A young Derry man has spoken publicly for the first time about his life with a Tourette’s type disorder in a bid to raise awareness of and challenge misconceptions of the condition.
Damian Friel (22) first started to develop tics - involuntary movements and vocalisations - in November of last year while he was being treated for depression.
Since then he says he has been subjected to ridicule, has hidden himself away and has even been filmed while out in public.
But now he says he is determined to challenge ignorance around the condition and to provide support for others living with Tourette’s - a condition for which there is still no definitive cause.
“Lots of people laugh in my face and stare and, at the start, I would have locked myself away,” he told the ‘Journal.’
“I was afraid to leave the house, afraid of embarrassing myself, of being judged and always having to try to explain what was happening.”
In one incident, Damian, who is among only 5% of all sufferers to develop tics in adulthood, was filmed on mobile phones while ordering food in the city centre.
“It was really obvious they were filming and laughing at me. I approached them and said: ‘Look, it is really difficult for me to leave the house, I’m afraid of people judging me, and what you are doing is really not helping me.’ They laughed in my face, turned their heads away.
“It left me gutted, really degraded and angry. For a couple of days I didn’t want to go out at all.”
Damian currently has a diagnosis of transient tic disorder - a diagnosis of Tourette’s Syndrome is made if the tics last for more than 12 months.
His involuntary movements include pointing and saluting while his vocal tics include whistling, clicking and popping sounds.
“At the moment I am not even officially diagnosed,” he says, “even though people are looking at me as if I have Tourette’s.
“I’ve got to the stage where I tell people that is what I have; it makes life a lot easier. To be honest, a full diagnosis will open up a lot of doors for me, especially in terms of treatment.”
Damian has immersed himself into researching Tourette’s and tic disorders and says he is determined to challenge the misconceptions surrounding the condition. He also plans to establish a support group - something he says is currently lacking.
“I am really lucky that I am a confident person and happy to talk about my experiences. But there are others who hide away because of the fear of being judged. But that’s not the path I want to go down.
“I know that around one in every 100 schoolchildren have some form of tics so there’s a lot of people and a lot of families living with this.
Damian now wants to hear from anyone who may be experiencing a similar situation. He can be contacted via email - firstname.lastname@example.org - or via his Twitter account @DamianFriel
“It would be brilliant to chat with other people with Tourette’s. I am really keen to do whatever I can.”