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Thread: Tourette tics vanish on stage for Nashville performers

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    Thumbs up Tourette tics vanish on stage for Nashville performers

    Tourette tics vanish on stage for Nashville performers
    USA Today
    July 8, 2015

    NASHVILLE Jason Michaels sits on a bar stool, concealed by the dim of theater lights before a performance, and he twitches.

    First, his chin jerks toward his left shoulder. Then, after a beat, his head lurches forward, stretching all the muscles in the back of his neck to full extension.

    The movements are arresting and uncontrollable. This is how 40-year-old Michaels lives, competing with the sudden, repetitive tics that overtake him.

    But when he steps on stage to his deck of cards, something happens. The tics vanish.

    "Like magic," he says.



    Magic like the Tourette syndrome he has dealt with since childhood is something the professional illusionist knows about. Just as he started learning the tricks that would one day become his career pursuit, he also worked to understand the inherited neurological disorder that assaulted his muscles.

    A lot of people think Tourette's is that unusual syndrome that makes people curse uncontrollably, but really only a small percentage of those diagnosed with the disorder display that. Instead, Tourette's is best understood as a reoccurring urge to make certain sounds or movements. Like an itch that must be scratched, when the urge is ignored an uncomfortable sensation builds and builds only eased by a combination of motions or expressions.

    For those with Tourette's, navigating the disorder, withstanding the bullying and backward glances, enduring the endless need to blink and grimace and grunt and jerk in ways they never want to none of it is easy. But for Michaels and for many other artists with Tourette syndrome the stage has become a place of peace.

    That is true, too, for local juggler Jacob Weiss and Nashville musician Dave Pittman. All three of these men are nationally touring performers who live with Tourette syndrome. Though the disorder affects approximately three to six of every 1,000 children in the United States, there is not much of a support system in the Nashville area.

    Collectively, they want to change that and they have a message to share: No matter your quirks you can still dream big.

    "You can do so much more with your life than you realize even now," Michaels says.



    But for a young Pittman it was impossibly hard to see the big picture. All he wanted to do was make it stop permanently.

    Pittman's classmates called him spaz boy when his tics seized him, they pointed fingers, they talked in clearly audible whispers behind his back. It all was too much.

    "How do you accept something so miserable when you can't hide it?" Pittman says, recalling the summer after fourth grade when he got his parents' gun, wrote a note telling mom and dad he would miss them and prepared to pull the trigger.

    But his parents returned home earlier than expected that afternoon. He scrambled to cover his intent as they approached the locked bedroom door, but when they found the overturned note, they knew their son needed support.

    Through them, he learned to be comfortable with himself, and he was encouraged to cultivate the music career that began when he sang his first church solo at age 6. His parents also took time to educate others about Tourette's, and, he says, the bullying subsided.

    Something else happened, too, he found his Tourette's ceased when he would sing. With his vocal confidence, he earned a scholarship to Liberty University as part of a trio and eventually found his way on to American Idol, where judge Neil Patrick Harris told Pittman he was "crazy brave."

    It may take bravery to navigate the uncomfortable jokes and questioning stares, but these performers prefer not to be looked at as excelling "in spite of" their Tourette's.

    So many times, Weiss says, others will assign expectations of what they think is possible for people with Tourette's. So when someone such as Weiss masterfully flings spinning clubs through the air or tosses balls behind his back with ease, there is surprise.

    B9317521004Z.1_20150707185943_000_G8SB9L1L3.1-0.jpg
    Juggler Jacob Weiss who has Tourette's Syndrome juggles outside the Green Hills Library


    There shouldn't be. Weiss knows many people with Tourette's have inspiring abilities and his focus of late has been to help them to share that message. That is why Weiss, founder of social enterprise entertainment Playing By Air, started the #TouretteTalent campaign, which encourages people with Tourette's to post videos of their talents.

    Michaels illustrates that talent every time he steps in front of an audience, magically turning a card of one suit into another. But, for a long time, Michaels chose not to talk about his Tourette's. He never wanted an audience to feel sorry for him. He never wanted a person to think "Wow, this is really good ... especially since he's got Tourette's. Good for him."

    But that is changing. Recently, he spoke at TedX in Chattanooga, giving his talk while escaping from a straitjacket, which is how trapped a person with Tourette's can sometimes feel. There have been times when he felt like he was going crazy because he couldn't stop the noises and movements he was making. But he made it through just fine.

    And, he says, "the difficulties that we encounter in life are the things that define us."


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    Default Re: Tourette tics vanish on stage for Nashville performers



    Jason Michaels, diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome as a child, is now a professional entertainer and inspirational speaker. In this video he shares his gift of sleight of hand with the TS community and the world.

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