Working with Tourette Syndrome
By Guest Blogger Britney Wolf
Working full time while living with Tourette Syndrome certainly isn’t the most ideal situation. For most people it’s hard enough to try and become friends with their co-workers, but when you add TS into the mix it adds an extra level of difficulty. There is the question of “do I tell my co-workers?” and “what if they think I’m weird, or they don’t believe me?” I was no stranger to any of these questions or doubts throughout my working career, but as time goes on they get less and less important in my mind. I figure, if someone can’t accept who I am and what I can’t control in the work environment, then that’s their problem, not mine.
Right now I work for a very successful pool company that is extremely busy throughout the summer and early fall as we produce vinyl liners and safety covers nationwide. Even though I love my place of employment, the busy season causes a lot of stress and leaves me mentally drained after so many long demanding work days and because of that, my tics generally get a lot worse once I get home. I tic a lot at work too, but because I’m so focused I subconsciously suppress my tics in a lot of ways. This makes it hard for me when I try to explain how hard my tics can make everyday life for me because a lot of people at work don’t see my tics at their highest potential. I often get told “But, I’ve never even seen you tic!” and that may be true, but a lot of times people don’t realize that I’m ticcing because I do it with my stomach, my breathing, or my face when I’m turned away from everyone.
Although I am in a good place with who I am as a person, TS and all, I still get extremely self-conscious about my tics while I’m at work. I made sure to let everyone know about me having Tourette Syndrome very early on so they would know that I don’t have control over the weird things my body makes me do. I didn’t want to feel the embarrassment of someone thinking something was wrong with me on top of not being able to control my own body. Sometimes I can’t answer people right away because I’m unable to talk while I’m ticcing for the most part and I constantly click my mouse over and over again and all I can think about is what everyone else must be thinking while it happens. I work in a small office with only 4 other people so I know they hear me. Thankfully most of my co-workers are really great about it and never make me feel like there is anything wrong with me or that I am a bother to them, but that doesn’t stop the thoughts from entering my mind. I’m always afraid someone thinks that I’m faking it since it can be such an on and off kind of disorder. I can tic like crazy one day but then be pretty calm the next, so in my mind it makes sense for someone who doesn’t understand to think that I’m not being entirely honest about my disorder, but that’s not the case at all.
I feel that being honest about having Tourette Syndrome in the work place is the right way to go. I personally, would rather have everyone know what could possibly happen with me, than to wait for a really bad day with what I like to call “tic attacks” and have to explain to everyone what happened afterwards. I was honest and up-front about Tourettes in my interview and I honestly believe that it actually helped me while interviewing. I was able to show what a poised and confident person I could be despite living with something that takes control of my life. I was able to explain and teach another person what Tourette Syndrome really is, rather than what they saw on television and that always makes me happy. They were really receptive of the brief overview of my story and we moved on as if there was nothing wrong or weird about me and I was even able to get a “teal day” to happen at work in support of Tourette Syndrome Awareness.
My work life can be pretty hard sometimes. It takes me a little longer to do things sometimes because my body can’t do anything else while a tic is happening and it makes my life at home a lot more difficult sometimes to as all the suppressed tics come out as soon as I come home and try to relax. Additionally, I did have a problem with a co-worker who was very disrespectful by telling me “Tourettes doesn’t need as much awareness as other problems because it’s not that bad.” So, it makes it hard for me to feel completely comfortable ticcing around some people knowing that they are under the impression that what I have isn’t hard to live with. However, despite all of that, I’m glad I was honest about my disorder and I think working for a company that accepts that part of me helps us both at the same time. We both get to learn and grow as human beings and I like to think I help other people become a little more accepting of people’s differences. So many people have told me that I’m the only person they know with Tourette Syndrome and always ask me questions about my life with it that I am more than happy to answer. Even though it can be a lot harder than the average person to find a comfort zone in a work environment, my best advice will always be to just be honest. Let them know what you have and that sometimes you might just need to take a break to regroup and get back on track. I truly believe there are some good people out there looking for the right employee and just because we have Tourette Syndrome, doesn’t mean we can’t be the perfect candidate for ANY job and/or career choice.