“Derren Brown is in the room – shut your mind”, “Help I’m stuck down a well” and “Kanye West killed Rupert Bear yesterday” are generally not sentences which would form part of the average persons everyday vocabulary, but 31 year old Jess Thom doesn’t bat an eyelid when they come out of her mouth – because Jess has Tourettes Syndrome.
Jess is just one of an estimated 300,000 sufferers currently affected by Tourettes in the UK. The condition is characterised by involuntary tics, and for many begins in the early stages of life and gradually fades out before adulthood.
Jess however, is one of the few who has not seen her tics lessen over time, and has since decided to embrace her Tourettes Syndrome in a bid to educate others about the condition.
The severity of the tics and the types of tics vary from person to person, but in Jess’s case mostly involve her normal speech being punctuated by uncontrollable sounds or exclamations over which she has no control.
After seeing humour in many of her tics, Jess decided that the best way to approach the condition was to invite others to laugh with her, and thus her not for profit website Touretteshero was born with the help of friend and colleague Matthew Pountney.
The idea of the website – which features a daily blog written by Jess, a list of her tics and a gallery of tic inspired artwork – is to increase awareness of the condition using both humour and creativity.
In the gallery, you can see Jess’s tics visualised through creative artwork. For example a recent tic “John Humphries has a waggy tail” has been interpreted by artist Dan Farrow who has sketched the newsreaders head atop of a dog’s body with a wagging tail.
Whilst Jess attempts to use humour wherever possible to make others feel more comfortable with her tics, it is certainly not all smiles and giggles. Jess, like many other sufferers, also experiences regular physical tics that can make it very difficult for her to control her body and can result in her falling down or convulsing for minutes at a time.
In a bid to protect herself from harm if and when these physical tics do occur, Jess has now had to begin wearing protective gear such as wrist guards and a padded headpiece.
Jess is the first one to admit that she finds it difficult. On public transport, she often has fellow passengers move away from her or make nasty comments – that’s if the bus driver even allows her to board in the first place. But it’s not always that way, she explains.
“I’ve had some amazing conversations I would never have had if I didn’t have and that’s a gift. Some people surprise me that they’re so non-judgemental.”
She goes on to say: “It’s an irreverent approach to disability which I don’t think is out of step with other disabilities. It’s about changing the view of people with disabilities as victims or scroungers and seeing them as professionals, whilst having a sense of humour about it.”
Treatment for Tourettes Syndrome is a tricky area due to the symptoms fluctuating naturally. Medication is an option, but in recent years behavioural therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy have become preferential because they do not come with unwanted side effects.
For further information about how counselling/behavioural therapy could help Tourettes, please visit our fact-sheet to find out more.
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