I am quite certain that I have Tourette’s Syndrome.
As a child, I frequently exhibited odd little tics: excessive blinking; strange breathing patterns; unnecessary throat clearing; and various other twitches, grunts and squeaks. Watching my son exhibit similar tics, which tend to last from a few days to a few weeks, I see a reflection of my younger self. I also see that they are a part of his development, as they were a part of mine.
Wikipedia defines Tourette’s Syndrome as follows:
“Tourette’s Syndrome is an inherited neuropsychiatric disorder with onset in childhood, characterized by multiple physical (motor) tics and at least one vocal (phonic) tic. These tics characteristically wax and wane, can be suppressed temporarily, and are preceded by a premonitory urge.”
The more I’ve looked into this quirky condition, the more I believe that it applies to me. I’m not a big fan of labelling, and I’m not all that fussed about it — nor do I have any intention of making this more of an issue for my son.
In his book The Keeper: A Life of Saving Goals and Achieving Them, Tim Howard — the American soccer goaltender who holds the record for most saves in a World Cup game (15) — quoted the doctor who diagnosed him with Tourette’s as saying, “With every challenge a kid faces, there’s some flip side. I have no way to prove it, but I believe this: there’s always a flip side.”
I understand this flip side. I see it in myself, and I see it in my son. Tics are a manifestation of something inside of us, and they often precede a breakthrough — a development of some sort that transforms us, moves us forward, helps us grow. These tics are not bad, they’re just different. Tourette’s — if I choose to accept the label that seems to fit me — is neither a curse nor a blessing. It is simply a part of who I am.
For most of my adult life, I have all but forgotten the tics that accompanied me throughout childhood. They have faded into the background, coming forward on rare occasion — usually in some mild, almost unnoticeable way. But a few weeks ago as I was preparing for a working vacation, I was struck by a strange breathing quirk — it was like I was gulping for air, unable to take a full breath. I recognized right away that it was an anxious quirk — a tic — not what most people would think of as “shortness of breath.” Breathing had shifted from being a subconscious act to a conscious activity; I was acutely aware of my condition, yet unable to fully control it.
My breathing tic travelled with me … through two days of driving to southern Oregon … two days staying with friends … another two days of driving to Salt Lake City … three days at a publishing conference … and then another day on the road. It was driving me crazy — mornings would start out fine, but as my anxiety grew throughout the day my condition would worsen, and I would become more aware of it. By early evening all I could think of was going to bed, calming my nerves, resetting myself to face another day.
On the way home from Salt Lake City, somewhere in northern Oregon, my tic reached a crescendo. My wife, Sheila, and I had been debating our path forward — we had gone to the conference to provide clarity on whether or not we wanted to commit ourselves to the world of publishing — and our discussion seemed to be going in circles. Then, suddenly, it all became clear. I would focus on learning everything I could about digital distribution — about e-books and metadata and all that technical stuff most authors and publishers don’t want to deal with — while continuing to write and build out my “author platform.” Sheila would focus on building her editing business — a skill set that dovetails nicely with mine to provide a unique set of publishing services — while also establishing herself as a writer.
I had thought many times about digital publishing — about how similar it is to what I did for twenty years, during my time as a developer and publisher of mobile market research software. Despite the natural fit I had kept a safe distance, unwilling to be lured back into the career I left behind when I became an author. But on that long drive home from Utah, after absorbing three days of content and connections at the IBPA Publishing University, I reconciled the relationship between my past and my future. I realized that I could move forward by calling on the experience and skill set that I developed over two decades. And I could enjoy the process, because I knew that it was moving me forward into a new industry, a new career as a writer and publisher.
In that moment of realization — of reconciliation — I felt my anxiety dissipate. A few minutes later, we pulled over at a rest stop. I got out of the van, and as I walked to the bathroom I felt my airways clear, my breathing return to normal. For a moment I thought my tic had passed … but, no, that couldn’t be; it had never happened like that before. Tics had always disappeared gradually, unconsciously — I would just realize at some point that I was no longer twitching or grunting or squeaking. I could never recall a tic evaporating into thin air while I was thinking about it. So I waited … and waited some more. It took me a while to accept that my latest bout of Tourette’s Syndrome had evaporated. In that moment of clarity, I had been healed.
It has been a few days since that cathartic roadside stop, and my symptoms have not returned. I grow increasingly motivated toward the goals that Sheila and I set out while driving west on the I-84, and I am excited to be working in earnest toward a new career. While my enjoyment of our recent travels was lessened by my frustrating tic, I am thankful for the clarity it helped to provide. It helped me to understand that I had been floundering, reluctant to embrace my own strengths and accept the path that had been calling me. It forced me to acknowledge the need for a shift, and to take action.
I have already signed up for courses, made minor alterations to my website, and begun to research technologies and tools that I will need to become a digital publishing expert. It will take a while to tailor my existing skills to a new arena, but I know that it will happen. I am thankful for my moment of clarity, and for the flip side of the challenges I’ve faced.