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Comic Genius?  or Idiot Savante?
Tourette's Syndrome in my life, by Eric Heath
49 year old marionette maker living in Easton, MD, USA

At the age of 33 I was diagnosed with sleep apnea and was prescribed a medication.

Several days later I began experiencing occasional severe physical twitches.  Suddenly, with no warning, my arms would fly up in the air violently, as if I were a football referee signaling a "field goal". 

I was told that the medication had triggered a previously hidden genetic disorder, Tourette's syndrome.

Luckily the arm tic subsided when I stopped taking the medication, but other physical twitches began to appear such as leg twitches which went away after a time, and having my head and neck whip suddenly to the left, a twitch that has stuck around for over 15 years. 

Repeated throat clearing and uncontrolled grunting were the next things that I experienced, both of which faded with time.  Eventually I found myself speaking nonsense words, and then shouting actual words and strange word combinations.  Fortunately most of the things that I hear myself shouting are odd, rather than shocking or scandalous (see list at right)

 I learned over the years that having Tourette's means dealing with a variety of changing symptoms.  Anxiety and tiredness can make things worse, as can drinking alcohol.

Current* Top Ten
Best Verbal Twitches:

1. Monkeys 
2. Monkey Butts
3. Cockamamie
4. Plumpy 
5. Boing!
(since 1995)
6. Monkey Oh-Oh
7. Crumpton 
(a nearby town)
8. Clam Bake
9. Baby
10. Monkey F*@%er

* new words arrive (suddenly), and
old words sometimes fade

Physical twitches, verbal twitches and coprolalia, obsessive-compulsive behavior, attention deficit problems, irritability, and exhaustion are a few of the symptoms that I might experience daily.  They sometimes increase in severity or go away for months at a time.

When I was first diagnosed, I worked in a busy office for a national organization near Washington, DC.  I was a wreck trying to keep a lid on my twitches in a bustling reception area with computers and printer noise, buzzing fluorescent lights, ringing phones and multiple conversations going on.

Working at Renaissance Festivals, as I now do, having tourettes can be a strange gift.    I usually work in front of our shop, building marionettes and trying to attract attention to our creations.  I merely let my defenses down and sooner or later odd words begin to flow from my lips.  Sometimes I twitch a song in gibberish and other times I can't resist the urge to repeatedly spin in circles.  It's liberating to just let it go and see what it wants to do.

Eric's Past Great Twitches

Oh Boy
Cram it, Clown!
Soapy Doe Doe

Many friends of mine have told me that they "miss" some of my old twitches that have waned.

It's a very interesting phenomena, like playing improvisational comedy games with myself.  I might suddenly sing out "BOING!" with such volume and intensity that it startles people walking by (and usually myself as well).  Often when I let loose with a big verbal twitch in public I catch peoples eyes smiling at me quizzically as if waiting for an explanation - or for the second part of the joke to be played out.   It would be a shame to leave them hanging, so I find myself following up many twitches with an improvised punch line, or a second verse to the song.  It's exhausting to stay that focused but easier than trying to hold the twitches in, and it definitely draws attention to our Shoppe!

You can see for yourself at the Maryland Renaissance Festival, where I will be stringing marionettes and performing spontaneously and sporadically in front of our booth on weekends from late August through October, in Crownsville, Maryland.

The August 2002 issue of Esquire magazine
interviewed Eric
about his definition of
what it feels like to have Tourette's Syndrome.

This article was reprinted in a book entitled
Esquire presents What it Feels Like in September of 2003.

To read more about the article click here

A Tourette's Syndrome related story
about Eric in a room full of shouting Circus Clowns

Eric's Biography

Tourette's Syndrome is an inherited, neurological disorder characterized by repeated and involuntary body movements (tics) and uncontrollable vocal sounds. In a minority of cases, the vocalizations can include socially inappropriate words and phrases -- called coprolalia. These outbursts are neither intentional nor purposeful. Involuntary symptoms can include eye blinking, repeated throat clearing or sniffing, arm thrusting, kicking movements, shoulder shrugging or jumping.
                  - from the National TS Association pamphlet

For more information, please visit the National Tourette's Syndrome Association's Website

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