Tics and Traveling

One of the down-sides of having Tourette’s Syndrome is that you simply can’t blend. Most of the time this isn’t an issue, but there are certain circumstances under which it’s a virtue.

An obvious one is espionage. You have two spies entering a building. One looks strangely like Daniel Craig – wears a tux like he was born in it, exudes suave and confidence, and has those piercing blue eyes that draw you to him like… Ok, actually that’s just as bad as having tics. Start again!

One is completely nondescript: average height, average weight, a forgettable face, no bling, no flash. Someone like that is going to be able to get in the building and probably gain access to whatever they need through basic social engineering. “Hey, is there a restroom around here? Oh, no, I won’t be a minute.”

The other spy has TS… Yeah… EVERYONE is going to notice them. Everyone will remember they were there. It’s like that part of the cop show where they ask the only witness if they remembered anything else about the incident. “Well there was this one guy who kept whacking himself and saying, ‘Cheeseburger!'” This is why I’ve never considered espionage or crime as a career choice.

Another circumstance in which having tics is a drawback is having to travel by air. Ever since 9/11 the world has become more paranoid about the security and safety of air travel. I’m glad, because I’d like to know that’ll never happen again. But at the same time it makes it more difficult for people with TS to fly because security staff are trained to look for people who stand out. Who look different. Who act different. People who don’t blend in.

I have a long long list of incidents I’ve had with airport security. For a while I couldn’t fly without being pulled out of line at every security checkpoint. My bags were searched. I was searched. I’d go through the backscatter machine like a good little traveler and still get the pat-down search. In one instance security came up to me at the gate during boarding, pulled me out of line, and emptied my bags onto a table. I was already inside security! I was about to board the plane! It was humiliating. It also made me late for my flight.

It got to the point that I really hated to travel at all. If I lived anywhere but an island, I’d have sworn off air travel altogether. But out here in the middle of the Pacific I really don’t have the option to drive.

So several months ago I paid my fee, gave them my fingerprints, and submitted to a background check by the Department of Homeland Security so I could qualify for TSA Precheck and get a TSA Known Traveler Number. I passed, of course (can’t see me tic in a background check!), and got my KTN.

Question was, would it actually help? Last week I had a unique opportunity to put it to the test.

Last Sunday my sister called to tell me that our dad had fallen ill. She and my brother couldn’t fly out to be with him and help him through all the doctor’s visits, so I offered to. “Hey!” I thought, “What a great opportunity to use my KTN and see if I stop catching so much crap for my TS!” Problem was I couldn’t find anywhere to enter it on the airline’s booking page. “Oh well,” I figured, “I’ll do this test some other time.” So I flew out there without it.

I didn’t even get on the first plane before the run-ins started. “Sir, please step over here.” Sure enough, they ran my bags twice, ran me through the backscatter, pulled me out of line, patted me down, and damn near stuck a radio tracker and a numbered ear tag on me. “Have a nice flight, sir.” Right…

I stayed for a week, got my dad to all his appointments, and got him on the road to recovery. Once I was sure he was going to be ok I made arrangements to fly home. While booking my ticket for the return flight I finally found the little checkbox that let me say I’d gone through the TSA Precheck process and enter my KTN. When I printed my boarding passes I looked to make sure it said “TSA Precheck” on them. Sure enough, there it was. Yay!

But the real test was the security checkpoint. I went in the “TSA Precheck go here” line (which was incredibly short!), did not take off my shoes, did not pull my laptop out of my bag, and… did not get harassed by security. At all. No backscatter, no pat-down, no glares, no nothing. When they told me to have a nice flight I honestly thought this time I might.

And I did. It was glorious.

The one other thing I did for this set of flights was to get a medical ID bracelet made. (In teal, no less! Happy TS awareness month!) It’s not the full-blown Medic Alert bracelet that has an 800 number with a patient ID number and all that. I don’t need that kind of service. I just needed something that said I had TS, and an emergency contact number (my wife) so that if anyone had questions they could call and ask.

My thought was that if airport security decided I looked like a threat and pulled me out of line while I was boarding my plane I could show them the bracelet and say, “Hey, I have TS. I’m not ticcing because I’m nervous or on drugs, I’m ticcing because I tic.” But it never came up. And now that I paid the government to fingerprint me and dig into my past, it might never happen again.

One can only hope.


A Sign Of Hope (TS Awareness Month!)

May 15 – June 15 is TS Awareness Month in the United States. I have an awful pattern of not realizing this until after the month is over, so I’m trying to be proactive this year and get at least one post in on time.

Despite what folks may think, a great many people with TS don’t want to be “fixed”. They just want to be accepted for who they are. I feel a little like a hypocrite for writing this since I’m currently taking medication for my tics, but it’s true even for me. Tics have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I’m medicating now because some of my tics are causing physiological damage to my neck and shoulders, but I’m only medicating enough to slow them down so I stop getting injured. The tics are still there. It’d be weird for me if they weren’t.

What would be nice, though, is if people just accepted them and moved on. I’ve made a life for myself in which that’s the case. My family takes them in stride. My co-workers take them in stride. Other people I interact with at work and on the street take them in stride. It’s great!

But that’s not true for everyone. I still hear stories of people getting kicked off of buses, told to leave stores, or being harassed in their own workplace. It makes me sad, but I think there’s hope. It doesn’t come in the way of increased awareness or anything like that. It’s advertising.

As time goes on, advertising has a larger and larger impact on our lives. Used to be you opened up a web browser and you could spend an entire afternoon surfing the ‘net without running into a single ad. Now practically every web page has ads. Heck, even this thing has ads! (Or so I’ve been told. The author’s view of a WordPress site just has a little box that says, “Viewers may see an ad here.”)

And yet we navigate around them. Our eyes slide past the ads and get on to the stuff we’re interested in. No matter how prominent the ads are, we still use those web sites. We still access that content. It may annoy us at times. (How many Youtube video have you watched in which you had to wait for an ad to finish, then click the X on the little ad box that popped up, then click the other X on the other little ad box that popped up?) But even knowing the ads are there we still go to those web sites!

WordPress is a little special in that it doesn’t show ads to authors as they’re writing. But you have to wonder if the employees of Youtube or Facebook or any of the other sites out there that live off of their ads have to navigate through their own ads, or if they have a magic off-switch. My guess is they don’t.

In case you haven’t picked up on the analogy yet, ads are a lot like tics. They aren’t typically pertinent to whatever is going on at the time. They may be annoying, humorous, or just monotonously present. There may be particular ones that grate on the nerves and others we hardly notice at all.

Just for grins go back and re-read that last paragraph as if I’m talking about ads. Or tics. Try both. See?

The point is that the ads don’t stop us from using those sites. Or watching those shows. Or reading that newspaper or magazine. Or really anything. We’ve learned to accept them, adapt to them, and move on. And yeah, occasionally we actually get something out of one.

I have to hope that the same will one day be true of tics. It’d be great if some day people are just as unlikely to say, “Yeah, can’t stand that guy who jerks all the time…” as they are to say, “Yeah, can’t stand that site with all of its ads for nose cream…” (But who doesn’t love ads about nose cream, am I right?)

So happy TS Awareness Month, everyone!

(And now a few tics from our sponsor…)