Learning to Thrive Despite Tourette Syndrome

By Natalie Homan from In The Cloud Copy

Rochelle was a 28-year-old mom of two when she went to sleep one night feeling perfectly normal. A few hours later, she woke up with her legs shaking so badly she couldn’t get out of bed and walk. These were not occasional, mild twitches, but furious movements that sent her into panic mode. That night, Rochelle’s world shifted to an entirely new reality, one in which she now has to deal with the symptoms of Tourette syndrome every day.

What Is Tourette Syndrome?

Tourette syndrome isn’t very well understood by the general public. Most people have heard that it can make a person swear uncontrollably, but that’s about all they know. While Tourette’s has been known to make people blurt out offensive words, sudden swearing is not a universal symptom. Tourette syndrome is one type of tic disorder. A tic is a repetitive movement or vocalization outside of a person’s control. So, while swearing can and does occur in about 10–20% of cases, far more common symptoms include repeated movements or sounds like blinking, clearing the throat, or twitching the head to one side.

Tics are essentially uncontrollable and it’s difficult to predict exactly when they’ll occur, so they can make functioning on a daily basis a very real challenge. If the condition is severe, it can be difficult for those with Tourette’s to care for their families and maintain respect at their jobs. Tics can also be incredibly embarrassing, and stress and anxiety will often make them worse. That means that when a tic draws unwanted stares and comments from strangers when performing everyday tasks like grocery shopping or riding the bus, the tic can get even more severe and become downright humiliating. While Tourette’s does not usually cause physical pain, the emotional and social consequences can be just as damaging.

Adult-Onset Tourette’s

Rochelle’s case is a little unique because Tourette syndrome usually appears in children and young teens. As Rochelle’s physicians tried to diagnose the cause of her shaking, which had worsened in the six months after her initial episode and had begun affecting her entire body, they found clues in her medical records that pointed to Tourette’s during childhood. As a girl, Rochelle had scratched her arms and legs so badly that they bled, and as a teen she habitually made a vocal popping sound. These symptoms could now be seen as early indicators of Tourette’s.

It seemed that the cause of Rochelle’s sudden onset of Tourette’s in her twenties was due to an overload of stress in the young woman’s life. In the months leading up to her initial episode of shaking, she had become a single mom to a baby and a six-year-old while being wheelchair-bound because of a back injury during her pregnancy. Her older daughter needed major surgery, and Rochelle was struggling to make ends meet financially. Ironically, it wasn’t until some of her stress subsided that Tourette’s made its ugly reappearance after being essentially nonexistent since her adolescence.

Coming to Terms with Tourette’s

Rochelle’s doctors gave her medicine that helps control her shaking, but she still has verbal tics that cause her embarrassment in public. Sometimes, the anxiety of what she might say or do brings on episodes of vocal tics and convulsions that last for hours. Despite the difficulties she’s had to adjust to, including quitting her job and losing some friends over her condition, Rochelle met and began dating her now-husband, Gareth, who has cerebral palsy and knows firsthand what it’s like to live with extra challenges. Rochelle says that Gareth has helped her come to terms with her Tourette’s and has shown her that if she’s willing to persevere, nothing can hold her back.

Check out the original article here.


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