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Tic Dreams

Posted by Tom Benedict on 29/11/2012

I haven’t written much about Tourette’s Syndrome recently because so much else has been going on: the cameras at work, plans for my panoramic KAP rig, and the prospect of branching out into RC AP. But my tics have been getting progressively worse.

In part I think that’s because there’s so much going on. Stress has always exacerbated my tics, and the past year has been highly stressful. Caffeine is another trigger I’ve unfortunately been over-using lately. And tics will wax and wane on their own, regardless of stressors. I’ve been in a lull for years. They were bound to peak some time.

One of my primary tics at the moment clearly evolved from another tic. The strange thing is the original tic is still there. It’s almost as if it bifurcated, or split like an amoeba. It started as a shoulder jerk (what is, in my mind, humorously referred to in the DSM as a “shrugging” motion). Over time the shoulder jerk became more and more pronounced, pulling my entire arm into the mix. Eventually my arm wound up snapping up so hard I’d hit myself in the chest with it. Or with the hand that’s at the end of my arm, rather. This persisted for some time, but it wasn’t done changing.

It’s not all that comfortable to keep smacking yourself in the middle of your chest. The truth is it hurts. So I tried to head it off at the pass by jerking my arm into my leg instead. This worked better for two reasons: First, the constant bruise in my sternum finally started to heal. And second, it’s easier to be nonchalant about occasionally smacking yourself in the leg than it is to look casual about whacking yourself in the chest. Just ask any overly stereotyped Hollywood ape!

“I’d like a latte and a croissant.” >smack< >smack< >smack<

“Um… Do you want a banana with that?”

In time the “hit myself in the leg” tic developed into its own entity. I still jerk my shoulder, though the violence of these moves has tapered off to the point that my arm is no longer so intimately involved. And now I smack my leg without involving my shoulder much at all. Voila. Two tics for the price of one.

It was thanks to the help of my wife that I came up with a less-awkward name for the “hit myself in the leg” tic. The two of us had gone into town to buy groceries. We were standing in the store near the milk, and it hit full-force. >whack< >whack< >whack< >whack< >whack< all in the space of a few seconds. She stared at me, grinned, and started smacking the backs of her hands together. I had to laugh. “Sorry, hon,” I told her, “you married a seal.” We didn’t stop laughing until we got home.

I have another new tic that didn’t evolve like the seal tic. It came out of nowhere, all on its own. For the first time in my life I have a loud vocal tic: I shout, “HO!” I’d say this is a Christmas tic, but it winds up sounding more like a pirate singing, “Yo ho yo ho” at the top of his lungs, but so drunk he forgets the “yo” part. It doesn’t have that jolly ring that Santa Claus is known for. And after yelling “HO!” several dozen times, it starts to sound like a hoarse, drunk pirate.

So far I’ve been able to avoid doing this in public. Most of the time, anyway. Most people with TS can suppress tics to some degree, but they always come back with a vengeance later. That’s how it is with this one, too. I’ll suppress it when I’m around people, but as soon as I get some time to myself it’ll come out full-force. Unfortunately I’m not always aware that I’m not alone, so I’ve had some slip-ups, mostly at work. I’ll walk into an apparently empty room, shut the door, and “HO!” “HO!” “HO!!” Then someone will poke their head around the corner and look at me in alarm. “Merry Christmas?” Weak…

As I said, it’s my first loud vocal tic. Up until now my vocals have been pretty quiet. So this is new territory for me, despite having had tics for over forty years. It’s got me stressed. (Did I mention that stress exacerbates tics? Yeah…) I’ve been assured by my co-workers that they don’t mind my tics. And for the most part they really don’t. I’ve certainly done the seal tic around them enough to know they’re cool with it. But no matter how tolerant you are, having someone suddenly yell “HO!” is bound to get a response, like, “Holy CRAP, Batman! What the @#%! was that?!” I try not to push my luck.

But the weirdest part about all this isn’t the tics themselves. It’s that I’ve started dreaming about them.

Let me back up a little. First, I don’t tic in my dreams. I don’t know if that’s typical of people with TS. It’s just how it is with me. And for the most part I don’t have good dream recall. The ones that stick are the oddball dreams. I remember years ago, when I did software development, I had a dream in source code. It was C. I came into work shaken to the core. One of the other guys asked what was going on and I said, “Um, dude, have you ever… um… like… dreamed in C?” He leaned back and smiled at me. “You mean, like in source code? A dream where you’re the code?” He knew! “YEAH!” I said. He leaned out the door and yelled, “Hey, he’s dreaming in code now!” It turns out everyone there dreamed in source code. Get that deep into writing software, and it’s apparently inevitable.

The tic dream was almost like the source code dream. It was weird! It’s not just that I was ticcing in my dream. The dream revolved around it. Kind of like a dream in which you can fly. No matter what else is going on in the dream, once you start flying you kind of go, “DUDE! I can FLY!” At that point your dream is about flying. Everything else suddenly becomes irrelevant. I don’t remember much about the tic dream except that all of a sudden I yelled “HO!” and started jerking my shoulder. The person I was talking to looked at me in surprise and said, “What’s got into you?” And for the rest of the dream I was ticcing. Seals, drunk sailors, shoulders, and all.

It wasn’t really a nightmare any more than my daily life is a nightmare. I don’t even know if I reacted in the dream. Like I said, my dream recall is pretty crappy. But I remember waking up and thinking, “That was weird,” followed swiftly by, “No, that’s a drag.” I see dreams as a biologically mandated form of escapism. But instead of getting some cool dream where I could fly, I got a dream that was… normal.

This is why I don’t watch reality TV. If I wanted reality TV, I’d watch myself. I’d rather watch some fantasy or science fiction show where one of the characters can fly. ‘Cause that’s cool!

– Tom


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