“Despite my tics, I’ve learnt to love myself”

Josiah Ong, who has suffered from involuntary tics since age 5, shares his experience living with Tourette’s syndrome.

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“Facial grimaces, shoulder shrugging, arm swinging, neck jerking, excessive blinking and vocalisations such as making squeaky noises ― these are tics that I’ve been familiar with since I was 5 years old.

I’m now 24 years old and studying business at the National University of Singapore.

Though I was diagnosed with Tourette’s syndrome when I was 14 years old, I’ve had it since I was about 5. Tourette’s syndrome is a neurological disorder characterised by repetitive, involuntary movements and vocalisations called tics.

My tics were more frequent and severe before my diagnosis, that is, before I started medication. I would twitch every few seconds and parts of my body, especially my neck, would even get sore from it.

The tics worsened when I was 13 and started to affect my breathing. I started taking in sudden deep breaths, like I was gasping and short of breath all the time, and people would ask me if I was okay.

Self-esteem and self-image issues surfaced because I was constantly twitching and constantly viewed as abnormal or a weirdo.

Some people would say that I have these very bad habits, and that it was within my ability to control them. I think they saw me as this delinquent or a boy with a lack of self-control as a result. That’s ironic ― because anyone who really knows me would know that I have decent self-control, or at least, I hope I do!

Indeed, it had quite a negative effect on my self-image and self-confidence growing up, and I was constantly filled with self-reproach.

It was my own demons I had to constantly battle. Self-esteem and self-image issues surfaced because I was constantly twitching and constantly viewed as abnormal or a weirdo.