Abnormal Behavior with Tourette Syndrome and OCD

“brilliantâÂ?¦poignantâÂ?¦funny” is how the London Sunday Times portrayed the movie “dirty filthy love”, an art-house film about an obsessive-compulsive man with Tourette syndrome. While brilliant and poignant, I don’t know that I could describe it as funny. Michael Sheen illustrated the main character in such a revealing, and honest depiction, showing the pains and strife one faces when stricken with this disorder. A disorder we know relatively little about. While kids may joke that they have Tourette’s after spewing out a succession of curse words, what do we really know about this neurological disorder?

Tourette Syndrome (TS) is a neurological disorder characterized by tics – involuntary, rapid, sudden movements or vocalizations that occur repeatedly in the same way. While research is ongoing, the abnormal metabolism of dopamine and serotonin in the brain, are thought to be involved with this disorder. Although “involuntary” is used to describe their tics, this is not entirely accurate, as people with TS feel an irresistible urge to perform their tics, similar to when one feels the urge to scratch a bug bite. While they can control their tics to a certain degree, sometimes going for hours without, this typically leads to a worsened or longer succession of tics once they are finally allowed to act out. Although, the vocalization of curse words is the most recognized and sensationalized signs of Tourette’s, vocal outbursts do not necessarily have to be a curse word, rather something that is rude, or socially unacceptable such as racial slurs, or comments made on one’s appearance. This outburst is called coprolalia, and actually occurs in less than 30% of people with severe cases.

Another relatively unknown fact about people with Tourette syndrome, as Michael Sheen so notably portrayed in “dirty filthy love”, is that often times people with Tourette’s have some sort of obsessive-compulsive disorder as well. An obsession in an invasive, illogical thought, such as, “my hands are contaminated” or “I didn’t lock the door”.

A compulsion is a repetitive ritual such as washing one’s hands, or locking the door 4 times before leaving. Most people at one time or another experience obsessive thoughts or compulsive behaviors, but people who suffer from this disorder experience obsessions and compulsions for more than one hour a day, hindering their day-to-day life. This is why OCD is often described as “a disease of doubt”, simply due to the fact that sufferers are unable to distinguish between what is possible, what is probable, and what is unlikely to happen.

Brad Cohen, a second-grade teacher with Tourette syndrome and OCD, was named one of Oprah Winfrey’s everyday heroes. In Brad’s book, “Front of the Class: How Tourette Syndrome Made Me the Teacher I Never Had”, Brad speaks of the torment and mockery he faced growing up, not only from other kids but from teachers who thought he was purposely being disruptive to the class. He also speaks of how, to this day, he still experiences difficulties, having been asked on several occasions to leave restaurants and other public events because of his “abnormal” behavior. But, doesn’t it seem like this is a problem we as a society have, and not Brad? Brad overcame the ultimate obstacle, his dream to become a teacher, after being turned down 25 times. One principal took a chance on the “barking teacher”, and because of her and because of Brad’s perseverance, some of our youth will reap the benefits of not only knowing more about the disease but also about how it feels to be an outsider.

This being said, shouldn’t we as a society be more tolerant of those that are different? After all, that is the lesson Brian Cohen has managed to so magnificently demonstrate to his second grade students. Aren’t we all stricken with our own obsessive-compulsive thoughts and our own tics? Whether it affects how you live your life or not, hasn’t there been a time when you obsessed all day whether you locked the car door or not? How many people know someone who rearranges their furniture at the slightest sign that it has been moved? What about someone that clenches their jaw when they are stressed? Sure, we know this can lead to TMJ, but isn’t this in some way a tic? Or how about someone who taps their fingertips on the desk when they are impatient, isn’t this a tic? However “normal” or “abnormal” we all are, who are we to judge? We all have our own hang-ups and our own tics and obsessions, so why mock someone, anyone, with or without a disorder? After all, isn’t mockery just result of our own low self-esteem and lack of confidence?

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