Today was my second meeting of the semester to talk to my professors about Tourette's! Two down, just one more to go! Both have gone excellently! This year i'm really making an effort not just to give my professors the basics, but also to give them some insight into what it's like for my to live with Tourette's and how they can make me feel more comfortable in the classroom. Sometimes its not all about helping them to understand what a tic is so they can properly ignore it. It's also about making them feel at ease about my tics and helping them to know how to make me feel more at ease about my tics.
One thing I've experienced in the past that makes me feel uncomfortable, is when a professor simply avoids eye contract with me all together for the entire semester pretty much. If i'm ticcing a lot, which I most always am in class, some professors think they will make me uncomfortable if they look at me. I might think they're looking at my tics or staring at me. However, this is not the case. What does make me feel incredible uncomfortable is if a professor avoids eye contact with me all together. This makes me feel different, avoided, and like the professor is ignoring me as a student all together instead of simply ignoring my tics. So this year I'm making sure to mention to my professors that I want them to make eye contact with me like they would with any other student, regardless of if i'm ticcing a lot. I tell them about how other professors in the past have avoided eye contact with me and how that makes me feel. Both professors so far that i've brought this up with have been extremely receptive about it. The more relaxed I am about telling my Professors about my tics and the more open I am about it, the more relaxed they are and the more questions they ask.
I want my professors, and others in general, to be comfortable with me and with my tics. I want them to be comfortable asking questions or bringing it up, instead of being so afraid they will offend me that they tip toe around the subject and avoid me all together. This is the exact opposite of the way I wish to be treated. As Brad Cohen says in Front of the class in response to his Principle's question of what the teachers and school can do, "I just want to be treated like everyone else".
Because I was relaxed and open about my Tourette's, the professor asked me questions and brought up some very interesting topics as well! He had read Oliver Sacks's chapter about the surgeon with Tourette's, which I had heard about but have not read. He told me I should read it and that he finds it fascinating how the surgeon didn't tic during surgery. I told him how I experience a similar thing when I'm focused and engaged with children such as when I volunteer at the hospital. It's like the part of the brain that's responsible for sending out the extra signals is too activated and engaged doing something else that it can't tic. On the other hand, I told him when i'm sitting passively or listening to a lecture or a movie I tend to tic more even if i'm highly focused on what i'm listening to because its a different kind of mental process or engagement. He also brought up that once he had a student in his class with Tourette's who had a tic where he said "Bull shit" and he responded to the students tic by saying "I know! This is bull shit! Even if the other students don't know it!". Hahaha, I laughed and told him I thought that was really funny! I love how relaxed he was about the whole thing. So different from those professors who just stare at me the whole time I'm telling them about Tourette's as if they were afraid of me. I've only had two professors do this, but boy does it make me feel uncomfortable.
On another note, going on campus to meet with my professor was the first time i've been on campus since the end of the school year in May. One part of me was glad to be back on campus and enjoying being in the familiar environment. The campus was beautiful like always and being a senior, it feels like i'm at home on campus. A freshman even asked me where the quad was and I told her I was a senior and don't remember what the quad even is! I also stopped by the starbucks and everyone from last year was there and was glad to see me. The manager was behind the counter and when she looked at my drink she looked up and said "I know this drink!". I told them I was glad to be back on campus but sad as well because this is my last year there. Another part of me felt very nervous. I was having a hard time with my tics and was doing a lot of vocal tics on campus. The feeling I get before I tic and while i'm ticcing was very strong and like that dropping/electrical feeling I get at the base of my stomach surging upward which was making my tics way worse of course. I felt nervous walking around on campus ticcing and tried to avoid walking close to people. A part of me worries that this is what it will be like walking around on campus more frequently this year because of how bad my tics are right now and how much stress I'm going to have this since i'm applying to graduate school.
Also tonight I found out that two of my sorority sisters are going to be in one of my psychology classes this year that I'm planning on speaking to about my Tourette's. This makes me so incredibly nervous because I'm worried they'll think i'm faking. I've never spent time with either of these sisters and the chapter is so big so they haven't seen me ticcing a whole bunch. They haven't been around me when i've had louder vocal tics and i've never had louder vocal tics in chapter events because if it's a day where i'm ticcing a lot I just won't go to chapter or i'll step out of chapter if I can't hold back my tics. Class is a whole different story because I can't hold back my tics in class otherwise I'll miss all the information because i'm focusing on holing my tics back so much. Being in class and fighting back tics the whole time would be useless because I wouln't learn anything or get anything out of being in class. I know they don't know this about Tourette's and i'm worried they will think "Oh well i've never seen her tic like this before so she just be faking". I wish I didn't care what they think so I could just tell the class and not have to be so nervous about it. I know I have to tell the class and I don't really have a choice in the matter if I want to be successful in the class. There's no way I could sit an hour and a half without doing vocal tics and also pay attention to what the professor is saying. If I would plan on doing that I might as well not show up to a single class and just read the text book, which would be a huge waste of my tuition.
I just have to tell myself that I have to tell the class if I want to have a successful semester. The classroom environemnt is a huge trigger for my tics, and I can't simply not tell the class about my Tourette's because i'm worried of what two people will think. Ultimately it doesn't matter what they think. They can think i'm faking all the want, but I have really do have Tourette's and I l really do ive with it every day and whatever they think doesn't change this fact. They don't understand how environment dependent tics are, they don't understand how much I fight back against my tics when i'm in certain social settings and what fighting my tics does to me later on in terms of the rebound effect. They don't understand the concept of being triggered by the environment or the classroom setting, they don't understand the waxing and waning of Tourette's, and they don't have to understand these things. Regardless of if they do or don't understand, I'm the one who has to live with Tourette's every day and i'm the one who has to be in that classroom doing the tics and dealing with the embarrassment, frustration, and other emotions that ticcing brings. I'm the one who will feel 100% better if the class knows about my Tourette's and if i'm able to feel okay about having tics in class rather than stepping out every 20 minutes to let 10x more tics out than I would have had in the first place had I not tried to fight them.
What matters in the end is how I feel. I understand triggering, environment dependency, waxing and waning, holding back/ fighting tics, the rebound effect, and all the other complextites of Tourette's. Regardless of if other people understand these things or not, they are real and they are part of the reality of living with Tourette's. Tourette's isn't just an involuntary movement or sound that happens comply uncorntolably at random intervals. It's so much more than that. It's so much more complicated. While I wish others understood the complexities of Tourette's, I understand that unless you live with it or have a close friend with it you will not understand these things. I can't let my perception of what others may think control me and control how I live my life. I am making assumptions about these two girls (that they will judge me, that they won't understand, that they will think i'm faking). I'm doing the same thing that I don't want them to do to me, make judgements and unfounded assumptions. I need to stop making these assumptions and just live my life without judgement of others and what their perceptions may be. Who knows, maybe one of them has a brother with Tourette's, a cousin with Tourette's, a best friend from high school with Tourette's. I just need to stay strong, stand up for myself, and do what is right for me this semester considering how my tics are acting up right now and may stay at this level for a while since this year is going to be a stressful one with grad school applications.