07/23/2014 12:49 pm ET Updated Oct 02, 2014

What Tourette's Taught Me About Life

With each minute, my anxiety grew.

"Please don't do this. Not now," I silently pleaded with my body.

Then, within seconds, the moment I had long feared came. I let out a primal grunt and forcefully slammed my head into my laptop.

Tisha, my girlfriend at the time, stared at me -- stunned.

"Kevin, are you okay?" she asked, with a look of genuine concern.

There I was, at the age of 20 and in my first serious relationship. One of my tics had just struck right in the middle of conversation with my significant other.

I was embarrassed, but this wasn't new to me.


Since I was seven years old, I noticed I was a little different from the other kids. Everyone had their quirks of course, but mine were a bit more bizarre -- and compulsive.

"Why do you always do that?" my classmates would ask me. They might have been referring to the way I constantly shook my head, as if vigorously disagreeing with something. I did plenty of other things that warranted attention though, like constantly clearing my throat, whimpering like a dog, and lashing my arms out as fast as I could.

Much to my horror, it didn't take me long to realize that these things were largely out of my control. Suppressing them, while possible, only led to a much more violent outburst later.

I learned this the hard way.

One day in Mrs. Williams's computer class, I desperately tried to contain my verbal outbursts in the back of the room. I was a dormant Touretting volcano, ready to erupt -- and erupt I did.

I had no idea my throat was capable of making bullfrog-like noises, but I've learned that with Tourette's, almost anything is possible. I must have croaked intermittently for 15 straight minutes, despite the teacher's constant warnings. The look of pure contempt she gave me is something I'll never forget. And who could blame her? For all she knew, I was just another class clown looking to disrupt her lesson.

Oddly enough, being diagnosed with Tourette's Syndrome in high school was one of the best things that ever happened to me. It meant there was a reason for the absurd behavior I had exhibited most of my life. I wasn't this unsolvable neurological puzzle anymore. Finally, I had something to point to whenever someone questioned my weirdness.

Reportedly, up to 1% of the population experiences a tic disorder. Tourette's manifests itself in the form of unpredictable physical or verbal tics that occur outside of "normal" motor activity.

Tics are also agitated by stress, something I can attest to when I look back at all the minor convulsions I had before going on a first date or giving a presentation.

The truth is, though Tourette's has sometimes been made a mockery of in the media, it's nothing short of a personal hell for many of those who have it. I can't take a few steps in public without having an overwhelming urge to do a massive bunny hop, or scream some indiscernible noise.

Luckily, I usually do a good job of hiding these tics while I'm out with friends -- so much in fact, that people often are legitimately surprised when I tell them I have Tourette's.

"I've never noticed any of your tics," they'll say. "You seem like you're pretty relaxed most of the time."

Underneath the confident, unperturbed exterior however, is a maelstrom of tension and anxiety -- and a crippling fear that I'll embarrass myself somehow.

But despite being socially debilitating, Tourette's has also made me a better person.

It's made me realize that I'm not the only one that suffers from self-doubt and insecurity; all of us do. During my time as a psychotherapist, I worked with clients that had the worst situations imaginable, and some of them still found a reason to get out of bed determined to make the most of their lives. With some of these people, you'd never guess they have the issues they do.

The lesson is clear: all of us are fighting a silent battle.

I've also learned that almost nothing is beyond humor, and to not take life too seriously. I could complain every day about my tics, but if they haven't gone away in 29 years, it seems they're here to stay.

Good thing too, because there's never a shortage of comedic opportunities.

Not too long ago I had to get a blood test as part of a physical check-up. I received a call from the doctor's office a few hours later apologizing for the fact that the vial apparently fell from the counter and shattered on the ground.

"Even your blood has Tourette's!" one of my best friends joked after I told him what happened.

Ultimately, living with my tics has been an ongoing lesson in humility and empathy. Through my own struggles, I've been able to identify and relate more to others'. We all have our demons.

For everyone reading this: If you're having a tough time right now, know that you're not alone. Remember that most people you meet will do their best not to give away their vulnerabilities.

Lastly, never forget: It's not what you're suffering from that defines you; it's how you deal with it.

More information about Tourette's Syndrome:

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