I was in third grade when my parents noticed my incessant throat clearing and sniffling. For several years I was tested and treated for allergies via medications, drops, and shots. I had surgery during the sixth grade to remove my tonsils and adenoids. I recently figured out that my tics all revolve around how air moves in and out of my body. Allergies definitely impact them, but there has always been this pulling sensation at the back of my throat, and nothing has ever seemed to help.
My parents were convinced I had a noisy habit brought on by allergies, and my father would scold me for not trying hard enough to stop, especially when I developed a high-pitched squeaky tic that couldn’t possibly be caused by allergies. Similarly, my mother would come running when I developed a tic that sounded like I was having trouble breathing.
During late elementary school, I started to put up imaginary walls to keep people away, and I obsessed over possible scenarios in which I might need to defend myself from bullying. Thankfully, I was never bullied. However, my coping mechanism had damaged my social opportunities. Around that same time, I lost interest in team sports and music lessons. I essentially alienated myself from my peers unintentionally.
When I was in the eighth grade, I finally had a breakthrough. During a quiet assignment in one of my classes my teacher called me out on my noises, assuming I was doing it to be disruptive. I angrily replied, “Asking me not to do it is like asking me not to breathe!” I was trying so hard to figure myself out and fix my tics so I could feel normal, and I could no longer hold in the frustration towards myself and others.
The school called my mother and told her what happened. She took me back to the doctor, who suggested that the problem wasn’t allergies and that he could refer me for evaluation by a neuropsychologist. I was pleased to try another approach to getting answers, although I was unsure what to expect. After two days of neuropsychological testing and a visit to a pediatric neurologist, I finally had a diagnosis: Chronic vocal tics.
Giving my condition a name has been a relief. My tics don’t bother my parents nearly as much now that they know I can’t stop them. I have never liked drawing attention to myself, and having a diagnosis has made me less anxious because I know how to explain myself. In the past few years I have developed better control over the frequency and volume of my tics in public situations. I don’t mind short encounters with people because my tics can be mistaken for normal behavior in small doses, but I have some heightened anxiety regarding longer interactions and quiet public spaces because people may make incorrect assumptions about me or get annoyed. I still get defensive sometimes, but I can mentally diffuse that defensiveness while explaining my condition.