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.
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