If you haven’t heard of Graham Kent, you should check him out on CBC Toronto: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/toronto-man-with-tourette-s-says-he-was-kicked-out-of-club-over-tic-1.3174633
We think Graham is really awesome and inspiring so we caught up with him to ask him all about having Tourette.
Tourette Canada: Tourette When did you first learn you had Tourette Syndrome?
Graham Kent: I was diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome in grade three – I was eight.
Tourette Canada: What is the hardest part about having TS?
Graham Kent: I imagine the answer to this would be different for everyone; for me, the hardest part about having Tourette is having a few tics that cause my muscles to ache after a while, and the ache usually causes me to tic more.
Tourette Canada: What is the best part about having TS?
Graham Kent: The best part about having Tourette is when people feel comfortable enough to ask me about it.
Tourette Canada: Do all of your friends and family know about your TS? How did you tell them?
Graham Kent: All of them. If I meet someone new, I don’t go out of my way to make it known, but I don’t hide it if it comes up in conversation. As for how I told them, I’m not really sure how to answer that – with words? “I have Tourette Syndrome”.
Tourette Canada: What was it like to have Tourette and be in high school?
Graham Kent: Tough. I went to a high school in another city in order to attend their drama program. I literally knew only one other person from middle school, and we weren’t really friends. I had to start from scratch. Most people were fine with it. I had some rough years in high school, and some moments that had a real impact on me, but I don’t know how much of it was directly related to my Tourette.
Tourette Canada: Do you have any other conditions like OCD or ADHD?
Graham Kent: This is an interesting one. When I was first diagnosed, I was also diagnosed with both OCD and ADHD. Then, when I was a couple years out of college, I took part in a study where a hospital was seeking people who have Tourette Syndrome *only*. Part of the screening process involved me being “re-diagnosed” by a specialist. After the screening process was complete, the specialist confirmed I had Tourette Syndrome, but felt I didn’t quality for OCD or ADHD anymore.
Tourette Canada: How would you say having Tourette has affected your life?
Graham Kent: Every kid gets made fun of, but kids with disabilities just carry extra ammunition for bullies to use. Some people see me rub my nose and think I use cocaine. Some people watch Deuce Bigalow and think Tourette Syndrome means you swear. I’m a bit lucky because I don’t have too severe a case. I can usually suppress my tics, which are minimal to begin with, and so I’ve been able to reach some small successes with acting.
Tourette Canada: You recently appeared on CBC because you were asked to leave a bar. The bouncer misunderstood your tics and you weren’t given an opportunity to explain yourself. Can you tell us a bit about what happened that night? What would you say to the bouncer if he was sitting in front of you now?
Graham Kent: I went to check on a friend that my group had lost, but wasn’t allowed into the area where she was since it was at capacity. When I went to return to my group and pass on the information, I was stopped by a security guard and told to leave. I asked what I’d done, to which he replied, “We have a zero drug policy.” It wasn’t until I was outside that I realized he might have seen me tic. Any attempt I made to communicate with the staff was met with hostility and threats. If the bouncer was sitting in front of me now, I’d first want to ask him why he’s so quick to aggression. I’d ask him why he thinks I’m on drugs. If he told me he saw me rub my nose, I’d explain that I have Tourette Syndrome, a neurological disorder that means I can’t really help some of the things that I do. Me rubbing my nose is actually a tic – I’ve never done cocaine – and I’d appreciate being able to return to my friends and continue enjoying the night as I was.
Tourette Canada: Do you think that people with Tourette Syndrome are generally understood by others in Canada?
Graham Kent: I don’t think I’m in a position where I can say one way or another. My experience has been that I’m generally understood by those who give me an opportunity to explain, if they even care in the first place. But for those who aren’t willing or able to communicate their Tourette to others, their experience may be different.
Tourette Canada: What do you want to tell others with Tourette Syndrome about being self-advocates?
Graham Kent: Don’t be in the closet about it. Like your height, it’s something you can’t help and can’t change. If you’re afraid to talk about it, you’re effectively telling others – and yourself – that it’s something to be ashamed of. It’s not. Own it. If you own it, nobody can hold it over you.
Tourette Canada: Who are your role models?
Graham Kent: One of my role models is an incredibly funny man who saw me perform a rant at a bar one night and asked me to be in a sketch troupe with him. He wrote some sketches that, to this day, are still some of the funniest I’ve seen. He’s been like a big brother to me, and while I don’t see him as much anymore these days, he continues to inspire and challenge me.
Tourette Canada: How did you get so good at pubic speaking?
Graham Kent: I’ve been on stage most of my life. My first role was in a school musical – I was in grade four. To date, I’ve hosted live events; performed improv, sketch, and stand-up comedy; and acted in theatre, film, television, and internet productions. In short, the same way you get to Carnegie Hall.
Tourette Canada: Any final thoughts?
Graham Kent: Some people have a hard time admitting they’re wrong. But every time you learn something new, you become a better person.
Tourette Canada sincerely thanks Graham for being a great role model and for answering our questions.