Not Just Words

written by Yagmur Oner
First off, my passion towards helping the Tourette’s community did not erupt overnight. It took sixteen years for me to be where I am today. As a child, my parents taught me to love others no matter the obstacles that they may be facing. Whatever label this world gave someone, I grew up giving everyone the respect they deserved. However as the years went on, I began to feel discomfort, especially during my early teens. The discomfort was not towards these individuals but towards myself; for a long time, I had thought of myself as someone who cared deeply for everyone and that that was enough to create a better world. Soon, I realized that all I had done was give people my sympathy. Nothing more, nothing less. I was not making the difference I wanted to make and my solicitude was proving ineffective.

In the fall of 2016, I began my freshman year at Leland High School and became a member of the nationally ranked Speech and Debate team. Focusing on the speech aspect of the activity, I chose the event Dramatic Interpretation. After an entire year of raising awareness for sexual assault victims through the novel “Speak” by Laurie Halse Anderson, I attended both the California State Tournament and National Championship and was able to bring this important story to the spotlight. As my sophomore year rolled around, I was eager to find yet another topic through which I could grab people’s attention and say, “Hey! Help me create a difference.” An impact on others to do better for this world was what I craved and having had a taste of it once, I was eager to start scavenging for new ideas. After weeks of struggling to find one, a book in the corner of the room caught my eye. “Passing For Normal – a memoir of compulsion” by Amy S. Wilensky. I remember what happened next very clearly: I flipped through the pages, and my heart began to beat faster. The only thought that was running through my mind was, ‘This is it.’ It was at that moment that my journey with Tourette’s Syndrome began.

It started off as mere curiosity for a disability that I had encountered here and there on TV, social media or online news sources. I began working, doing everything I could to get this piece ready for the competition season. As I continued practicing day and night with numerous coaches, my curiosity slowly developed into passion. I had begun researching Tourette’s every spare second I had, watching documentaries, reading articles… In short time, I was wanting desperately to create a bigger voice for a community that deserved a larger audience. Mrs. Wilensky’s words had opened my eyes. Simultaneously, my head coach, Mrs. Gay Brasher pushed me to explore the world of Tourette’s as much as I could. Although I myself had finally stepped towards truly and fully caring for everyone, especially the Tourette’s community, without Mrs. Brasher, it would not have been possible. This incredible woman is the one and only teacher who has sincerely helped me grow and taught me to see the world from multiple perspectives. As competition season began, I won, placed and finaled at district tournaments, Stanford, Berkeley, SCU and many more. My passion for Tourette’s was only beginning.

The trophies on my bookshelf were piling up and so was the appraisal from friends and family members. However, without having realized it, my heart had began to break. What started as a project to advocate for a community who deserved a larger platform, developed into so much more. At tournaments, people who had watched me speak would come up to me throughout the day and ask me about Tourette’s Syndrome and why they had never heard about it before. At times, I would overhear peers talking about how what I was doing was not a ‘smart choice’ because no judge at the tournament would even know what Tourette’s was and the only reason I was doing well was because these adult judges felt pity towards people ‘suffering with that hyper disability’. I would encounter students who would laugh and say, “Did you make this disability or whatever up?” or “No one cares about disabilities as much as they do about other issues.”. From all the angry emotions I could’ve felt during these interactions, the only feeling I had was shock. Of course, being able to help these people understand what Tourette’s is, was, in my eyes, an accomplishment and it made me very happy. Yet, it pained me to realize that there were still many people out there walking around with either no knowledge about Tourette’s or pity towards a community that I believe has suffered enough. As my sophomore year came to a close and the expectations of finding a new topic began to grow, I knew deep down that I could not leave the journey I had began with advocating for Tourette’s as just a fond memory of my high school career.

We live in a word that is incredibly divided but it is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize and accept those differences. In one small year, I have gained immense passion for a community that deserves a better world. No matter the severity of one’s disability, Tourette’s or not, our society needs to understand that it does not limit their potential for greatness. This community does not need pity. It needs love, dedication and a voice.

For the past sixteen years, I have wanted to be apart of something more. This association is what I want to devote myself to. The first step towards change in the cruelty people possess is awareness, but without acceptance all we will be doing is starting over and over again. Although I still have a long way to go, the part of the journey that I have already completed has made me realize that, words are just words. We cannot trust words without having seen action.

So finally, to the Tourette’s community: Thank you for accepting me into your world and allowing me to help create a greater voice for you. I promise I will do everything I can and that these words will not remain just words.