I’ve talked before about why individuals with Tourettes often hide their tics from their friends and partners in relationships. I got an email recently, however, that got me thinking. The individual who sent this email basically asked, “My significant other won’t talk about his tics. What do I say?”
It’s a great question. It’s one thing to talk about tics with random strangers you may never see again, or people you see only in the workplace. It’s a whole other challenge to talk tics with people who you value above others and desire to be close to.
So what do you say when someone you love won’t talk about his or her tics?
To be honest, I can’t tell you exactly what to say. Each relationship is different, and different people will react in different ways. I thought, however, what I would do was give you a brief insight into how my tic discussions go with people I’m close to. It might seem a bit odd that talking Tourettes still makes me nervous, as I write about it often in this blog. But each time the subject is brought up or needs to be addressed, the butterflies flit around my stomach, and sometimes I feel suddenly lightheaded.
It’s not impossible though.
In the Beginning
I’d known my husband for five years by the time we started dating. We’d not only gone to church together, but we were part of the same small group, and we saw each other in groups settings at least four times a week, sometimes more. While we weren’t best buds, we weren’t strangers. And yet, Stephen didn’t know about my Tourettes. It wasn’t something I was comfortable talking about yet.
One night, we were instant messaging, talking about random things, when he typed, “Tell me something.”
“Tell you what?” I typed back.
What had gone from a silly discussion about a friend’s ridiculous shirt had suddenly become a window, an opportunity in which I could tell him anything. As we were on the fast-track to developing a very close relationship, a voice in the back of my mind said, “You’re going to have to tell him sometime. He’ll see it eventually.”
I can’t tell you how hard it was to type that response. I prayed. I cried. I considered turning off the browser and coming up with some excuse later. But by God’s grace, I finally gathered the courage to type back,
“Have you ever heard of Tourette Syndrome?”
“Yes,” was his response.
“Well, I have it.”
It took him a moment to type up a reply, during which there was more praying and crying on my end. A part of me wished I hadn’t typed it. What if he thought I was making it up to get attention? What if he thought it was a mental disorder instead of a neurological one? What if, what if, what if…? And then his reply came.
“Wow. Thank you for telling me that. I appreciate that you trust me enough to tell me something so personal.”
If I hadn’t been in love yet, I was head over heels by then.
Why It was Special
It might seem like the point of this story is to share how brave I was in sharing my Tourettes with a young man I was falling in love with. Not so. It was special because it was done in my time. I wasn’t coerced into sharing. I wasn’t pushed or prodded. It was my choice, and because I had the chance to tell him on my time, I felt more comfortable talking about it.
My husband is the first man I ever dated. If we’d started talking closely even a few years before, I wouldn’t have felt comfortable telling him because I wasn’t comfortable in my own skin. Before then, I really, REALLY hated my tics. They embarrassed me. They set me apart, and not in a good way. They drew negative attention, and for years, I didn’t even want to admit to myself that I had them.
I guess my point here is that I wasn’t pushed into telling him. As I’ve said before, many people with Tourettes are uncomfortable with their own Tourettes or tic disorders. If I don’t want to admit to myself that I’m different, why on earth would I tell it to someone else? Even if the tics are obvious, it can be very hard to essentially say, “My brain isn’t wired like everyone else’s.”
Believe me when I tell you that an individual with Tourettes might value your friendship partly because you treat him like everyone else. To him, not talking about it means you value who he is , tics or no tics. You’re not labeling him like so many other people do. You’re someone he can feel normal around, and that’s a HUGE compliment!
Once the Can of Worms is Opened….
Okay, so my husband knows I have Tourettes. What has it changed? Honestly? Very little. I do the tics, and that’s about the end of it. Because my tics are often tied to my anxiety (higher anxiety means more tics), sometimes I’ll mention that I’m feeling “ticcy,” and I need to go for a walk or do some exercise. But aside from that, we really don’t talk about it.
Because there’s really not much to talk about. Tics are a basic part of my life. I live with them, and I often ignore them. Talking about them much would be rather unproductive. Even my mom will bring them up sometimes, but only to help me discover what’s stressing me out. “I’ve noticed your tics are higher today. Are you stressed about something?”
And that’s it. If I want to talk about the tics themselves, that’s up to me. And I do from time to time, but on my time and my turf. And because my family respects those boundaries, it makes me feel more comfortable to share when I really want to.
So Should You Bring Up His or Her Tics?
If you’re in a relationship with someone, and you want to ask about his or her tics, I can’t give you a fast and hard answer to that question. Like I said, everyone is different. It’s important for you to know, however, that once tics are diagnosed, there’s not a whole lot more to say about them. Unless the tics are self-harming (and most of them aren’t), there’s not much to talk about.
I just want to stress that interpreting a “tic silence” as mistrust can be a mistake that stresses both of you out. I know it feels like a big mystery, but there’s not much to tell. Whether or not you have that conversation will depend on the dynamics of your relationship, and you know that better than me. If you do bring it up, I can only caution you to be gentle, and to keep it simple. By not making a big deal out of it, you’re reassuring your friend that you love him or her no matter what.
And isn’t that what we all want?
Do you have experience talking about Tourettes with a loved one? What about questions? I’d love to hear! Please share you comments in the Comment Box below, or email me. If you’d like to learn more and get free information on topics like this and my writing, please subscribe to my newsletter. As always, thanks for reading!