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Tourette’s and Me: A reflection on the past 10 years

Posted Mon 17th Feb 2020 at 07:00
by Idura Binti Ikmal Hisham

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My name is Idura, I’m a 22-year-old student from Malaysia who came to the UK five years ago to attend medical school. I am now in my 4th year of studies and due to graduate in 2021. I also am a fellow Tourette’s patients - I’ve had tics from a young age, but was only formally diagnosed at about 14.

Growing up, I was always classed as ‘odd’ by those around me.

In primary school, teachers would call me out during assembly because I was unable to stand completely still when the national anthem was played. I was always used as an example of a student that can’t stay still – “don’t vibrate like Idura,’ they would say. I was excluded from being allowed to participate in inter-school competitions because my ‘oddities’ would not look good. It was difficult, and my mom would frequently meet the teachers to help make things better, unfortunately, it just made things harder.

Reflecting on this, I now realize how much this must have affected my mom. Whilst she wasn’t experiencing any of this directly, she also could not stop it. Whilst she always accepted and supported me, she could not stop what others would do or say to me. To cope, she invested time and money into making sure I performed academically in hopes that my academic achievements would make me more acceptable to others.

When I finally got the diagnosis, I could see a wave of relief washed over my mom. She finally felt like she could do something about it, so she invested thousands of pounds into finding a ‘solution,’. Not content with the opinion of Malaysian doctors, I was also brought to see specialist in the UK, who ultimately all provided the same answers – there’s no magic pill or treatment that can take the tics away. Out of desperation, I was also brought to see a faith healer, who said I had a spirit inside me who is causing the symptoms; thankfully, I could convince her that the man was a con-artist.

My tics, whilst annoying, did not really impact on my normal functioning – I was still able to do everything my other peers could. But the desperate attempt for a cure unintentionally caused me to feel inadequate. For surely, if it’s causing my mom so much stress to try and ‘fix’ it, it must surely be unacceptable to live with it.

In hindsight, the most difficult thing about having tics for me is other people’s reaction to it and how I was subsequently treated as a result. This was also what was most difficult for my mom, she has always accepted that I had tics and was different, her desperate attempt to find a cure was merely because she did not want me to be looked down upon or treated differently by others. Her fears were not unfounded.

Just wanting to apply to medical school was not as easy process. Whilst doing my A-levels, I would struggle with doing chemical experiments. On one occasion, everyone else had finished theirs whilst I was still struggling with it. My teacher then told me that she thinks I should drop the subject and reconsider applying for medicine because such a career would be too difficult for someone like me. Even my dad actively discouraged me, he told me that no patient would want to see doctor that have tics. Their advice was not out of malice, both the teacher and my dad's advise came out of a place of care and concern – they wanted me to have realistic expectation so that I did not struggle after. 

My mom, however, is the main reason I persevered and am where I am today. Despite the constant doubts by people around me, she would always remind me that having TS does not limit what I can achieve or do. She encouraged me to chase after my dreams and supported me with what I need to do it (be it books, tuition teacher, or emotional support). With her support, I achieved 3As and 1B in my A-levels and was accepted into medical school.

In university, I was presented with different set of challenges. Like many others with TS, I also have ADHD and OCD. Whilst I was not able to focus in school, I could make up for this by self-studying at home. My mom, realizing, I was better at studying on my own rather in a classroom allowed me to miss 2 days of school in a week. These adjustments were no longer possible in university where attendance is compulsory and due to the sheer volume and complexity of the material.

Attending lecturers were torturous, I could not focus at all and the sheer stress from it would make my tics worse. Through trial and error, I found a way to make it more manageable. In my university, all the lectures are recorded and uploaded online, I found an online software that allowed me to play them at double the speed and hence I could learn more in shorter burst where I could maintain my focus.

I’m now in my clinical years which means I do not have as many lecturers, most of my days now consist of going to placement in hospitals and clinics. This is much easier than lectures for me it allows me to constantly be on the move with a variety of different activities and experiences. But this too presents with its own set of challenges. Regardless, I will try to continue adapting and overcoming them despite how difficult it might be.  

To my fellow TS patients, know that having TS does not limit what you can achieve. These differences that you have can also be your strength. The challenges you face due to your TS will continue to change and evolve with different phases in your life, but you will also become stronger and better able to cope.

And to my mom (and other parents of TS patients), I understand how hard it for you too. I appreciate everything you do to try and help. But most importantly, thank you for always believing in me and embracing me for who I am, tics and all. Thank you for instilling in me the confidence that the tics is a ‘quirk’ to be embraced and that there is no shame in having tics. Thank you for accepting us for who we are.

 

 


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Tourette’s and Me: A reflection on the past 10 years

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