Bayside resident spreads Tourette Syndrome awareness through social media campaign

Screenshot from video by Peter Zhao

A Bayside resident is using social media to bring awareness to Tourette Syndrome.

Using just his cellphone, Peter Zhao films videos of his daily life living with Tourette’s and posts them to Facebook and Instagram using the hashtag #7daysofTourettes.

“It was created by a friend of mine, Marco, who goes by ‘mrmoveandspeak’ on Instagram,” said Zhao. “We’re hoping that more people can use the hashtag to share their daily lives living with the condition and challenge people to show their true selves.”

Zhao’s videos document his own experience living with the Tourette’s, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which he said often comes hand in hand. He covers a range of topics in the minute-long videos including traveling on the train, updates on his children and how he manages his Tourette’s symptoms.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Tourette Syndrome attacks the nervous system, causing people to have tics or sudden and repeated twitches, movements and sounds. The tics can range from eye blinking, shoulder shrugging, throat clearing or yelling words or phrases.

The Bayside resident recalls that he started showing signs of the disorders when he was a young boy living in China. When he was 8 years old, his parents started noticing that he would stick out his tongue as if he were “copying a snake,” but chalked it up to it being a bad habit.

Zhao’s symptoms got worse when he and his family moved to the United States and by 14 he had developed other tics including repetitive eye blinking, jaw and neck twitches, and yelling curse words.

He was formally diagnosed in the 1990s and managed his symptoms with the medication Orap until he was 20. Zhao said that although the medication aided some of his symptoms, it made some of the other symptoms worse, including intrusive and suicidal thoughts.

Though he does not always advocate for those with Tourette’s to go med free, Zhao has learned to manage his symptoms and tics in a variety of ways. He goes to a reflexologist who specializes in Chinese medicine, exercises, freestyle raps and even learned ventriloquy vocalization techniques to modify his vocal tics.

On May 19, Zhao will be participating in the National Awareness 5K Run/Walk at Flushing Meadows Corona Park in an effort to spread even more awareness about Tourette Syndrome. He learned about the opportunity following a recent visit to the Tourette Association of America headquarters in Bayside, which is the organization in charge of the event.

He shared that organizations like the Tourette Association are great resources for learning more disorder and getting proper doctor referrals.

Zhao’s advice for those learning to manage their Tourette’s is “don’t beat yourself up.”

“Just because your symptoms return doesn’t mean you failed. There’s no cure for Tourette’s, you just have to live with it, own it and make the best of it,” Zhao said.

Follow Zhao on his YouTube channel at Fabulously Tourette to keep up with his #7daysofTourettes videos.

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