Comic Genius? or Idiot
Tourette's Syndrome in my life,
by Eric Heath
49 year old marionette maker
living in Easton,
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
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.
Best Verbal Twitches:
2. Monkey Butts
5. Boing! (since 1995)
6. Monkey Oh-Oh
7. Crumpton (a nearby town)
8. Clam Bake
10. Monkey F*@%er
* new words
arrive (suddenly), and
old words sometimes fade
Physical twitches, verbal twitches and
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
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.
Past Great Twitches
Cram it, Clown!
Soapy Doe Doe
Many friends of
mine have told me that they "miss" some of my old twitches that
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!
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
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
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
For more information,
please visit the National
Tourette's Syndrome Association's