In a recent thread on a Facebook group about Tourette’s Syndrome someone posted the statement that there’s nothing funny about Tourette’s, and that pretending there is is a disservice to people who have it.

I have to disagree. There’s humor to be found in practically everything. It sounds corny to say this, but I learned it from my mother.

Years ago, before I was diagnosed or even knew what Tourette’s Syndrome was, my mother developed non-Hodgkins B-Cell Lymphoma, which metastasized in her brain. By the time the doctors caught it and performed an MRI about a third of her brain volume consisted of cancer cells. Even today, this late stage condition is fatal. She lived for two more months while the cancer cells continued to grow, increasing pressure on her brain tissue, causing short term memory loss, incredible pain, and eventually death.

Not very funny, right? Certainly a lot less funny than having tics I couldn’t explain.

During one of my visits with her before she died I was telling her a story from work. About half way through it she stopped me and asked, “Who’s this about, again?” My heart sank. A that point she had about five minutes of working memory, and my story had exceeded it. “It’s my co-worker, mama. It’s just a work story. We can stop.”

“No!” she told me, “Just start over. You know, all this means is that you can tell me the same stories over and over and I won’t get bored!” Then she laughed like it was the funniest joke ever.

It’s easy to attribute cynicism or irony to what she said and did, but it wouldn’t be true. She genuinely found the situation funny. She knew she was dying, and accepted it in ways I couldn’t at the time. So she moved on, and when she saw something humorous she laughed at it. It was that simple.

It’s easy to feel sorry for yourself. It’s also easy to point out that someone out there has it worse. But neither of those really does anyone any good. One lets you wallow in your pain. The other makes you feel guilty for wallowing in the first place. Either way you come out of it feeling worse than you did before.

My mother taught me to accept what is and then move on with life. I don’t always do it. (Hey, who doesn’t like a good wallow from time to time?) But I certainly feel better when I do.

A couple of years ago, before my vocal tics started picking up, I had a tic in which I’d whack my legs with the edges of my hands, like an opposite karate chop (thumbs hit first). When my thumbs would start to hurt I’d twist my arms around so the backs of my hands hit my legs. By the end of the day I had bruises on my legs and my hands hurt like hell. My wife named it the “seal tic”.

At one point we were at the grocery store (one of my highest stress environments) and the tic hit and just wouldn’t stop. We were standing by the milk fridge. She was just about to grab a gallon of milk, but stopped. She stood there watching me, a smile starting to creep in, and without any prelude SHE started doing the tic and making seal noises.

I couldn’t help it. I had to laugh. I knew she wasn’t making fun of me. She was joining me. People weren’t staring at me any more. They were staring at us. Even as I broke out of the tic I found myself thinking, For better and for worse, in sickness and in health, for richer for poorer. This was the same woman who held me when my mother died, the same woman who welcomed me home after the doctor’s visit when I got my TS diagnosis, the same woman who told me yes, we were going to have kids regardless of my genetics or her genetics, or what other people think.

And dammit, she saw the humor in things just the way my mother did. And she was right. It really was funny. And I laughed like it was the funniest joke ever.


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