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Twitch and Shout
Lowell Handler
A Touretter's Tale

Published by The Penguin Group/NY in 1998


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Anyone who has seen Mel Gibson's Lethal Weapon movies may not realize it, but you saw him portraying a person with Tourette's Syndrome. Read how a professor of Neurology describes it in the Foreword and see for yourself.

[page xviii] Over the years, I learned to recognize a particular mental quirkiness, quickness, and jerkiness of thought processes. It may also result in a certain sense of humor, with wickedly unexpected turns of phrase of parables. This quick quirkiness of the mind parallels the quick quirkiness of the movements, as some Tourette's patients are unusually gifted at sports like karate and various ball games.

The author of this book, Lowell Handler, has Tourette's Syndrome and this book is his attempt to understand himself by explaining this syndrome that has infused his life since a child. And yet, he shares with us about Tourette's a statement that he keeps on a card to give people:

[page 156] To those who have experienced it, no explanation is necessary. To those who haven't, no explanation will do.

This book is his story and it is punctuated with his photographs. Superimposed views of the heads of twitching Touretters top each chapter. Only a Tourette photographer would have thought to allow still photographs to demonstrate the uncatchable essence of a Touretter in motion. In addition to the still photographs, Handler produced a movie called "Twitch and Shout" as well. The twitching is obvious to most people, but the shouting portion may come as a surprise. Fast, quick sounds like barks are emitted along with the twitches in many Touretters such as Handler. Touching others, touching themselves, touching the ground, and weird unexpected noises create the presence of a very strange person to the outside world, and yet to a Touretter, this is the aura they create about themselves everywhere they go, everywhere but in the presence of other Touretters. One could sense the relief that Handler felt when he first went to a conference of Touretters - he could be comfortable with himself in a group of others who were similar to him.

During the early part of his travels he came to New Orleans, to the French Quarter. This was like being in a whole part of a large city that was filled with a large percentage of people like himself. Not that a lot of Touretters live in the Quarter, instead it's because the people in that neighborhood see all kinds of unusual behaviors from transients, drunks, weirdos, and street people. He immediately felt at ease among "tourists, transvestites, and black and white visitors crowding the streets, often drunk from libation in 'go cups.'" (page 17)

He sought help from a speech therapist for his problem with talking and was chagrined to find that as elements of his speech improved, new twitches, spasms, and tics (repetitive movements) broke out as if in an attempt to relocate his speech mannerisms elsewhere in his body. Later he found out that this is characteristic of Tourette syndrome.

As a teenager he liked to listen to rock music very loud and when requested by his father to turn the volume down, he would have to move the volume control all the way to the maximum stop of the knob before lowering the volume. From this he received a pleasant sensation that made the action irresistible to him. From his description of the volume control knob process on page 39, it seems clear that a doyle, a physical body state stored before five years old, may be involved. If so, the use of speed traces to remove some of the more onerous behaviors of Touretters may be possible. At this point in the early stages of the development of the science of doyletics, we have no evidence that points to this possibility, but it is certainly well worth investigating.

The most famous Touretter in history is undoubtedly Samuel Johnson, the author of the first English language dictionary. Handler describes the circumstances of Johnson's birth and one can discern the wide variety of horrendous doyles that would have been stored during such a birth. Did these birth trauma doyles contribute to the subsequent Tourette syndrome? One can only speculate until further research is done. A longitudinal study of difficult births is one avenue of research that holds promise for detecting a relationship between birth trauma and Tourette's. Perhaps one has been done already outside of my knowledge.

[page 122, 123] Johnson's mother was forty years old when she gave birth to him. He described the hard birth, attempting to come to grips with the anxiety experienced during adulthood: "My mother had a very difficult and dangerous labour, and was assisted by George Hector, a man-midwife of great reputation. I was born almost dead, and could not cry for some time. I was taken home, a poor, diseased infant, almost blind."

Handler provides us more clues to Johnson's illness when he provides an excerpt from Walter Jackson Bate's biography, Samuel Johnson. In this piece he points to sensory triggers from the outside that start the body moving in unforeseen ways, which description aptly describes what a doyle is: a trigger from the outside calls up a stored doyle which manifests as a physical body state of autonomic movement in unexpected or inharmonious ways.

[page 126] ". . . the discovery that the mind - far from being either a serene, objective, rational instrument, or, as the radical materialist thought, a sort of recording machine that works in mechanically happy union with whatever outside experiences press the button - is something unpredictably alive in its own right. Ands when something outside stimulates or pokes it into activity, it can start moving in any number of unforeseen ways that are by no means in harmony with things outside it."

Not in harmony with things outside it perhaps, but in harmony with things inside it, namely, doyles. Handler says that the essence of Tourette is "that the mind has a mind of its own." (page 126) This idea of having two minds becomes not so strange when one realizes that, as doyletics teaches us, human beings have two forms of memory: cognitive memory and doylic memory. Cognitive memory is what we usually call memory: images, sounds, sensory data called to mind of a previous event. Doylic memory is something new, namewise, but much older than cognitive memory evolutionarily speaking. In the root brain or brain stem region the limbic system was the first portion of the human brain to develop and it was not capable of memory as we know it, cognitive memory, that is. Cognitive memory had to wait for the extensive development of the outer layer of the brain we call the neocortex. What kind of mind did we have before the development of cognitive memory? We had the ability to store primitive and indistinct visual data, sounds, feeling states, organized motor operations, and the homeostatic condition of all our major internal organs and nervous systems. In other words this primitive brain could store doylic triggers (visual, auditory, sensory data, etc) and doyles (all the rest of the list of physical body states above subsumed under one precisely defined word, doyle.) Triggers and doyles. Whenever a given trigger occurred later in our ancestor's life, the doyle associated with it arose automatically, without conscious intent or recognition of the reason.

If the shadow of a Cave Lion fell across the cave when one was in one's mother's arms and she became frightened, we became frightened with her. She, of course, would have taken immediate precautions to save her life and us. Later as an adult in a different cave, if the same shadow, or one similar to it, fell across our cave, we became equally frightened and took precautions to prepare to defend our life and our family's life. That primitive, caveman mind lives in everyone of us today. To talk about that caveman mind in us, we use the term doylic memory, a type of memory that the limbic system of our brain stem provides us yet today. That is the type of memory that is the root of all the complex of feelings we call emotions - those feelings called up by thought alone (or some external stimulus that simulates a childhood, pre-five-year-old stimulus).

"Like Tourette, life is unpredictable and erratic," Handler says on page 126. With insight into our two minds of cognitive memory and doylic memory and the tools for controlling the unpredictability arising from unconscious doyles, one can add the phrase to Handler's statement as follows, "life is unpredictable, up until now."

What is it, in all the theory of doylic memory, that leads me to think that doyles may be at the source of Tourette's syndrome? Nothing but the possibility that doyles are connected to other doyles. The limbic region can store a doyle associated with a thought or an external stimulus. In addition a doyle may be associated with another doyle. Also a doyle itself may be the trigger stimulus for another doyle. Doyles are all stored in the same place, and the very process that links a doyle to an external or internal stimulus can link a doyle to another doyle, which is after all an internal stimulus. Suppose the doyle of turning a volume control to the right to increase the volume gets connected to the doyle of a hard turn all the way to the right to a stop. That would be a way to describe what Handler described as a compulsion he had as a teenager. (See page 39.) Suppose the doyle of touching of someone with the left hand gets attached to the doyle of touching of someone with the right hand resulting in a doyle of pleasant satisfaction. That would describe another of Handler's compulsions.

Doyles are likely stored in the two amygdala of the limbic system both of which have direct connections to the hypothalamus and thence to the motor cortex and reflexes. Doyles can be linked together in a looping structure so a movement doyle results in the triggering of the same movement doyle. This linking would result in the following: a very fast movement of a portion of the body followed by a very fast repetition of the same movement. I'm no expert on tics, but I believe that I have just described what a tic is. Thus, we can form the hypothesis with some plausibility that tics are in fact looped doyles. Whether they are or not will require much research. I only point to a possibility for research that my hypothesis suggests.

Is Tourette's syndrome controllable? The popular medical opinion is no, not without drugs. The insights of the science of doyletics seems to say yes Tourette's is controllable without drugs. Read what Paige Vickery, a flutist and conductor in Denver, says about the syndrome from her own experience:

[page 154] When I concentrate Tourette goes away. I don't notice it goes away, it just does. If I put my baton down, there is silence, not a sound in the house.

If concentration, which dramatically changes one's internal bodily states, can cause Tourette's to go away, this clearly points to a possible doylic origin of Tourette's. Handler asked her, "If there were a pill that would take away Tourette forever, would she take it?" Her answer was instructive:

[page 155] "I would rather not have Tourette, but I probably would refuse it, simply because you have to be careful of what you wish for. What will it undo? It could take away part of who you are."

A "little pill" has no specificity, as one could conceive such a pill, so Paige has fears which, given her question, one would have to say are justified. But suppose Paige were offered a different choice, this choice: "If you could choose to be free of only the unwanted tics and the most onerous symptoms of Tourette's without the use of drugs, would you choose to do so?" Ultimately the deep answer to her question, "What will it do?" will only come from brave souls who are willing to risk giving up portions of their Tourette's to obtain goals which have otherwise been out of their reach, up until now.


Any questions about this review, Contact: Bobby Matherne


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