Living with Tourette's
PUBLISHED: 09:52 14 October 2010
Tourette's Syndrome is a condition that is touched upon in the book and film Awakenings. As the ballet version comes to the Theatre Royal next week, Emma Harrowing talks to local Tourette's sufferer James Clarke and discovers a talented young man who is fighting to shake off the demons of his condition.
My question was a plain one; ‘what have you been doing at college this morning’, but the trouble he has trying to form a response fills the air with an uncomfortable pause.
It is not James’ fault; the 17-year-old from North Walsham suffers from Tourette’s Syndrome, a condition that makes it difficult for him to speak in complete sentences without having to make involuntary and uncontrollable sounds and movements.
“It’s frustrating,” says James. “In my head I know what I want to say but sometimes it’s hard to form sentences. Sometimes I think that I can talk without stuttering but the involuntary tics and mutterings come out first. I have phases where I think why me? I also have dark thoughts thinking that I’m a burden on my family and that they would be better off without me.”
James was diagnosed with TS in November 2004 although his mum Mary suspects that he has suffered from the condition since he was four years old when he was diagnosed with having Asperger’s Syndrome.
Says Mary: “When James was about three years old we noticed that he didn’t mix well with other children and found it difficult to communicate. He was diagnosed with Asperger’s, but I believe that he was also suffering from TS, but there was so much focus on his Asperger’s, TS was overlooked.”
When James was diagnosed with TS when he was seven years old, the diagnosis came as a relief.
“As soon as we knew that James had TS we could develop ways to cope with his condition,” says Mary. “He tried speech therapy, a mild course of medication and recently a clinical psychologist gave him a CD which helps him calm down when his condition gets too overwhelming.”
There is a common misconception that all TS sufferers swear uncontrollably, but in fact 90pc of people with TS do not swear at all. Says Mary: “It’s very rare for a TS sufferer to swear and apart from a three-week spell when he couldn’t control his swearing, the only time he uses the ‘f’ word is when he’s angry – just like any other teenager.”
Some TS sufferers find that artistic pursuits can help them cope with their condition.
James is currently studying performing arts at Paston College. The course has proved to be the making of him and he has won many awards for his progress.
Says James: “I have never really thought that acting has helped me cope with TS; I think that with me not wanting to speak in public or go out to a place where there are lots of people is more of a confidence thing.”
Many teenagers suffer from a lack of confidence until they become more comfortable with who they are – and this is what James is striving for.
“I finish my college course next year and I hope to start a career in the theatre or doing something drama related,” says James. “I don’t want my TS to hold me back.”