to our tic symptoms come in all shapes and sizes, and come from PEOPLE
of all shapes and sizes. Thus it is important to look at each reaction,
and each person delivering it, individually. In my experience it is
a natural tendency for us to label and categorize certain groups of
people with certain types of reactions, however. It is part of a larger
human nature to do so - we are compelled to find order in things, and
will even impose an order where none exists. "Pigeon-holing"
people and circumstances around us is advantageous in the sense that
we then don't have to think as much - we can anticipate based on prior
knowledge, and can therefore respond to situations much quicker. The
problem is that, when we paint with too big a brush, we sometimes overlie
the true colours of people, places, and things with our own preconceived
notions. By so doing we "find what we are looking for"; ironically
we then further strengthen our own viewpoints, stereotypes, and beliefs
by citing evidence that we ourselves contrived.
I developed a bias against two groups: the elderly and young women.
The former, I held, came from a generation that believed such symptoms
demonstrated weakness and should be concealed. They would all meet me
with annoyance and disgust. The latter had the world wrapped around
their finger: particularly ruthless in packs, they could treat me in
my glass cage however they wished because…well, they could afford to.
the number of grandparents and girlfriends who flock to TSFC conventions
and my website in ever-increasing numbers these days, it is embarrassing
for me to now admit my past prejudice. Two experiences in particular,
occurring on opposite sides of our great nation, were poignant enough
to help me recognize how arrogant and assuming I had been:
In British Columbia, in a grocery store, and next to an older gentleman
I once vocally ticced (loudly) while appraising some milk. Without batting
an eye or skipping a beat this individual turned to me and in a pleasant,
completely disarming voice asked, "and what is that"? His
tone was as conversational as if he was commenting on the weather, and
demonstrated a simple, innocent, and genuine curiousity. In all my years
(10 now!) that I have been ticking unabashedly, this has been my all-time
favourite reaction. There I stood, in the middle of the cold section,
launching into an in-service. My enthusiasm rose as his non-judgmental
fascination with TS became more and more evident. Despite the fact that
it was he who asked me numerous questions that day, I learned at least
as much as he did from the exchange.
On a plane bound for Newfoundland, I found myself sitting next to a
woman perhaps in her 40's, and across the aisle from a teenaged girl.
I was expecting a juxtaposition of reactions (and was not disappointed)
but my biases could not have been more at odds with reality. The woman
beside me was in fact a childish girl, continually assaulting me with
exaggerated dirty looks, elaborate sighs, and loud comments to anyone
who would listen about how it was 'just her luck' to be sitting next
to me. The girl across from me was in fact a mature, kind woman - casting
me warm, supportive smiles and joining her father in quietly admonishing
and educating those around them. I kept this girl and her father in
my sight as I disembarked in Newfoundland - still looking for a way
to fit this experience into my biases, I felt certain that they must
have been heading to the same TS convention as I was. Perhaps she had
TS herself and suppressed it, or perhaps she had a diagnosed brother.
As it turned out, neither was true: she had no knowledge of the convention.
Overwhelmed with admiration for this exceptional young lady, and within
earshot of my sour, grousing seatmate, I shook my saviour's hand. I
told her that she already possessed enviable qualities that many never
achieve in their entire lifetime. While I also told her that she should
never change, I walked away from that day resolved that I needed to
do some changing myself.
T(r)IC(k)S around reactions that I'd like to share can be found below,
and in the next instalment…
Pets - animals seem to be capable of the same repertoire of reactions
as humans. Some are frightened, some are angered, some are curious but
shy, some take it in stride and shrug their furry shoulders, and some
are even attracted to it. The difference is that animals have no veneer
of civility to throw you off. Quite simply, animals are blessed in their
honesty about how they feel, making choosing the right pet for you an
easy task. I recommend "testing" pets with your tics before
purchasing. If that dog at the pound responds like a certain seatmate
on an Air Canada flight, keep looking. If (s)he fires you a look of
stunned adulation before launching like a missile into your arms and
licking you with utter abandon then you've found your match. I can't
imagine how I would have gotten through my childhood without the unconditional
love of my dog - my father still chokes up when he speaks of Moppet
and how I was able to say things to her that I couldn't seem to say
good people who just don't know how to react -
If a person looks away when you tic, often this means (s)he is embarrassed,
caught off guard, and doesn't know what to do. Sometimes people seem
to be just barely holding in their hilarity: they will snicker only
after they go around the corner, they will share brief smiles with others
after breaking eye contact with you, or you will see them grinning as
they turn their back to you to get your order. These are people who
know that they shouldn't laugh, would feel bad about doing so in your
face, but must release somehow.
is your responsibility to let these poor people 'off the hook' - leaving
a Q&A from the TSFC on their table, wearing a pin that says "I
Y TS Kids", carrying ID and information cards (soon to be available
from the TSFC), or finding a way to work Tourette Syndrome into a conversation
(loudly, in case the people reacting aren't the ones you are directly
talking to) are all shortcuts to 'clueing people in'. I have also compiled
together a number of "ice-breaker" comments I find helpful
- comments like, "WOW! Great echoes in here, eh??", or "Sorry
for startling you - would you like a clean pair of underwear?"
can take that awkward energy between reactor and reactee and convert
it to a bonding (or at least a learning) experience. A compilation of
these ice-breakers can be found in a handout entitled "Beat the
Bully!" on my website at www.lifesatwitch.com/helpful.html.
Whatever your overture, however people react to it is their issue; regardless
of their receptivity or how the situation turns out you can walk away
proud that you at least acted well.
conclude next time…
B. Duncan McKinlay, Ph.D.