In the Face of Laughter

When I’m out and about on my own, strangers tend to react differently to me from when I’m with friends, but this is not because of any change in me or my tics. When the unusual noises and movements I make are interspersed with clearly normal conversations, other people are less likely to be afraid of me because they can see and hear that I’m not mad and that I’ll know if they’re laughing or talking about me.

Tonight I was travelling home on a bendy-bus with Leftwing Idiot. It was busy and I’d chosen to sit down when a seat became available. Leftwing Idiot remained standing nearby, close, but not close enough for us to have a conversation. A man got on further down the bus, and I knew immediately that he was going to say something to me. He was behaving erratically himself and when he spotted me he started to copy the noises I was making, loudly but very inaccurately.

He stopped in front of me and continued mimicking. I said, “Yes, I’m making some noises and will keep doing it.” He started copying my chest banging, and then he reached out and banged my chest. I said “Don’t do that, it’s bad enough that I do it to myself.” He told me he was a good fighter, and I said, “That’s great – I don’t need you to show me though.” He looked at me and said, “You’re safe, I’m mad but you’re OK.”

Leftwing Idiot didn’t interfere during this exchange. I think if he had, things could have escalated and I’m used to managing situations like this on my own. Occasionally people I don’t know get involved, sometimes brilliantly, sometimes chaotically.
Three recent examples that all occurred on buses spring to mind:

Powerful, peaceful, polite support:
A group of six or seven teenage girls were laughing at me on a bus. I challenged them but they continued so I ignored them. I was aware during this uncomfortable journey that one of the girls was not laughing or joining in, and I heard her say “I don’t see what’s funny.” When they got up to leave she stopped and said, “I’m really sorry for my friends’ behaviour, I hope you have a nice day.”

Shaming the ignorant:
A mother and her child were sitting next to me. There were some older men sitting behind me who were laughing at me and making comments. I acknowledged them but as I’d already challenged someone else on the same bus I didn’t really feel like doing it again. The woman next to me turned to them and said, “I’ve just explained to my son why it’s not funny. He’s a child – why don’t you know better?”

A forceful stop it:
I’d been in town and was travelling back on a busy bus with a couple sitting behind me. I said something funny and complicated about squirrels and heard the man giggle. Shortly afterwards a group of tourists got on. One of them went to sit down next to me and I squeaked. She stopped so I said, “It’s OK. It’s fine to sit here.” She took no notice and stared at me for a few moments before moving away. A couple of her friends sat opposite me, laughing relentlessly and exchanging comments. I didn’t know what language they were speaking so I wasn’t sure if their laughter was directed at me, although it seemed to correspond with my tics. It gave me the impression that I was the cause of their escalating hilarity.

Eventually the man with his girlfriend got annoyed and said to the group “Stop laughing at her.” The woman who’d ignored me said, “We’re not laughing at her and it’s not your business.” The man replied, “You are, and it’s rude.” He turned back and I thanked him.

Laughing is a common reaction and I understand that Tourettes looks funny if you’ve not encountered it before. I’m not oversensitive and only challenge disrespectful behaviour that I’m sure is related to me. I find people laughing at me or having overtly hostile reactions the easiest to deal with. Staring, tutting or frightened and disgusted looks are much more difficult because I don’t know when to say something.

The laughing tourists were lucky that Thump-A-Youth Man wasn’t there.

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