Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Twitch and Shout: Book Review

"Son, neurological disorder is the wave of the future."

This statement by the author's father is from the frontspiece to Twitch and Shout: A Touretter's Tale, by Lowell Handler. I've said something similar to my son, but reading Handler's memoir gave me more a bit more insight into what he deals with every single day. In middle school, no less.

On one level, Handler's book is an enjoyable coming-of-age, overcoming disability, finding your niche story. But it also has some startling (to me, anyway) insights into Tourette's Syndrome and OCD:

I know a woman with OCD who thinks continually of the word Ebola. Regardless of what is happening around her in conversations or on the television or radio, she is thinking Ebola. The fact that the word represents a horrible, deadly virus does not matter to her; more significant is the sound the world makes audibly and in her mind when it's repeated. She is fascinated by the "acoustic contours" of the word itself. Touretters often develop such an obsession with words, lost in an amusement park of the mind where thy can spend hours turning over the vocal and mental variations in form, inflection, pitch, and even the meaning of a world or phrase. A single word may become the roller-coaster ride for a Touretter on which he or she can be carried away for hours, unable to complete another task (p. 37).

Handler relates his interviews with several other people with TS (including those featured in the film he helped make, with the same title) and I thought this explanation by Adam Seligman was intriguing:

"My theory about all Tourette symptoms," Adam continued, "is that you have a buildup of pressure, which must be relieved by an action. The action is either a physical movement, a sound, a ritualistic compulsive act, or an obsessive thought. If you don't relieve this pressure it builds up, and you feel like you are going to explode (p. 92)."

Twitch and Shout is was clearly ahead of the game when it comes to explaining the need for health care reform and orphan drug support (it was published in 1998), and it also includes fun and interesting stories about eating nasturtiums with Oliver Sacks, Zulu ideas about Tourette's, self-medicating, humility, degrees of disability, and humor.

As an unexpected bonus, I love black and white photography, and Twitch and Shout is nicely illustrated with some of Handler's photographs. In fact, a little web browsing shows that Handler's photographic work is amazing. Check it out, along with his book.


Stephanie said...

This sounds really good. I'll keep an eye out for it. :)

Sadako said...

This looks really good. I remember reading another book, Motherless Brooklyn, also from the POV of someone with Tourette''s an interesting read. This one looks great as well!