As I mentioned in a previous post, I had the opportunity review a book by the very talented and funny Jessica Thom called Welcome to Biscuit Land.
Not unlike the other Tourettes book I had the honor of reviewing, Welcome to Biscuitland left me feeling both grateful and protective all at once: grateful for brave women like Thom who aren’t afraid to fearlessly write about their experiences with severe T.S., but also protective of parents who are new to the confusing syndrome of this disorder.
As I mentioned in my last post, there are some people with Tourettes who absolutely jerk, shake, curse and wind up in wheel chairs for their own personal safety when their tics become unmanageable. But there is a much higher percentage of folk who live with medium to mild T.S. (like my own child) and simply do not fit the stereotype of the shrieking, flailing ticker who illicit stares and insults from the public as ruthlessly as nonsense talk over Kate Middleton’s post-pregnancy belly.
The above disclaimers stated, the absolute facts are that I adored this book – not just for Thom’s honesty, but for her humor. Thom has a way of writing that is so outrageously funny, she immediately put me at ease about her condition. It’s clear from the very beginning of her book – written in diary form like a ticking Bridgett Jones – that there is a big difference between Thom inviting us to laugh with her about the more humorous aspects of her Tourettes and having ignorant people laugh at her about a condition they don’t understand.
Example 1: Thom Inviting us to Laugh at T.S.: The vast majority of my tics tend not to be triggered by events or my surroundings at all, and a lot of them are completely inoffensive:
However, some are offensive:
‘Fuck a shed.’
Some phrases are linked to themes, words or sounds:
‘God loves gerbils.’
‘God loves sandwiches.’
‘God loves everyone – except you.’
I’m pretty sure God loves Thom, because despite being teased or pointed at mercilessly throughout her life for outbursts she can’t control, she remains a beacon of forgiveness and elegance throughout. Just check out this interview with Thom.
Yes she is pounding her chest incessantly and occasionally squeaking and yelping.
Yes she uses the word “biscuit” far more than many of us have ever baked them.
Yes she seems to have this stream of consciousness that is effortlessly intertwined into her conversations – almost as if she is a ventriloquist piping random vocal tics to the amazement of curious onlookers. And yet, she is a beacon of composure. Clearly this is a well-educated woman who is in charge of herself, if not always her vocal tics. This is a wonder and a beauty that is not to be missed – not just in Thom’s person and book, but in anyone who has a “disability” threaten to mask their true soul underneath.
Given her extreme form of T.S., it was a bit surprising for me to read that she works with children. And yet, in true Thom fashion, she writes extensively about educating these youngsters about what T.S. really is. From one page to the next, she is the patron saint of patience as she explains to them why she can’t help the noises and sounds she makes (which they accept quite readily and just get on with business).
She also educates people on public transportation, waiting outside bars, in stores and on street corners. If Thom knows one thing, she knows that she can’t fly under the radar with her tics. Instead, she good-naturedly explains herself time and time again. Does she ever get exhausted? Sure. But she never stays down for long. Like the boxing gloves on her hands that she uses to protect her chest from daily punches, Thom is a true fighter. She always gets back into the ring, ready to knock down stereotypes of what it means to have a misunderstood condition that threatens to break one’s resolve on a daily basis.
While some people she writes about in her book never do understand why she shrieks, curses or assaults unsuspecting geraniums by compulsively plunging her fingers deep into their pots for no good reason at all, many people do accept Thom’s condition at face value. Not unlike Thom herself, this is a true testament to the glorious side of the human spirit. Her book is full of endearing characters, from family, friends and occasional strangers who support her for her soul, not her tics. (My personal favorite? A drunk man outside a pub who defends her honor against a knuckle dragging bully. After popping the dude on the head for teasing Thom, she gratefully dubs her advocate ‘Thump-A-Youth’.)
Her entries burst with characters so engaging and witty, I found myself frantically Googling Thom when the book ended. I simply had to have an update on her life and her support system. (Lucky for me this kind-hearted woman emailed me back when I wrote her, desperate to hear about her move from the Lair into the Castle. Rest assured all is well in her world both with her job and her personal life! Even her friend’s geranium is alive and kicking, if not a bit leery of Thom’s trigger finger.)
Thom paints friends who ruthlessly defend and support her. Best of all, she highlites their wicked sense of humor.
Take the following conversation between her dear friend, Leftwing Idiot (dubbed by Thom for his penchant for liberal rants) and his girlfriend, Poppy.
Poppy: What are you going to do this afternoon?
Thom: Some drawing, read the paper, have sex with an otter.
Leftwing Idiot: OK. When’s that happening?
Thom: I’m going to wake him up.
Leftwing Idiot: Is Mr. Otter upstairs now?
Thom: Cuddle Mr. Otter.
Thom is great about explaining the nature of her tics, what she can control and what she cannot. In regards to her vocals, it’s as if her wires get crossed and she’s not even aware of what she’s saying until after she says it. While some folk of kids with T.S. might find this very disconcerting, Thom finds it reassuring because she need not feel guilty for what she says nor feel embarrassment.
Of course, this kind of enlightenment does not come easy for her – it is hard earned validation from years of living with unrelenting tics. But in the end, like any true guru, Thom has a choice: She can despair and hide in a hole over her neurological misfortune, or she can choose to use her disadvantages for good. In her case, she beccomes a Tourettes hero with a blog of the same name. (TourettesHero)
In a full body suit fitting for any adventurer, Thom educates people throughout the world via her website, speaking engagements, Twitter, Facebook and more, with the simple motto to, ‘Change the world one tic at a time.’
Let’s get real: Thom’s book made me weep on occasion, and not just from laughter. To see this woman – so full of soul and life and courage – endure so much public and private humiliation for something she can’t control was maddening. And yet, her bravery and wit far out-weigh her suffering. Like my favorite kind of leader, Thom doesn’t dwell in her disability, but instead uses it to transform her soul into something far more powerful than a random curse word flung to an unsuspecting gang of Tween football players on a public bus. (And you can better believe those football players step off that bus with a full education as to what T.S. is all about.)
I would be lying if I told you that I wouldn’t be heartbroken if Stink’s T.S. got as severe as Thom’s, but this book was one giant validation to me that living in fear is no life at all. If Thom can be strong despite setbacks, I can, too. And so can you.
I will wind down with something she wrote on the home page of her blog. It echoes my sentiments exactly. I hope you’ll consider both reading Thom’s book and, like Thom, finding a way to release your worries about what you can’t control into something bigger and greater than yourself. Like Thom, your kids need you to be their TourettesHero. I know you can do it.
If I were giving one piece of advice to a parent of a child with Tourettes it would be, ‘Talk about it openly and encourage your child to develop ways of explaining their tics and experiences to others.’ Building this simple skill has helped me more than any drug, treatment or intervention.
Another great article on Thom’s book can be found here.
More info on Thom can be found below.
Stay tuned as my new favorite pen-pal, none other than the grand TourettesHero herself, will be doing a guest post on Happily Ticked Off. Have any specific questions for her? Leave them here and I’ll be sure to send her this link!
In closing, may God grant you to accept the tics you cannot change, change the tics you can, and have the wisdom to know the difference. I’m not TourettesHero, but that motto has worked pretty well for me.