Face Time

The last several years I’ve had a tic in which I hit myself. It’s undergone a kind of upward progression, first showing up as a leg hitting tic, then one where I’d punch my hips with both hands as hard as I could, then about a year ago it turned into one in which I’d hit myself in the chest. (I gave this tic to the main character in a short story I wrote at the time. See? It really is contagious… in fiction!)

When I was tired I’d occasionally miss and hit myself in the neck, but over time that’s what it transitioned to. In my late twenties I could tic-substitute to some degree (replacing one tic with another), but I lost that ability after a couple of years of being almost tic-free in my late thirties. Still, I really REALLY didn’t want to crush my trachea, so I forced my hand to go up higher and not hit myself in the neck. It took a couple of months, but now it’s settled on hitting myself in the face.

Which, aside from giving myself the occasional split lip, would be all well and good. Except that it’ll hit when I’m holding things in my hand.

A term that rattles around any discussion of tics and Tourette’s Syndrome is “premonitory urge”: a feeling that a tic is coming. Some people with TS get premonitory urges for each of their tics, some get no warning at all, and some experience the premonitory urge for some tics, but not for others.

I got some measure of warning with the leg-hitting and chest-hitting, and the premonitory urge almost necessitated dropping whatever I was holding so I could get it just right. It would sometimes involve hitting myself four or five times before the tic was satisfied.

Not so with the face. No warning, no premonitory urge, no nothing. It just happens out of the blue. The first time I hit myself in the mouth it came as a complete surprise. Except for a couple of years studying martial arts I’ve never been much of a fighter, but even with sparring, I forgot how much getting hit in the mouth can take your breath away.

For the most part I hit myself on the jaw, but a couple of times a day I’ll land a good one on the mouth. A couple of weeks ago at work I was talking on the radio and wound up bashing my mouth and nose with the radio because it just happened to be in my hand. Even after having this version of the tic for months, I’m still surprised when it happens. I stared at my radio and thought, “Seriously?”

I have to wonder where this will go next. Will it turn into a “pat yourself on the top of the head” tic? Or will I wind up looking like a one-man show version of the Three Stooges? (Oh please, don’t let me get “Nyuk nyuk nyuk” as a vocal tic!)

A more pressing question that went through my head a few weeks ago as I was cutting vegetables for dinner was: what happens when it’s something worse than a radio?

Previously, I’ve written that the severity of the tics themselves is not always an indicator of the severity of impact on the person with TS, and that to some degree that’s governed by the views of the society in which the person lives. While that’s true, severity of impact can also come down to other variables, such as where a person is standing or what they’re holding in their hand when a tic occurs, as I learned with my radio.

It also comes down to what you decide to do about them. Do you push forward? Do you retreat? Do you change  medication? Your environment? There’s no one right answer, and no two people with TS are likely to make the same choices.

I didn’t stop cutting the vegetables. I didn’t put down the knife. Instead I finished, cleaned it, and put it away the same way I always do. And the next day I picked it right back up again. A fella has to eat, after all.


3 thoughts on “Face Time

  1. Fortunately, my tics are more benign. I’ll offer one to you, maybe it will replace the face bashing. I’m reading a three book series about mutants. Two characters are conjoined twins. When the dominant one says something the other twin echos the last few words. I realize that echolalia is a fairly common Tourettes symptom, but I’ve never had it… until this book made the suggestion. I’ve caught myself doing this several times over the past week.


    • I’ve never had echolalia either, but right now I’d take that over the face bashing.

      It’s funny how something like a book can give your brain all the ideas it needs to come up with a new tic. For the most part my vocals have been non-word sounds like snorts, grunts, or “HUP!” But a while back I was showing my kids some Monty Python skits and got to the self defense skit in which John Cleese is “teaching” people how to defend themselves against assailants armed with fruits like… “A banNAna!”

      Oh yeah, picked that up. For a couple of weeks I’d say “banana” the way John Cleese did in that skit. Still saying it, but now it comes out different each time.

      Hey, which series are you reading? I’m about halfway through the book I’m reading, and wouldn’t mind lining up a trilogy next.


      • I’m reading Pure by Julianna Baggot. It’s good sci fi but skews a bit towards teen romance (like the hunger games does) a bit too much.


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