Thriving with Tourette Syndrome

Most kids did not skip to school, but I did. People laughed and jeered; some would point while others would look at me curiously. Why was I skipping to school? Well, it was actually a two-part tic in which I would kick up my legs while walking. My name is Traci Salisbury, I'm 26 years old, and I have Tourette Syndrome.

Tourette Syndrome or �TS� is a neurological disorder where a chemical imbalance in one�s brain causes the person to �twitch� or �tic� involuntarily. TS has been portrayed humorously in mainstream media, but it is very real and very intense. So, what was it like growing up with TS?  I wish I could tell you it was super easy and I outgrew my tics as so much of the research says. But I didn�t.

Growing up with TS was super hard. Imagine sitting in math or biology class and your body has a sudden desire to move. You can�t suppress it because it will just occur, similar to a sneeze. So suddenly, off you go! Blinking your eyes feverishly, banging your knees up against the desk, and motioning your neck back and forth. I would have been worried if my classmates were not wondering what in the world was going on with me. What was worse, this was 2001, and not many teachers knew what TS was or how to deal with it. So picture me ticking away, trying to focus on the class notes, when suddenly the teacher brashly interrogates me. "Ms. Salisbury, what are you doing? Do you have a problem?� Then the class snickers and tears well up in my eyes.

This was two months before my parents took me to a neurologist who properly diagnosed and medicated me for my TS. Once I was properly diagnosed and educated on my disorder, I felt more empowered. With any challenge in life, I believe if you truly �own� it, you will shine like a new penny and opportunities for growth will show up.

And so I did. That spring after my diagnosis, I got up the courage to tell all of my closest girlfriends about it at a sleepover. “Guys I just wanted to tell you, I have this thing called TS, it makes my body do funny things, but I am still Traci.” My best friend, Jackie, shouted from her sleeping bag, “We thought you were sick; oh man, we have your back Trace.”

After that first pivotal step, taking accountability for my TS became easy. With friends and teachers onboard, rude classmates were quickly pulled aside, and given the overview on my disorder. In March 2002, I even organized a community-wide basketball game to raise money for the national Tourette Syndrome Association. At age 16, I took center court with a microphone and confidently explained to my community at halftime who I was and what TS is. I received a standing ovation.

We all have obstacles in our way as we grow up. The most important lesson I took away from growing up with a “disability” was to throw that limiting label out the window and shift my viewpoint. Once I began to look at TS as a gift and not a burden, life changed miraculously. Currently I am an adult still being “ticky” as I like to say, but if you take ownership of your life and direct that life energy with positive attitude, nothing will stand in your way!

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