For 26 years... someone haunted me... until I finally discovered...

At first it was very subtle - almost imperceptible - kind of like when you’re up before dawn and daylight somehow just sort of creeps up on you. You’re working on something, then you look around, and suddenly it’s brighter. It happens so gradually, you hardly even notice it. That’s what it was like.

I think the first thing was the blinking eyes. You know how kids sometimes blink their eyes a lot to make a strobe affect to the world. Try it and see – blink your eyes real fast for a few seconds – see? So I think it was the blinking eyes… or maybe it was the grunts.. or maybe it was the head twitch. Like I said, it’s almost imperceptible at first. In the beginning it didn’t bother me very much. It probably bothered my parents much more.  And like any mystery, you try to give it meaning based on what you know at the time. When you don’t understand something, you try to make it familiar. And that sometimes works. But in this case, only for awhile. 

10 years old

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I found God when I was 13. Not that He was lost or anything but…well, you probably know what I mean. And I became a very spiritual kid. In fact, I found a diary that I had kept about that time and saw how much faith influenced my life at that time. (DIARY PHOTO HERE) It had about 9 months’ worth of entries and it gave me an incredible window into my life at that point. Some days were pretty normal and boring. 

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 But as an adult it’s easy to forget that young teenagers can feel some pretty deep feelings. Some days were incredibly difficult.

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12 years old

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Yea, I’d say the vocal grunts were the most obvious sign of my “nervousness”.  I put that in quotes because I always knew I wasn’t nervous. I knew it. I was a very calm and collected individual. But there’s that context again. Tics, grunts, head twitches – yep – must be nervousness. What else could it be? So I read books on how to relax. I read everything I could about deep breathing exercises. And my diary? 

AUDIO HERE

Now, you may be wondering why every entry ends with the letters “RWG”. That was my code for “Relax With God”. (DIARY PAGE PHOTO HERE) Every day I wrote that to try and remind myself to stay relaxed and not do these strange things because I hated anytime someone would notice that… weird guy that always followed me. And that’s what it became. It became this entity that would constantly haunt me and I would constantly deny him. I would deny his existence. And I would deny any power he had over me, because he wasn't me. I wasn't nervous and I certainly wasn't a weirdo like him. 

13 years old

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So I hated the idea of me being nervous. But do you remember in the beginning when I talked about trying to give meaning to things we don’t understand? Well if it wasn’t nervousness, there was only one other  thing I could accept as an explanation for this – habit. I could accept the word habit. “It’s his habit. He just has to quit doing his habit.” 

AUDIO HERE

So I hated the idea of me being nervous. But do you remember in the beginning when I talked about trying to give meaning to things we don’t understand? Well if it wasn’t nervousness, there was only one other  thing I could accept as an explanation for this – habit. I could accept the word habit. “It’s his habit. He just has to quit doing his habit.”

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And so I began to think that’s what it was – a habit. In fact, everybody thought that – my friends, my family. That became the way I interpreted it for years – 26 years to be exact.  And consequently that was how I tried to deal with it. I read books with titles like “30 Days to Break a Bad Habit” and “How to Get Control of Your Mind and Body”. Because if I could just get control of this habit everything would be OK. I’d be able to get a girlfriend; I’d be able to get married; I’d be able to get a good job; but none of this could happen until I got control of my habit. Strangely enough, as much as I came to hate the guy that had all those strange “habits” – head twitching, facial movements, vocal grunts - he did help me develop very strong self discipline. I became very disciplined in a lot of areas of my life - except for my habit. As hard as I tried, that’s the one thing I could never seem to control. And like most things, it was the most frustrating to those closest to me – my family.

13 years old

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Sports were a big part of my teenage life. I’ll never forget when our guidance counselor came into one of our classes one day to introduce a brand new sport that our high school was offering. I can still remember it: “Gentlemen, we are offering a brand new sport here at Columbiana High School. It’s a sport that will develop more discipline in your life”. (Right there he had my attention – more discipline… Hmmm… get rid of my habits?) “It’s a sport that will that will get you in better shape than any other sport this school has to offer. At the end of the season you will have bigger muscles, better grades and you’ll also know the meaning of life”. (he might have exaggerated just a little bit) “Gentlemen, for the first time in the history of Columbiana High School, we are going to have a wrestling team”. He went on to explain all about the weight classes and the training and those weird little helmets that make you look like a space alien. And he cast an incredible vision of what we would look like at the end of that first season.  And I’m thinking – big muscles, great abs: girl magnet! And this is a very important thing when you’re 14 years old, not to mention possible help with my “habits”. So I was one of the first to sign up.

Now, if you know anything about wrestling it’s a very solitary sport – just you and the other guy on a mat in the middle of the gym with everybody staring at you. And it seemed like every time I would get keyed up for a match, I would get another unmistakable visit from… well you know who.

14 years old

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It’s easy to give the impression that my life has been a series of struggles and setbacks – but it hasn’t. I’ve actually had a great life. In fact, I’ve had a very blessed life. It’s true that for 26 years there was this guy that wouldn’t leave me alone and complicated life a little more. But it didn’t detract from an otherwise normal life. 

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You see, I just knew I had to conquer this thing; or conquer him; or make him go away somehow. In fact, that’s what it became like: someone who was part of me and at the same time someone who I wouldn’t allow to become me. There was no mistaking the tics and the grunts and all the other things that this guy would do. But I never let it be me. I never acknowledged that this was who I was. 

16 years old

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That scene at the barbershop was over 30 years ago and I never went back to Don’s Barbershop after that. Don’t get me wrong, Don was a great guy - he was just trying to help. See, for some reason I developed a “habit” pulling on my hair right back behind my ear, to the point where I literally had a bald spot behind my ear. But the barber shop incident was just another one of those times where I would shut down any conversation that had to do with the other guy. He wasn’t me. He couldn’t be. He was nervous, I wasn’t. He would jerk his head and pull his hair, and I didn’t do that. He would grunt like a pig in heat and I didn’t do that. Because if I did, I wouldn’t be able to get a good job. And I wouldn’t be able to get a girlfriend. And I wouldn’t be able to get married. I certainly wouldn’t want to have kids because they might start doing some of those weird, crazy things. So he wasn’t me. He was someone else. And the sooner I could get rid of him the better. 

19 years old

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Music has always been a huge part of my life. You can probably see why by now. Because every time I lost myself in music I would lose… I would lose that guy. It was like he either didn’t want to be around when I played or, or maybe he was and it just calmed him down. Whatever it was, he didn’t bother me. I remember many nights I would go home and start playing the piano before I went to bed.  Most of the time I just made it up as I went. It probably drove my parents nuts because you could hear the music all through the house and they were usually in bed by that time. But they never said anything. Maybe somehow they knew it was my way of getting rid of the guy for awhile. 

My friends and I formed a band when we were in high school and played together all through college. And after college we traveled all across the country for a couple years. It was a great experience – we were, seeing the country, playing music and making $15 a week. But when you’re cramped up in a motorhome for weeks at a time, it’s hard to keep the guy from showing up.

22 years old

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Remember the girl by the lake? Her name was Lynette - and I married her. Somehow, some way, I was able to control my habit enough that she thought it wasn’t a big deal. Or so I thought. You see, the guy never left. And what I found out as we lived out our life together is that she loved me so much it didn’t matter. And you know what? I couldn’t accept that. I mean, I was grateful for her love, but the guy still had to go. He wasn’t me. He wasn’t my friend. And she certainly shouldn’t have to live with me and him. You see, I could keep him away quite a bit when we were in public, but at home it was a different story. He would sit there on the couch when we watched TV. He would eat supper with us. He would be on the deck when we cooked out. He would intrude on almost every area of our private lives… except of course when I would play music. And you know what’s incredible? I knew that she loved him as much as she loved me. But you know what else? I wouldn't accept that. 

26 years old

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I think someone hits a fast forward button when you get into your 20’s and 30’s. Because all of a sudden that same person hits the pause button when you’re in your 40’s and you look back and wonder where the last 20 years went. At least this was the way it was with me. We had another beautiful daughter, a great marriage, and I had a great job. And all of this happened even though he never went away. But something else also happened about that time that would become a defining moment in my life. Through a series of circumstances I would be forced to look at this guy; to reluctantly consider the possibility that he had some kind of reason or even legitimacy for haunting me all my life. And of all people, it was my wife Lynette who would first introduce us and ask that we finally get acquainted with each other.

39 years old

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Tourette Syndrome.

I didn't even know how to spell it much less what it was. But the defining moment came when my wife Lynette told me about that piano player on 20/20 that had Tourette Syndrome and did the same kinds of things my guy did. And of course, I denied any connection at first. That was always my MO - shut down the conversation and quickly move on to something else – too embarrassing to work through. But slowly I began to see that guy that did all those crazy things – I mean, actually see him - for the first time in my life. And the more I researched this thing called Tourette Syndrome, the more I realized this could be my habit, my nervousness, my weirdness, all wrapped up into one, explainable and understandable thing.

And so by the time I went to the neurologist I had researched this enough that it was more for confirmation than discovery. I now knew this was the “meaning” I had been searching for, for 26 years.

Now don’t get me wrong, I did not embrace him immediately and say “Hey, let’s be best buddies now”. I mean, for 26 years I shunned him. I denied him. I actually hated him. But from that moment on we slowly started to change from two entities into one. And as with many things in my life, the first major breakthrough to acceptance came when I was with the ones I love the most – my family.

40 years old

VIDEO HERE