In late elementary school, I was diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome, as well as anxiety syndrome. Throughout middle school I struggled with high levels of stress, which intensified when I found myself in any new, foreign, or unstructured situations. I remember going to an FCA leadership camp in 6th grade, one which my parents were actually working. At one point, I simply broke down and had a panic attack, brought upon by the stress of this unfamiliar situation. Another time, in 7th grade, I was chosen by my school to receive a full scholarship to NASA Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama. (We live in SC) To most, this would be seen as an exciting opportunity. However, my stress and my tics almost kept me from attending. Finally, I was convinced to go, but only after my father agreed to accompany me and spend the week with friends who live about 10 miles from the camp. This was a low point in my life, a time when I was rarely carefree. However, I began to improve as I went into high school, thanks to my introduction to the sport of wrestling.
Wrestling is quite possibly the most physically and mentally demanding high school sport, but anyone who wrestles could tell you this. Between weight-cutting and intense practices, it is easily the hardest activity I’ve ever participated in. However, that’s not the primary reason it had such a major impact on my life. The mental challenges of wrestling allowed me to confront, and largely overcome, my anxieties and fears, as it continually forced me from my comfort zone and allowed me to grow. As an example of this growth, after my sophomore year in high school, I was able to attend a week-long intensive wrestling camp in Ohio unaccompanied by family or anyone on my team. This camp was with a local team I had no connection with, and it was unique in that we ate, slept, and hung out on the wrestling mats for the entire week. This situation would have completely wrecked me mentally in the past, but after two years of wrestling, I was able to not only function, but actually embrace and enjoy it, having one of the best times of my life.
Today, I still have similar tics that I had in the past, and nothing has really changed in regards to my “disorder.” However, I now refuse to let it drive what I do or how I feel. In fact, some of what I do is in spite of my “disability.” I actually plan to be a trauma surgeon, which requires very steady hands and calmness under pressure. Most people would feel hesitant if you told them their surgeon has Tourette’s, given the stereotypes that accompany the name. However, I have refused to let Tourette’s define who I am, and this growth has allowed me to live a happier, more productive life with no worries about the unfamiliar situations that each day brings.