Asked to write an article about living with Tourette’s at work, I honestly had no idea where to even start. I’ve never been much of an essay writer(I’m a handyman and gardener by trade), and planning what I want to say is not my forte, so I figure it’s best to start from the beginning of my work week and simply write as if I’m having a conversation with all you lovely readers.
So, I guess, here goes… I start almost every week with an entire day in one of my favourite gardens. 8 hours of weeding, grass cutting, hedge trimming, tree planting, the list goes on. Every visit is different to the last. Except every week, at some point during the day, I’m hit by one of the many possible co-occurring conditions related to Tourette’s, anxiety. How to explain the feeling. Well, I get a tight feeling in my chest. I wouldn’t say it’s hard to breath but I definitely feel restricted. I guess it maybe feels somewhere between “I’m about to cry” and “I’m going to be sick”. Neither of which have ever actually happened, mind. Now there’s no reason for me to feel anxious. I know the garden. I'm confident in the work that I’m doing. I get on fantastically well with my client. I’ve been here almost every week for coming on 10 years now.
Maybe it has something to do with being back at work, away from my home/family/safe space after the weekend. Could it be some kind of sadness? Or maybe I feel a bit tired after a relaxing couple of days and I just need some time to get back into the swing of working. Is the feeling stronger after a whole week off? I’ve never fully been able to answer the questions in my head, on this or so many other subjects. And so we come to the next facet of my own personal neuro-diversity. What goes on in my brain on a day-to-day basis when I’m alone in other peoples’ spaces. Tourette’s is usually defined by having both vocal and motor tics. I have both but, to be honest, I’d categorise them as mild. I do live with a fair amount of neck pain from head tics and I often get stuck with a feeling that my throat needs clearing that no amount of coughing can shake but I’m pretty lucky and I’ve managed to cope without it bothering me too much or too often. This, coupled with the fact that most people reading this probably have experience with these types of tics already (and many of you probably have it a lot worse than me) makes me feel like this particular piece of writing should focus elsewhere. That being said, let’s get back to my brain. When I have a thought in my head it often becomes like a tic in itself. I don’t have any speech tics but my inner monologue can be a real pain in the arse. So often, I’ll be thinking about something and my mind will become stuck on a single sentence. Like an un-melodic earworm that will repeat over and over again. As I write this I’m struggling to get the words out because, in my head, I’m repeating each sentence multiple times(for those that don’t know, tics of all kinds can be triggered by something as simple as someone mentioning it). At no time is this internal struggle more prominent than when I’m not completely happy with a thing I’ve said. Tourette’s can come with an innate sense of justice. A real difficulty with moving on from something that you feel is unfair, whether the fault lies with someone else or yourself and, for me, I struggle most when I feel that I’m at fault. If I feel that I’ve said something that was unfair, uncalled for, or even if I’ve said something during a debate with someone (I do like to talk politics) that I later realise I could have said in a better way, it can play on my mind for a long time. I’m talking years later I’ll remember it and it will still bother me. And these things can be tiny. Completely insignificant things that everyone else has completely forgotten. It’s bloody weird and it’s even more annoying. This sense of fairness probably has more of an impact on my work than any other part of my Tourette’s. It also has an effect on my home life, to an extent, as it actually prevents me from earning more. I’m a tradesman. I’m self-employed so I decide what I charge and, in turn, what I earn. I charge more per hour, as standard, than most people earn. Roughly double the minimum wage, just to give an idea. This means I earn pretty well overall and I feel extremely lucky, especially in this day and age. Most garden maintenance jobs are charged at an hourly rate, however, when I take on a larger task(landscaping, decorating, etc) I have to give a quote. This is where the first problem arises. I’ll quote for materials and labour(and I quote a day rate above that of my hourly just so you know) but then I’ll look at it and, more often than not, I’ll feel it’s too much. The way I quote means I’m probably already cheaper than most, but something niggling in my head will make me overthink it.
Many times I’ll then drop the price before sending the quote and sometimes by the end of the job I’ll realise that I’ve actually earned less than my usual hourly rate. This can also be exacerbated when I have a labourer as I’ll always feel like I need to make sure they’ve earned enough before thinking about me (and labourers are constantly telling me I don’t charge enough).
Other times I’ll get to the end of a job and realise that I’d actually quoted for a day more than it took and have an argument with myself about whether to knock it off the final invoice. I don’t need to. As far as the client is concerned they’ve got a good job done at a good price and they are happy to pay what I originally quoted. I’m the only one with a problem and it can really bother me, as if I decide to keep the extra I feel bad, as if I’ve in some way been unfair to the client, but if I do knock it off I then feel like I’ve in some way let myself or my family down. It’s maddening. Another problem caused by this sense of fairness is perfectionism. I lay patios. I’m on my hands and knees all day, staring at a spirit level, so I know exactly how level the slabs are and how level they need to be. Sometimes, no matter what you do, you just cannot quite get a slab to do what it’s supposed to. Whether that be a fault with the slab or with me, it can cause me real problems. Again, the customer has no idea. They see the finished paving and they are chuffed to bits. It looks fantastic. But in the back of my mind that one slab that didn’t quite sit as level as I’d hoped will eat away at me and oftentimes cause me more anxiety on the next job. Finally, I’d like to mention rage. It’s the thing that comes with my Tourette’s that bothers me the most as I feel embarrassed by it. I’ve learnt to deal with everything else and frankly, I’m pretty comfortable with it all. Even the bothersome bits caused by the fairness thing have an upside in that Tourette’s may well make me a better person. Every now and again though, something will go wrong and I simply cannot control my anger in the moment. This is embarrassing at work and I always feel the need to apologise to the client and anyone working with me.
It’s also the cause of most of my “dad guilt” but that’s an entirely different article. And so we’ve come to the end of my ramblings for today. Hopefully, some of you have gained a better understanding of Tourette’s from reading this. Or maybe some will now see that they are not alone in certain feelings they experience. Either way, thanks for taking the time.