Climbing with Tourette Syndrome


Hi. My name is Cyane. I love being outdoors, I positively adore climbing and, oh, yeah… I have Tourette Syndrome (TS).

Whoa, no; I don’t swear. No, um, I don’t think it’d be more fun if I ‘developed’ the swearing kind. No, actually, it is not the perfect excuse to swear.

Hang on; let me clear up some common misconceptions here. Let me tell you what TS is really.

First, imagine the biggest sneeze you can.

Now, hold it; don’t let it out. Even if the pressure builds.

That feeling. Right there. Imagine that feeling in your body constantly. That is the closest feeling I can relate to how Tourette Syndrome feels. That is the best way I know to explain to other people how I nearly always feel.

It’s a purposeless tension that is always building, that must be released somehow.

Cy and her climbing partner/husband.

Cy and her climbing partner/husband.

It’s like the moment before a sneeze.

Like trying not to blink.

Like chasing an impossible itch across the back.

Like suppressing a hiccup.

Like chills.

Usually this feeling culminates in an action known as a tic. Tics can be classified as either motor or vocal; they either move some muscle(s), or they make a sound. Another important thing to note about tics is that, like a sneeze, they are nearly impossible to control.

So, the swearing? Unless you really, honestly, truly cannot control it, and you have some physical tics to accompany those irrepressible curse words, then no, please do not blame it on Tourette’s. (Besides, that version of Tourette’s is quite rare; honestly, I feel terrible that individuals with that form of TS have to deal with so much misunderstanding and teasing about their condition. They can’t help it, but you probably can. So, come on, friends. We can stop using it as a joke, right?)

As for what Tourette’s is like for me, really, I can tell you that it’s loud. Obnoxious. Hilarious. Painful. Embarrassing. Constantly changing. Exhausting. It’s also one of the many reasons why I love climbing so much.

Something changes

Climbing allows all of the physical tension of Tourette’s to disappear for Cy.

Again, for me, Tourette’s is an ever-present, purposeless tension. But, when I touch the wall, as I strategize through the problem or the route, as I focus all my body on sending, my Tourette’s (with all its many tics) seems to disappear. The physical tension is redirected; my mind is intent on navigating the holds.

I feel unburdened as I race my way through an easy warm-up.

I feel clarity as I’m grunting through an overhang, willing my feet to be silent and my core to pull me just a little tighter to the wall.

I feel incredible.

I feel like just another climber.

Someone who knows her core could use a little more tough-love off the wall.

Who pushes for those extra few seconds on the fingerboard.

Whose hands instinctively love the feel of cool rock.

We all have reasons for climbing. We all have hopes, and desires, and things to overcome. For me, in part, it’s my TS; but it’s also the next crag, the next climbing project, the next crux. So, next time you’re around my mountain range and you see a woman ticcing away before hopping onto that rock, come say hello. I bet we’ll find that we have a lot in common.

Thanks Cy for sharing your story, educating and inspiring us all! Climb on! ~Cate

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4 thoughts on “Climbing with Tourette Syndrome

  1. Steven Ross says:

    I see it helps with Dyspraxia, depression all kinds of issues!

    Nice to know it helps with your condition too!

  2. Love your story and as a climber I know exactly how you feel there.
    As a Dentist who treats Tourettes with treatment of the underlying TMD which always seems to be present it was really refreshing to see how you you explained how you felt. Wonderfully descriptive..
    Keep on climbing!

  3. Too both: Crux Crush and Cy. Great Post!

  4. Teresa Dupuis says:

    My daughter has TS and climbing is one of the only times she doesn’t tic. 🙂 she LOVES it! She plans on starting a blog about it, too!

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