What’s it Like to Work With a Tourettic and Obsessive Brain?

A photo of wall with turquoise bricks

#TouretteA11y Network – When Tourette’s Works For You

Every employer claims to seek innovation, which can only occur when opinions diverge and a conflict is created.

Neurodivergent individuals offer just that: divergent opinions, wired in. Brains structured for innovation. Different thinking processes. Unique ways of functioning in a world which prioritizes NeuroTypicality and the appearance of sameness above all else.

Can you really compare a PC to a Mac? Is your Wii broken because it can’t run a PlayStation 4 program?

Because they are branded as different systems doesn’t mean one is better than the other. They are Different. What data generate a process in one can’t get a read in another because they operate differently by design. Much like NeuroDivergent brains.

#TouretteSyndrome is one such NeuroDivergence.

Common Misconceptions – Embedded and Systemized

If you’re like the majority of people, hearing “Tourette Syndrome” will instantly generate the scenes of swearing and out of control behaviour commonly associated with the term, as perpetuated by media tropes. Many presume we are mentally impaired. That we need to be helped.

I say “we” as I am one of 75 million (or so) individuals living with this Neurodevelopmental Motor (Dis?)order.

Starting with some Tourette facts:

  • 100% of Touretters have at least one vocal tic. The expression of vocal tics is a spectrum ranging anywhere from simple sounds to whispers and stutters, all the way to complex (and sometimes spicy!) word stew.
  • An estimated 10 to 30% of people living with TS experience coprolalia (involuntarily uttering inappropriate words/comments) over their lifetime. And not all coprolalia is swearing!
  • 100% of the Tourette population experiences more than one physical tic, but it can be as (not-so) subtle as a grimace, abdominal tensing or eye rolls, and as dramatic as full body convulsions – through which we are fully conscious – though TS doesn’t express to that extreme for many of us.
  • Tourette Syndrome takes a significant toll on every Tourettic body and has physically and socially disabled some of us. Yet, TS is so much more than what you see and hear, 100% of the time.

My Tourette experience includes mental tics, a.k.a. Primarily Cognitive OCD, which is OCD without the overt compulsions, happening on a mental level, also known as Pure-O. It’s very intrusive. At times, disturbing.

Mental tics and obsessions are not exclusive to Touretters. Many #ActuallyAutistic individuals experience them. For others, they are one of the many manifestations of their OCD. ADHD/ADD can both enhance and worsen mental tics. Primarily Obsessional OCD is often part of and contributor to Anxiety.

Either way, as with all other NeuroDivergences, Pure-O is wired in as an integral part of our Different brains’ functioning.

What’s it really like in my Tourette mind? Try this:

An image detailing ten steps to empathize what it feels like with tourettes

At which point did those multiple tabs cause your processor to slow down? Could you hear yourself think? Did you give up on the computer portion and attempt the seemingly simpler task of not blinking while holding the urge to sneeze and not scratching multiple itches?

Anyway, you went about it, I hope you now have a better sense of the physical urge to tic and a good idea of the mechanisms behind mental tics.

How can this possibly work in the workplace?

It’s always noisy and vivid in my head, which never shuts down. I wake up too early, too alert. I process a lot, all at once. I have to selectively cut through and make sense of all the images, sensations and noise my brain surprises me with, at the same time I (hypersensitively) take in the often-overwhelming outside world.

While calling on customers. Drumming up new business at a trade show. Creating a report. Aligning the Sales department’s goals with that of Product. Writing a Client Services Excellence/Escalations protocol. Creating marketing materials for Tourette education. Drafting this article.

Whatever I’m working on, the mental tics are always there.

Lucky for me, my brain is also designed to handle the information overload. It is wired to be this busy and knows no other order. It notices everything that’s happening in the busy-ness, figures out what’s relevant quickly and gets drawn to every anomaly, however slight. It sees and solves problems before they are problematic. It has substantial processing power with the ability to hyperfocus.

  • In business development, it translates as setting goals that will generate maximum benefits for both Client and Corporate interests. I develop plans and course-correct accordingly to reach these goals. Persistence and creativity in finding new ways to open conversations have made me a top performer in just about every industry. Quickly grasping a client’s business problem and their personal stake in it are essential for connecting, yet they are missed in the majority of sales calls. But not by me. I know exactly how I influence these results. I work and live and breathe accordingly.
  • For business and operations optimization, it means taking in the data, but seeing relationships, inefficiencies and other stories data can’t tell on its own. Including inefficiencies in the efficiency of the data, I’m analyzing. I’ll see what’s missing, and probably know to look for it in places no one else thinks of exploring. I’m wired for solving these types of puzzles. I get all tingly just thinking about it.
  • When working as an interview and courtroom assistant to a litigation lawyer, my ability to think and filter through information quickly and accurately is most of what I need for the job. The rest relies on my ability to take good notes and contextualize them. Disclosing to a new judge upfront that I have Tourette and am not sussing out to The Court is also a necessity. Takes all of 4 seconds, then we all get to work.

Are my Tourettic and Obsessive brain still a (Dis?) order to you?

I hope you found this useful. I welcome any question you may have when it comes to the hiring and accommodation of an employee living with Tourette Syndrome. Or about Tourette’s itself. It’s nowhere near as scary as you think.

Let #TouretteSyndrome work for you!

Photo of Christine Bélanger

Christine Bélanger is a business development and optimization veteran, public speaker and Tourette educator.

She’s featured in an upcoming episode of Benjamin Brown’s Tourette’s Podcast and on AMI This Week – Interview with Christine Bélanger from Employable Me Canada.

You can also find her on @TickingOutLoud on YouTube, TwitterInstagram and TickingOutLoud.com launching February 22, 2018.

Christine is a business development and optimization veteran, public speaker, and Tourette educator. She is using her voice to proactively make the world a more positive and inclusive place for people with disabilities, with a focus on NeuroDivergence.



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