retching thing disappears soon. It’s every bit as awful as you might imagine.

Photo: Courtesy of Unsplash.com

21 thoughts on “Tics. Part 45.

  1. I know another person who coughs when stressed, but thanks to his work load he is chronically stressed so it is difficult to put it down to just stress. He sometimes coughs until he vomits and finds it terribly distressing and embarrassing. He is going to see a lung specialist in January but your post has made me wonder. Hope you are able to get a handle on it soon Jeff.

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  2. So the retching is a kind of tic triggered by your anxiety about Omicron. My god that’s awful Jeff! I’m so sorry…I wonder if there’s any help you can get with the medication to treat that. I’m sure you’ve been down that path already.

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  3. I’m sorry to hear you are having this coughing problem. and that’s too bad the new medication regime is no longer working as effectively. I hope your cough begins to fade away, and I hope the same for covid…

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  4. Daughter has been sick since Tuesday. “Flu-like symptoms” … it’s not bad, but she generally feels like crap. She’s missed 3 shifts at work and had to wait 2 days for a testing appointment. We go to the drive thru at 4pm today. She had flu shot & 3 Pfizer COVID, but she’s also worked with COVID patients in the ICU.
    She’s prone to respiratory problems… had pneumonia 3 times. I guess we’ll find out if she’s got a breakthrough case. If so, it’s been not fun, but not scary.

    From all the info I’ve seen about omicron, it might be a positive turn. More transmisible but milder, especially for those vaxxed.

    I hope you can get some stress & anxiety relief soon. I had a gag reflex issue with taking pills for a while, back when all my meds were pills. It’s no fun… no fun at all!

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    • Oh, hope she’s negative. They’re not really writing about it but I assume there is just as much delta out there as there was a couple of weeks ago–it hasn’t suddenly become nontransmissable. We had a nice snowy morning here and I had the day off work. I’m very relaxed. Plus the covid numbers are really low due to holidays. I’m not really coughing except when I have a random, stray, stressed out thought. We’ll see what happens tomorrow. It was pretty bad last week at work.Hope your crowded house visit went well.

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    • I’m pretty sure this is all stress related. I’ll be doing fine, and then a stressful thought will pop into my head, and I start coughing. And the gagging is really familiar to me from a few years ago. Plus the TS coughing tic has been with me for a long time. I appreciate different ideas and I’m really hard to offend.

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  5. That sounds awful, friend. I hope you get some time to relax and de-stress so these tics will stop bothering you. Take some comfort in knowing the illness you just had is in all likelihood much worse than what Omicron would do, especially because you and your fam are vaccinated. (I know several people who’ve had it now, they had very mild symptoms that lasted only a day or two and were right as rain.)

    This week in an effort to de-stress I’m rejecting anything that elevates my heart rate, except for exercise. Hope you’re able to do what’s needed for yourself.

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    • Thanks CJ. I’ve thought about the likelihood that my ‘common cold’ was probably worse than most covid cases. My week looks fairly relaxing except that there are some things I’m going to need to do to help my dad move into assisted living. Hope your new year celebration rocks (as best it can while in lockdown).

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