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The Truth behind Tourette Syndrome: Lessons from It’s Okay, That’s Love

Lee Kwang Soo as Park Soo Gwang with Tourette syndrome.

There is a Korean drama highlighting the story of a man’s struggle to love himself for who he is and live a normal life while living with Tourette Syndrome; called “It’s Okay, That’s Love”, this TV show was released in 2014. In this series, the main character Park So Gwang was portrayed by Lee Kwang Soo. But as realistic as any work of fiction attempts to be, K-Drama isn’t reality. So what does reality look like for someone with Tourette Syndrome? In this article, we will discuss Tourette Syndrome in a greater depth.

What you need to know about Tourette Syndrome

Tourette Syndrome is a neuropsychiatric syndrome which is characterized by the appearance of multiple motor tics and at least one vocal tic that occur simultaneously throughout the course of the syndrome, which often goes through highs and lows over time. Tics are sudden, quick, involuntary movements that arise through either genetic factors or neurochemical imbalance; due to this, Tourette Syndrome is classified as a neurological disorder. But why is this syndrome also classified as a psychiatric disorder? Well, this is because Tourette Syndrome often displays symptoms of psychiatric disorders, including difficulty focusing or attention deficit, hyperactivity, and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).

What do symptoms of Tourette Syndrome look like? An example of tics in Tourette Syndrome is well exemplified in Lee Kwang Soo's character Park So Gwang. Tics look different in each person, occurring anywhere from the head, body, arms, hands, to even legs. Motor tics range from simple involuntary actions like sudden lip movements, grimacing, lifting shoulders, and blinking to more complex ones like pinching, making rude gestures, and jerking one’s head; similarly, vocal tics are divided between simple and complex. Examples of simple vocal tics are coughing, snoring, yelling, barking, clearing one’s throat, and crying; conversely, complex vocal tics include repetition of words, cussing, and other actions that may be considered socially inappropriate.

It’s important to note that according to research, Tourette Syndrome shows genetic inheritance patterns that were found in the majority of the cases. Between men and women, men are more likely to exhibit symptoms of the disorder. Usually, the defining characteristics of this syndrome begin to appear in teenagehood. 

Life with Tourette Syndrome: misunderstood due to coprolalia and copropraxia 

Someone with Tourette Syndrome may suffer due to their symptoms, particularly in a social setting. Symptoms that are most significant are coprolalia and copropraxia. What are coprolalia and copropraxia, you may ask? Both are involuntary expressions that may not be the most socially acceptable; the difference is that coprolalia takes the form of words while copropraxia is in the form of actions or behavior.

For someone with Tourette Syndrome, the sudden, unexpected rise of coprolalia and copropraxia in a social situation may cause the situation to become awkward, lead to a feeling of embarrassment, or even generate misunderstanding. These symptoms cannot be voluntarily controlled by the individual, and worse yet, they have the potential to become even worse with an increase in stress levels.

A few studies investigating the effects of Tourette Syndrome on individuals who have it have concluded that this disorder brings about negative effects on familial relations, friendship, and interpersonal relationships. A study cohort consisting of individuals ranging in age from 16 to 54 years old reported problems around family relationships in 29% of its participants, difficulty in forming new friendships in 27%, and excessive self-consciousness in 15%.

Coprolalia and copropraxia are also signs that the disorder has worsened, signifying that dysfunction has spread widely in the brain. Going forward, these symptoms may even affect one’s physical health and their quality of life. 

Hope for those with Tourette Syndrome

Symptoms of Tourette Syndrome can disappear on its own, over time, as one gets older. Although individuals with Tourette Syndrome often experience countless challenges in meeting new people, networking, and searching for jobs, many of them have admitted to having a solid support system in the friendships that they’ve formed. So if you are currently struggling with this disorder, keep your head up! You are so loved, you’re not a burden, and your struggles are valid.

The importance of seeking professional help

Many individuals are still hesitant to pay a visit to a professional due to the notion that many healthcare professionals still have limited knowledge regarding Tourette Syndrome and those who suffer from it. On the other hand, some refuse treatment because they believe that they’ll eventually outgrow the symptoms of Tourette Syndrome or, at the very least, adapt and get used to them. Such things prevent many people from seeking an official diagnosis from a professional despite the fact that ironically, many medical professionals now have quite expansive expertise and knowledge of Tourette Syndrome thanks to the advancement in medical research on the subject. The sooner one seeks professional help, the quicker they would receive a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

Perhaps there is also a belief that someone who is experiencing tics due to Tourette Syndrome does not require treatments or medications. Medications are only given if symptoms are serious enough to cause significant issues in daily life or interactions; however, a professional diagnosis could help one discover other problems that may come with Tourette Syndrome, both in the physical and mental sense. Similarly, an assessment of disease progression also requires professional evaluation. Looking at the reasons above, it’s evident that seeking professional help is a crucial step in the right direction for anyone with Tourette Syndrome, regardless of the severity of their symptoms.

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