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What makes me tic

Posted Mon 9th Jul 2018 at 07:00
by Laura Yates


Laura Yates is 29 living and working in London. When she's not making involuntary noises that sound like a telephone, she mainly likes to spend her time swimming, going to gigs and petting dogs outside supermarkets. In this blog she reflects on the major triggers for her tics

Hello! I’m now home, and it appears that London is somehow hotter than the Caribbean?! Unfortunately without the advantages of a refreshing sea breeze or Pina Coladas on tap either. But despite spending the last couple of days sweating on the underground and struggling to apply suncream to my own back like a dog chasing his tail (single life, sigh), there is at least one advantage to this little heatwave… I tic a lot less.

Now, I’ve already been through some of the science behind Tourette Syndrome (TS), and generally how tics work / why they happen, but if you missed that you can catch up properly here. If you’re lazy and can’t be arsed, here’s a little cut and paste job for ya:

Apparently it’s down to some kind of issue with the chemical messengers in the brain, and how they transmit things like dopamine and serotonin. Dopamine is what affects things like your emotions and feelings of pleasure and pain, whilst serotonin helps regulate other stuff like your mood, digestion, sleep and memory.

Scans have shown that some areas of the brain can be different in people with TS, which I guess makes a lot of sense. This is in the ‘frontotemporal’ areas, which look after things like impulsivity, problem-solving, memory, language, and then the ‘basal ganglia’ area of the brain, which apparently controls voluntary movement. So yeah, there’s a whole lot going on upstairs that control how we react to certain situations. Everyone’s brain is wired up to work in a certain way, and I guess having TS means some of those wires are crossed.

There we go, recap done. So, science stuff aside, I wanted to spend today talking about some of the things in life that makes me tic, you know, personally. A lot of this I am still learning about as I go, but as time has gone on and I’ve managed to get to know my TS better, I’ve been able to identify what I feel are some major triggers for my tics. Here are some of them:

1. Temperature

Weird as it sounds, apparently there’s something about being cold that sets my tics off. It might just be from being sat somewhere chilly for an extended period of time, or due to rapid temperature shift, such as moving from somewhere hot to cold quickly. I guess it’s just my body’s way of reacting to that change in environment, like how you shudder if you’re cold. It’s just I seem to tic instead. Go figure. So far, major stuff I’ve learnt to avoid:

  • The frozen aisle at the supermarket. Yep, something as simple as picking up ice cream can set me off. Of course, for Ben & Jerry’s it’s worth it, but it needs to be a quick in & out mission – there is zero time to loiter around the frozen peas.
  • Air conditioning. My arch nemesis, my kryptonite. Thankfully I have found England doesn’t really invest in this luxury for the two weeks a year of sporadic sunshine we have (sorry guys, we all know this heatwave won’t last). I will occasionally come across it on trains and in bars and restaurants though. Sit me under a draft and it will sound like a call centre in no time – my telephone noise will be off the hook. But yeah, if needed I can simply move myself to somewhere less breezy, easy stuff.
  • That novelty bar in London that serves you vodka in a room made of ice. Great Instagram opportunity, sure, but I usually choose to drink somewhere that’s at a regulatory compliant temperature, cheers.
  • Skiing. Yeah, holiday choices these days usually involve opting for sand over snow. I’m really shit at skiing anyway, so probably for the best.
  • Winter. Hard one to avoid, this. Kinda have just had to roll with it and invested in a pretty decent coat. Layering is key, guys.

So yeah, a warmer climate usually equals less tics… If it weren’t for my ghostly pale skin, I might consider emigrating somewhere warmer. Temperature assessment is now my go-to if I might be on a bit of a tic-spree. Perhaps because it is a factor I have noticed most consistently as having an impact, and I guess to some extent, it’s one which I somewhat have a hand in controlling.

2. Caffeine / Alcohol

If I’m at room temperature and there’s nothing frozen in close proximity to me, my next port of call is to check in on these two – have I had too much coffee? Am I drunk? Or, (in some instances) both? Whilst not always a consistent influence on my tics, I’ve noticed there is definitely an undeniable link. At my worst point with TS around my diagnosis, I was probably having at least 5 coffees a day. Not really a good idea for anyone really, but in hindsight, it makes a great deal of sense that it was probably making my tics worse too. I avoid energy drinks as I think they’re vile generally, but I’m definitely a coffee fiend. I’m now down to one a day to get me up in the mornings (probably best to not speak to me before I’ve had it, especially on a Monday).

Alcohol is an interesting one. A lot of people assume if I’m drinking, I will relax and my tics should calm down too. Not the case. I think tics in this instance are just a result of reduced control over my brain whilst intoxicated, and it probably being less bothered about suppressing my tics, and apparently more interested in making me embarrass myself. The ultimate combination of both of these? Espresso martinis. Absolutely terrible for tics, but they just taste so damn good.

3. Anxiety

This is where things get a little harder. Triggers like temperature and what I ingest are easy to identify, and are within my control, so I can essentially try to reduce my tics to some extent by keeping an eye on these. Things like managing my anxiety however, requires a lot more work and effort as I’ve already mentioned.

As well as TS, I suffer with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). Anxiety is a common co-occurring condition of TS, and if you’re not familiar with it I strongly encourage you to read my post on it here. It means about a hundred times a day I am worrying about any combination of things… Late trains, work stuff, thinking I’ve left the oven on, boys being dickheads, money, wondering if my dog knows I love him, acne, am I investing enough in my pension etc. These perceived worries or “threats” release chemicals in my brain, which results in tics. Even if I’m not consciously choosing to think about these things, I’m fairly certain there’s some kind of constant debate happening inside the back of my head. So yeah, if I’ve got some big stuff going on in my life that I might see as a reason to be anxious, chances are my tics are exasperated.

4. Excitement

It’s not all doom and gloom my friends, sometimes I may find I tic for more positive reasons. I might be feeling extremely happy or excited about something, and find myself on a bit of a high I guess. I could just simply be having a good day, or received some exciting news. Maybe I’ve been to see my favourite band play a show, or I’ve spotted that Jaffa Cakes are on 2 for 1 in Sainsburys. Again, similar to anxiety, it’s just going back to that idea that there’s chemicals in my brain being transmitted, for whatever reason that may be – positive or negative, and my tics are simply a result of that. Interestingly, I’ve heard that feeling nervous, whether it’s for reasons of excitement or dread, will result in a similar reaction in the brain, so can be easily confused. Apparently that’s why some people bail on their own weddings. They’re feeling nervous and err on the side of caution, presuming it’s a negative feeling – doubt. Basically what I mean is, for me it doesn’t seem to matter if it’s a good or bad situation or feeling, I still tic all the same.

5. Tiredness

I think a lot of the time my brain is working to suppress my tics more than I’m perhaps aware, as when I get noticeably tired, tics appear to slip out more. I eventually run out of energy (or shits to give), so suppressing them just gets harder to do. We’ve all had that feeling, if we’ve had a long day at work or a busy week, and your brain slows down. You put the milk in the cupboard instead of the fridge, or try to use hairspray as deodrant (not recommended). Same here, but for me, my tics also get harder to hold in. Sleep is therefore a really important part of my routine, if I don’t get enough rest I’m not only a moody bitch – I’ll also be more likely to tic too.

So, if you happen to catch me skiing whilst drunk on espresso martinis after a sleepless night worrying about something embarrassing I said to someone 5 years ago, chances are I’ll be on a pretty high tic count that day. But yeah, what I’m basically saying is that now being aware of a lot of my triggers, it makes things easier at times. Well, so long as I can avoid them anyway.

Must go, I’ve got a hot date with Netflix. Literally though, my room is like an actual oven right now. A tic free oven at least, but hot all the same. Netflix and chill? Yeah sure, but bring your own fan because I’m not sharing.


You can read more of Laura's writing on her blog site:

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