I have Tourette Syndrome (Tourette’s). Tourette’s is a neurological movement disorder. For me it means that I have “Tics” (not the bugs) which are movements and noises that I can’t control. For a lot of my childhood, having Tourette’s felt like a negative. My Tourette’s was so severe that not only did I flail and tense my body really hard, I also made loud uncontrollable noises. Because of this behavior I was kicked out of pretty much everything. From movie theaters, to sporting events, to classes at school, you name it. I struggled so much with people staring, or pointing, or asking questions that I shut down and started failing school. Teachers spoke about me as if I made their life harder so I stopped trying and settled into the idea that I wasn’t smart and wouldn’t amount to anything anyway, so why try?
When I was about 15 years old, I ended up going away to an incredible boarding school that really celebrated individuality and creativity. My new school wasn’t for kids with disabilities, just for kids who are different and don’t really fit into a box. In other words, I would come to realize it was the perfect environment for me to blossom. While there, it became clear to my teachers and staff that I struggled with self-love because I had spent so many years hating being different. To me, rather than adding value to the relationships and experiences I was having, I felt my Tourette’s took away from the world. Fortunately, my teachers had enough experience and insight to help me transition to a better place; a place where I could appreciate my gifts and thrive. So, they signed me up for a ton of different classes and workshops to try and find something I love doing, with the hope that it would teach me something about myself that I loved. Though that process, I discovered that I not only loved stand-up comedy, I had a natural knack for it.
My sense of humor became the very first thing that I loved about myself.
In stand-up, you embrace your quirks and whatever makes you different because that’s how you set yourself apart. I once had another comic say to me, “Oh my God, you are SO LUCKY that you have Tourette’s!” and while that can be a strange thing to say, they were being totally genuine. I realized that what they meant was, “Your brain and life experiences are so unique. I bet that means you have great and non-stop material for your jokes.”
I am now an adult but have thankfully realized that while Tourette’s can be hard, frustrating, and even painful, it can also add really cool and incredible things to my life if I am brave enough to allow it. My brain is witty and different (and sometimes widely inappropriate) and I love that about my brain. My brain also has Tourette’s, so I decided to love that part of my brain too. I think Tourette’s adds to my quirk, to the way I see the world differently, to the way I perform and I love those things about me. And for the record, since identifying that single thing I loved about myself I have since found so many more. And most importantly, I don’t think any of those exist DESPITE Tourette’s.
Now undeniably therefore, my life has come full circle. I went from really hating being stared at and hating school to becoming a performer with a lot of Degrees. I have a Masters Degree in Child Advocacy and policy. Besides making people laugh, my goals are to take my life experiences root it in education so that I could work to support the next generation of young people learning to love their differences. Somebody asked me if I had to pick, would I be a child advocate or a stand-up comic and the answer is that I hope to never have to choose. I love them both and they both add different and needed pieces to my life. I am not sure I would feel totally complete without the other.
In the last ten years I have become a professional stand-up comedian and speaker. I travel the world talking to students and teachers at schools, communities, and corporate teams about the importance of embracing your differences, learning to manage any struggles by loving yourself. And of course making smart bold choices! Through these events, people often ask me what advice I have for other people, especially for kids. I’ve realized that there are 5 things I wish I had learned sooner:
- You can struggle and love yourself simultaneously. I waited for a long time for Tourette’s to go away to start loving myself, and I finally realized I can start loving myself now and doing that will help me embrace my Tourette’s instead of wishing it away.
- The people who are changing the world are the ones who see it differently. Being different means seeing the world differently and what an INCREDIBLE thing that is!
- Disability is not a bad thing, we can even celebrate it! How cool that we live in a world where people walk differently and talk differently and think differently!
- Find something you love about yourself. If you don’t have something yet, that’s totally okay, it just means you get to start the journey to find one thing you love (as a starting point!)
- You do you. You are here for a reason. Embrace what makes you YOU and I promise the world will be better for it.
I am four foot six (and a half) and I have a lot of Tourette Syndrome and I LOVE IT and I EMBRACE IT. Truly. While it took time, loving what makes me ME has added to my life in some of the coolest ways possible. While being different has been hard and frustrating and even painful at times for me, I wouldn’t change it for the world.
Pamela Rae Schuller is an internationally known disability advocate, speaker, and stand-up comedian, Pamela’s stories of growing up in a body she had no control over are engaging, powerful, a little bit heart-wrenching, and unapologetically funny. You can see her on BuzzFeed, hear her on Sirius XM, check out her writing on Mayim Bialik’s Grok Nation, or catch her on her upcoming tour of the US and Canada with her one woman show “What Makes me Tic”. Pamela doesn’t just “tolerate” what makes her different; she embraces it, loves it, and finds the funny in it… while challenging her audiences to do the same.
See more at www.PamelaComedy.com and follow her on Instagram @PamelaComedy