Imagine what it would feel like to have an involuntarily tic that caused you to shout out inappropriate words or have uncontrollable muscle spasms. Now, imagine ticking like that hundreds or even thousands of times every day for years of your life. This is the life of someone with Tourettes Syndrome, someone like Marc Elliott who spoke to a crowd of Fairfield students on a Monday evening in mid-March, in the lower level of the Barone Campus Center.
Marc is a 25-year old who was diagnosed with the disease 16 years ago. He is from St. Louis, Missouri and graduated from West Washington University, but has recently relocated to Boston, Massachusetts. Traveling around the country, Marc visits college campuses to speak openly about his challenges and to open students’ eyes to the idea of becoming tolerant and compassionate for those who are different than themselves. He began by telling his own personal story of what life with Tourettes is like, explaining that it is not his only challenge. He was also diagnosed with Hirschsprung’s Disease when he was very little and now has only four feet of intestine in his entire body, causing him countless other complications.
Living a life with Tourettes Syndrome isn’t easy; it is almost as if there are itches inside your body that need to be “scratched.” The “scratching” of these internal itches are the tics that people with the disease experience every day. Marc explained it simply: when he walks into a room, he thinks of the riskiest thing that he can do or say, and that becomes the itch. The risk factor of the itch makes it even tougher, and suppression only makes the outburst worse. One of the most popular misconceptions related to the disease is that those who have it swear and use racial and ethnic slurs constantly, and those thoughts are implanted by videos such as The Tourettes Guy on Youtube and the South Park Tourettes episode. Actually, only 10% of those with the disease experience effects like that. As with most diseases, there are mild and severe cases, but 60-70% of people grow out of it at some point in their lives. For those who aren’t able to grow out of this incurable disease, there are therapy and treatments such as Botox that sometimes are able to help with suppression of the tics.
Marc used humor to tell his life story but focused on the bigger picture: tolerance. There are many people in the world today who accept those who are different from themselves, but there are even more who are unable to do so. He used the quote “Live and Let Live” as the most important part of his speech which is what tolerance is all about. Marc believes that it’s perfectly okay for people to make assumptions about those who are different, as long as actions aren’t taken hastily. Those who act on their assumptions are allowing their ignorance to control them. According to Marc, another problem is when we judge ourselves, which can hamper our ability to live our lives authentically.
Marc’s speech was one of the best I have ever heard because he was able to take a serious topic and add a little humor to make his points – and those points stuck. He is a commendable man for everything that he has gone through in his life, and for sharing his life experience and wisdom with others. He left us with a quote from Plato that struck me as relative and truthful: “Be kinder than necessary. Everyone is fighting their own battles that you know nothing about.”
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