Tics, Towels and Tourette's

Georges Gilles de la Tourette

Safety in Towels

The closer to my surgery, the larger the pile of towels grows
The closer to my surgery, the larger the pile of towels grows

Watch this intro to an HBO special on Tourette's

Helpful Resources

Tourette Syndrome Association, Inc.: Purchase the HBO special, "I Have Tourette's, But Tourette's Doesn't Have Me" video.

National Tourette Syndrome Association: Website offers numerous resources for adults and children with Tourette's, parent support systems, conferences, newsletters and more.

Tourette's Disorder: Information, Support, Hope: Website offers support systems, education

Tourette's Strikes Again

How do you react when your child describes a classmate with symptoms of Tourette's?

  • You tell your child to be nice to the Tourette's kid. Be friendly, be kind, be understanding.
  • You tell your child to ignore the Tourette's kid.
  • You tell your child to stay far away in case it is contagious.
  • You move your child into another classroom, or insist on having the Tourette's kid moved.
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Don't touch that towel!

Lately, every night when my husband returns home from a stressful day at work, he walks into the kitchen to find mounds of used paper towels. These crumpled up Costco paper towels, sometimes still wet from my numerous hand washings, will be sitting in stacks on the chair at our breakfast nook beside "my chair" -- the one from which I do most of my work on the computer. Another stack may be sitting on the table adjacent to my computer, and another on the counter next to the sink.

If I happen to be sitting at the table when he attempts to collect the towels for disposal, he may receive protest from me before he recoils his hand for fear I will slap it.

This is odd behavior, you say? You don't know the half of it.

My excuse for this behavior is my growing stress over my impending bilateral mastectomy surgery and TRAM Flap in conjunction with the planning of our son's bar mitzvah. Think of the planning of a bar mitzvah including most every detail you would need for a wedding, only with a different kind of dessert and the addition of games for the numerous pre-teens attending.

Rather than being formally diagnosed by a neurologist, I have been informed casually by a general internist physician that I have Tourette's Syndrome, a condition believed to be a very mild and manageable form of autism.

Not the form of Tourette's that produces uncontrollable ranting and shouting of obscenities, although, I do tend to curse too much; not because I can't control my cursing, rather because it just feels good to swear. I love saying the word, "fuck," for instance. And yet, writing it in such a clinical fashion leaves me feeling self-conscious about my choice of words. No matter, it still feels good to say it. Try it and you'll see... "Fuck. Fuck!" Doesn't that feel better? Okay, maybe not for you, but I enjoy it.

Anyway, you may not agree after my last point, but my form of Tourette's is the twitchy kind. The kind you try to hide from the other kids when you're in school because of how cruel they can be when they watch your twitching or vocal habits. It's the kind you hope your friends and co-workers don't notice.

One time at my job working in city government, I was really tired and a bit stressed and I sat at my desk facing the computer screen and entryway beyond. I couldn't stop blinking to the point it leaves me with headaches and keeps my eyes closed long enough during the squinting and blinking to take away my vision for a few moments... don't try this when you're driving.

When I finally regained control of my eyelids and stopped scrunching up my nose, I noticed a friend, a co-worker, was standing in my doorway with an odd expression filled with confusion and the discomfort of having caught me doing something that should remain private. I was embarrassed and quickly began blushing.

"Oh, I got something in my eye." That was the safe explanation most of the time, but it doesn't explain the tensing and jerking motion in my neck.

I've heard this form of Tourette's being described as "normal behaviors gone wrong." That statement is appropriate, but doesn't take away the reaction of people who don't know what the fuck has gone wrong with you. Yeah, there's that word again.

I find, my Tourette's -- a condition my father and his father displayed, prior to being passed down to me and my sister -- is generally brought on most noticeably by stress and lack of sleep, both of which I entertain on a regular basis. Also, Tourette's generally shows up in young or pre-teen children. Mine showed up just in time for middle school when kids were at their cruelest... Yippee! My son's showed up right around third grade. Luckily, he is a popular kid and didn't have to take the abuse I did.

So, next time you see someone jerking their head about, blinking uncontrollably, rolling their eyes back as they blink hard, twitching their nose, tensing their limbs, forcing out little bursts of air through their nose or mouth, raising their eyebrows or shoulders repeatedly, and too many other little (or big) "tics" to mention, be kind and remember... We have to carry out these tics like someone else must sneeze or cough. Forcing ourselves to stop is extremely difficult and sometimes seems rather painful, or at least as annoying as having an itch you can't scratch because your hands are tied.

And just when you thought it was bad enough, combine that with a little OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) and your bizarre life is nearly complete. (I know I'll get shit for saying life with Tourette's is bizarre, but that's how it feels in my case). I’m told this is a typical combination and for me, the addition of OCD is where the towels come in. I need to wash my hands a great deal. I use the fresh paper towels to dry my hands because if you have kids. You really don’t want to know the things they wipe on towels hanging in the kitchen.

My son's green solution to my paper towel problem is to have everyone have their own towel hanging in the kitchen. We'll decorate the towel with our names and then, we (really, me) won't waste as much paper towels. Such a smart kid!

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Comments 4 comments

myfirst50000 profile image

myfirst50000 7 years ago from New Brunswick

Nice article and thank you for sharing!

I once notice one of my co-worker who was sitting right to me (in a call centre) acting strangely. He was playing with his hands and had different tics. It didn't bother me, but I was wondering what he had and I had to control myself not to stare at him.

I don't know if he has the Tourette syndrome, but he was suffering from a lack of sleep, like once you mention in your article. Guess different syndromes can show up when a person is tired and very exhausted.


Joelle Burnette profile image

Joelle Burnette 7 years ago Author

Thanks, 50000. Glad you didn't make a big deal out of your co-worker's tics. I agree, it is difficult to not stare, and it's not like staring at a scar or something on a person's body. Rather, the person's tic is active and changing and distracting, much like watching a tennis ball at a tournament. Your eyes naturally are drawn to the action.


Katie Cheek 6 years ago

My tics started showing up when I was about 9. I would blink my eyes, then every 6 months it would progress: arm jerking, grunting, opening my mouth over and over, stretching my neck. And now my head and shoulders jerk. In the 6th grade, my tics caused me to lose all of my friends because I seemed strange. But what seems to make my tics worse is sugar, caffeine and strong emotions. My mom can usually tell when I'm hiding something because it subconsciously stresses me out. lol Though, even though my tic is very distracting, people tend to think i have the hiccups or i'm laughing. New people are constantly asking if I'm ok lol. Yep..just have Tourettes. (starts an hour long conversation) But now i'm in college and people are more inclined to understand! ^_^


CMENYART1 profile image

CMENYART1 4 years ago from North Cackalackie

I was diagnosed with what was at the time fairly severe TS as 4 years old. It became decidedly milder as I got older, but still has it's flare ups. Never heard it actually put into the category with Autism-it's certainly not a spectrum disorder-but I guess each neurologist has their own interpretations.

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