The second episode of Tourettes: Let Me Entertain You aired on BBC3 last night. It’s a three-part documentary, hosted by Reggie Yates, documenting the experiences and musical talents of six young people with Tourettes, one of whom is my friend Ruth. I know many of the people featured on the programme and I enjoyed hearing them share their experiences and show off their musical ability.
For me, talking about Tourettes isn’t optional – it’s an essential part of my life. I’d guess that many people with Tourettes see raising awareness of the condition as more than an abstract ‘good thing’ because it’s a way to make their day-to-day lives easier. Documentaries like the one last night have an important role to play in dispelling myths about Tourettes and increasing people’s understanding. So thank you Ruth, Emily, Jake, Steve, Greg and Tom for helping people think differently about Tourettes.
The show focuses on the musical talents of the young people and how being on stage affects their tics and their lives. For all of them their tics greatly reduce or disappear completely when they perform. The ability to suppress tics in this way during focused activities is something many people with Tourettes experience.
I’ve got no musical talent but have always found my tics reduce when I’m drawing. Most people with tics can suppress them for short periods, just like you can stop yourself blinking if you try hard enough – but the moment your focus wavers you start blinking again. The length of time people can hold their tics in differs from person to person at any given moment. I generally can’t go very long without ticcing.
Suppressing my tics is physically very uncomfortable. I can’t do anything else at the same time, and as soon as I stop concentrating, the tics explode with more force than before. The sort of automatic suppression experienced by those in the programme when they sing or play is different because generally it lasts the length of the activity, doesn’t feel uncomfortable, and doesn’t have the same rebound effect. I can’t give a detailed medical explanation for this and I’m not sure a doctor could either, but I’ve always understood that it happens because a different part of the brain’s being engaged in the focussed activity.
But Tourettes: Let Me Entertain You is about much more than simply controlling tics. It shows how important music is to the performers, and what talented and creative musicians they all are. It’s brilliant watching their confidence grow as they prepare for their final performance.
Music plays a big role in my life too and affects my tics, but in a very different way. Some songs and sounds trigger my tics and make them explode with extra intensity and frequency. I often find myself singing tics to a particular tune with different words flying in as I go. This isn’t a bad thing because my vocal tics are often at their happiest and most inventive when they’re caught up in a tune.
I’ve written about ticced songs before, but tonight just as I was going to bed, another one started out of the blue and Leftwing Idiot was quick enough to record it.
I warn you now, it’s not suitable for work (and it’s much less tuneful than the performances on last night’s show), but I suspect it may still move some of you to tears. Leave a comment and let me know what you think.