Remember to breathe
August 16, 2016

Suppression Samurai

Though my own Tourette’s is now mild, most of the people I spoke to for my book were struggling with tics, and the unease of taking those tics out in public, where often your steps are dogged by following glances and rude stares.

Our great temptation is to suppress tics. It’s a natural enough response to being mistaken for a meth addict or a schizophrenic or a generally undesirable character. Suppress that urge! Push down and place a rock on top of that tic! Don’t let it out until you’re somewhere safe. Ah—but how difficult it is to do; how exhausting it is to maintain; how humiliating it is to deny that part of yourself.

I think of these skirmishes with our brains like this 3-panel Japanese screen depicting a noble samurai, alone, backed against a snowy tree, holding three attackers at bay.

3 panel samurai

Tics are an assault—on our mind and body, on our self-image, on our place in the world. But though we can’t control when a tic arises, and we have no say over what it might be, we can decide how we respond. We can maintain our dignity and self-assurance. We can learn to love ourselves despite the onslaught of unwanted samurai tics.

Depending on the severity, and where we find ourselves when it arises, we can choose to suppress a tic or simply let it out. Are you in a restaurant or a store? In class or a doctor’s office? In church or at a bar mitzvah? Flying a commercial airliner? At your own wedding?! The folks in my book have been in all these situations and in each case they made up their mind to suppress or let the tics loose.


One young man in the book had become so good at suppressing that when he no longer needed to, he didn’t know how to let his tics out. They leaked out, they made themselves known, but he was constantly struggling to tamp them down and this was exhausting. It took time, and the love of a good woman, for him to learn to let his tics out. “I didn’t know which was harder,” he said, “to relax enough to release, or to suppress.”

A young woman went to Tourette syndrome camp and, for the first time, realized she could let her tics out. Her mother and father told her only parents who didn’t love their kids let them tic. “I didn’t understand why people were letting themselves tic,” she said. “You’re supposed to hold back. I had to learn it’s okay to let people see.”

There is another thing we can learn from the samurai screen: we should not think of tics as the enemy. We can battle them if we choose, suppress them when we can, but Tourette syndrome is part of who we are. It’s not something to be ashamed of or apologetic about. Our tics may give us bad days and awful experiences sometimes, but to think of them as the enemy only encourages us to dislike ourselves. That’s not what we want, is it?

So by all means, if the situation warrants it, if you need to suppress, do battle with your tics. Be that noble samurai fighting off attackers. But know that even with your Tourette’s, you are a whole person, a good person, someone worthy of love and respect, someone who has talents and interests.
The samurai is a noble warrior.
You are also a noble warrior in life. Cut through intolerance with compassion. Cut through fear with self-confidence.
Sharpen your swords!

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