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Chef turned medical student!

Posted Mon 27th Sep 2021 at 07:05
by Luke Dcaccia

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How TS, OCD and anxiety hasn't stopped Luke from following his dreams.

My experience with Tourette Syndrome (TS) started at a young age whilst in primary school. As a child, it didn’t embarrass me too much. I would often develop different tics and I found that they came on when I was either having a great time, or when I was stressed. As I grew older, living with TS became more difficult. My friends were noticing them more, and when I was asked why I was making noises, I didn’t know what to say!

My first notable memory was when I was about to sit my SATS exam in year 6. I was afraid that I would distract everyone in the class during the exam, and it was very hard to control tics in a silent room. My mom contacted my teacher early in the morning of the exam day, who explained to me that they would reserve a quiet space in case I needed it but reassured me that I would be fine, and I would get through it. I was fine and succeeded well in my exams.
Before I knew it, secondary school was looming. At this point, my TS was in good control, and I had learned techniques on how to overcome my tics. As I developed a strong friendship group, the tics faded away and I felt like I was growing out of TS. I was happy and my early years at secondary school were very fun. But then something happened which changed my secondary school experience completely. I recall going to a guitar lesson, returning to the classroom, and feeling like everyone was watching me. This exacerbated an anxiety tremor which at the time I thought was a tic. I ran out of the classroom and completely withdrew into myself. I developed anxiety and I didn’t want to go to school. For the whole of year 9, I spent my time in a room with other teenagers who were in there for varying reasons. I was seeing two psychologists and was taking a medication which was able to help control the tics. On top of my anxiety and TS, I was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). I envisioned that the medication would magically cure everything, but it didn’t! Little did I know that the only thing that was going to help me get through this was sheer determination.

It was the end of the academic year, and I had the last week of summer term before the summer holidays to make my break and get back into the classroom. It was a pivotal moment, and I knew that if I didn’t succeed, my chances would be near impossible after a six-week summer holiday! I still remember sitting at the back of the classroom, waiting for my old friends to appear for their next lesson. The educational psychologist was allowed to sit in the classroom and was introduced to my class as a school inspector. As my friends walked in, they all started talking and pointing saying ‘there’s Luke’. I was happy to see them, but my heart was racing. I could feel my tremor coming on, and I was so close to walking out. I took a look at the psychologist, and he whispered to me my three-word mantra - ‘just do it’.
I bit the bullet, drilled it into my head, and carried on going. As time went by, my tremor reduced, my heart rate reduced, and I actually felt slightly comfortable.

I spent the next two years at secondary school playing catch up. My teachers were briefed on my situation and were told not to put me on the spot in any lesson. I still went to see some teachers before my lessons to make sure they knew. Any time I was accidentally put in the limelight, I could feel the anxiety tremor developing, but I somehow hung on in these situations, and I developed a good resistance. I always sat at the back of the classroom and the school facilitated this even in assemblies. The support at my school was incredible. It was an average secondary school, but their special education needs (SEN) department was very good and I really owe them a lot, to this day!

With predicted grades of C’s and D’s, I felt like I had a point to prove. I wanted to prove everyone wrong. Although I had missed a year of education, I felt like I really appreciated education more than I ever had before. I missed being educated in class after spending a whole year just staring at books, wondering what my future was going to look like. Now I had books and passionate teachers, who were there to support me. I won’t lie, the content was hard to get my head around. I often spoke to teachers after lessons to try and understand the subjects. I worked so hard.

My ambition when leaving secondary school was to train at catering college and become a chef. That career didn’t require amazing GCSE grades. My craving for top grades came from my desire to prove people wrong and succeed. On results day, I collected my paper certificates and my hard work paid off! Unknown to me at the time, these results were one day going to come in very handy!

I think it was during my culinary career, that I started to wonder whether the tics I faced during my anxiety episodes, were actually tics or a type of tremor. After research online and a brief GP consultation, I realised that it was an anxiety induced tremor. The tremor only came on during my anxiety episodes, however my tics were always there at different times of the day. Again, I developed methods for trying to suppress the tremors and I got through catering college without any notable problems. I received the further education outstanding student of the year award, which was a great honour.
After leaving catering college, I worked in a Two Michelin Star restaurant for a year, followed by a stint as a development chef for three years, helping to design and develop new food ranges in Waitrose, and other leading supermarkets. After my three years as a development chef, I called time on my career as a chef. I craved something that was going to challenge me and lead to a job that would help to change the world. I wanted to become a doctor.
After seven years out of education, I returned to college to gain a qualification that would grant me access to medical school. Those nice set of GCSE’s came into great use to get into college and apply to medical school. It taught me a lesson, that sometimes in life your past may creep up on you… in a great way!
I have just passed my first year of medical school exams, and I am going into my second year. My partner is joining me at the same university as a fellow medical student. We met at the college during my access to higher education course. Life is amazing right now. I have had my ups and I have had my real downs. But TS has not beaten me. Neither has my OCD, tremor, or anxiety disorder. I have learned to not worry about what people think, although this is something that I am still working on!
So, if you are reading this right now, my advice would be to surround yourself with positive people.
Find your self-determination.
Never give up. Just keep going and take as much from this amazing life as you can.


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