I’m an utter dweeb. I completely missed Tourette Syndrome Awareness Month. It ran from May 16th until June 15th. And now? It’s June 16th. Yeah. Missed it by one… friggin’… day…
So here’s my belated post for TS Awareness Month!
Since I’m so late to the game this year I figure everyone else who’s writing about TS Awareness Month will have covered the basics: motor and vocal tics, the underlying neurochemistry, the genetics, etc. I’ll skip that part. I figure a bunch of other people have covered stereotypes, misconceptions, and all that jazz, so I’ll skip that, too.
Instead I’ll talk about movies! I like movies, and these are two of my favorites. Both touch on TS, though neither one ever mentions it by name. In fact, I doubt any of the people who made these movies even had TS on the brain (so to speak). When Hollywood film makers actually try to portray TS they tend to fail miserably. But when they come at it at an angle… Sometimes they get it right.
Movie #1: Star Wars
If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be around someone with vocal tics, watch Star Wars. Any of the movies will do, but Episode IV is the classic. R2D2 tics like mad throughout the entire movie. Yeah, sure, sometimes he’s talking to C3PO, but most of the time he’s just ticcing away. (He’s also an utter smartass, especially to C3PO, but that’s a whole ‘nuther topic.)
The funny thing is when he and C3PO are bumming around the Death Star, R2D2 is ticcing non-stop up and down the halls. “Boop deep wop boink!” And none of the storm troopers bat an eye! It’s like the Empire just went through this massive round of sensitivity training or something and everyone is trying not to make eye contact. Meanwhile R2 and 3PO are busy sabotaging the computer system using R2’s sonic screwdriver. (Oops! Mixed metaphors!)
Those characters in the movie who didn’t get the Empire Sensitivity Training tended to fall into two camps: those who thought R2 was cute (Luke and Leia, mostly) and those who thought R2 was irritating (Han Solo, Uncle Owen, and, oddly enough, 3PO himself). R2 drove 3PO up the wall to the point that they parted ways for a time on Tatooine. But here’s the catch: R2 had to listen to himself 24×7. Welcome to the wonderful world of vocal tics. No matter how much someone with TS might bother you, you always have the option of walking off into the desert alone. The person with TS is relegated to listening to themselves until they’re zapped by Jawas.
Which brings me to…
Movie #2: Frozen
WARNING: Spoiler Alert
People sometimes ask me if I really have TS. My tics can be easy to miss if you’re not looking for them. It’s not because they’re particularly subtle. I just suppress like nuts in public. When I was a kid I couldn’t, and I stood out like a sore thumb. As I got older I learned how to hide them: Turn away so the person next to you doesn’t see your shoulder jerk. Hide your vocal tics in exuberant outbursts. Look down at your book so people don’t see your nose twitching and your eyes rolling off to one side. It’s not perfect, but it serves. Eventually people doubt that you have tics or figure you can stop them at will. Of course the next logical question is: If you can stop them whenever you want, why tic at all?
The answer, of course, is that I can’t. I don’t really stop them. I hide them. Or minimize them. Or try to keep them quiet. Tics can be suppressed, but only for so long. They never really go away. Eventually things reach the breaking point and the tics come out on their own.
So what does all this have to do with Frozen?
For the first half of the movie she’s trying like crazy to suppress her tics. Society sees them as bad, so she begins to see them as bad. Her family consults experts (aka Trolls) and they tell her they’re bad. She hides from the people of Arendelle, from her family, even from her own sister. It’s not that she’s afraid she’ll be judged. She knows she will be. So when she slips up and the cat is finally out of the bag she runs off to the mountains, lets her tics loose, and…
Wait a second! She gets this friggin’ awesome ice palace up on top of a mountain, complete with her own sound track and wardrobe! When I let my tics loose I just get a sore throat and joint pain!
But I digress…
Eventually society catches up with her, drags her out of her own personal Utopia, and locks her up. I don’t want to give away the whole movie to anyone who hasn’t seen it, so I’ll skip to the end: People do finally accept her for who she is, starting with Elsa herself. I mean honestly, what’s not to like? She can freeze out invading fleets, summon ice monsters at will, and she’s an utter badass at impromptu ice sculpture.
Elsa’s character arc in Frozen is remarkably similar to how many people with TS adjust to their own diagnosis. Unfortunately our society hasn’t quite caught up with the people of Arendelle, who, in the end, welcome Elsa with open arms.
I bet we just need to work on our impromptu ice sculpture.