A London woman utters the word “biscuit” over 16,000 times a day.
Jessica Thom suffers from Tourette disorder and engages in several tics such as saying the word “biscuit 900 times in an hour, beating her chest, and hitting her forehead against the wall. At times, Thom also involuntarily swears and creates guttural sounds.
The 32-year-old detailed her journey in her new-memoir Welcome to Biscuit Land: A Year in the Life of a Tourettehero which hits shelves in October.
Although Thom repeatedly says biscuit, which means “cookie” in Great Britain, she does not recall feeling hungry when she says it involuntarily 16 times a minute.
In one day, Thom said she has hit her forehead with a phone, a carton of apple juice, keys and a strawberry.
In her new tell-all, Thom explained what it is like living in a world that reacts to her outburst which has been both heartwarming and heartbreaking. She admitted that she can now laugh at her unique quirks and flares by comparing herself to Bridget Jones.
“I know I tic all the time and it sort of pisses me off — biscuit, biscuit," Thom told reporters. "But if I paid attention to it all the time, I wouldn't get much done. Sometimes with the Tourette's, I get overloaded — biscuit, biscuit. I'll punch myself in the chest hundreds of times a day and my legs move erratically about."
The National Tourette Syndrome Foundation defines the condition as a neurological disorder that is expressed by a variety of motor and vocal tics that last over a year. Tics can include shouting, throat clearing, grunting, and barking.
"The challenges are dreadful, but it has helped make me a more resilient and empathetic person," she said. "You can overcome most things, and I have become more confident."
Symptoms are typically apparent before the age of 18 through involuntary movements of the face, arms, limbs or trunks which can result in kicking or stomping.
Less than ten percent of those suffering from Tourette have tics that involve using swear words or other inappropriate words.
Dr. Jonathan Mink, chief of pediatric neurology at Rochester University, who sits on the board of the Tourette Association, recognized Thom’s condition as one of the most extreme cases.
"She is probably not thinking 'biscuit' all the time," said Mink, who does not treat Thom. "It's kind of an urge of need to do it. A lot of people say it's like an itch that needs to be scratched."
Dr. Mink said that one in 100 children suffer from Tourette which is often linked genetically. He also noted that in addition to Tourette, patients can suffer from attention deficit hyperactive disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder.
"The majority of kids, even those bad enough to seek treatment, are likely to have their tics diminish or go away," Mink said.
Even though habit reversal therapy and antidepressants have been used to treat disorders and tics, Thom said that it has not worked for her.
"I tried instead of banging my chest to try to stretch my arm out, but it didn't work for me," she said.
She also tried taking medications but they only produced unwanted side effects. Instead, she only takes muscle relaxants.
Thom described her physical tics as “a bit like suddenly being wrenched from the inside or as if someone's put itching powder in my blood."
Although she lives with a roommate she still finds herself at risk of danger. Thom recently fell in the shower and has been bound to a wheelchair.
Despite her struggle, Thom finds solace and self-acceptance in writing.
"For I long time, I struggled — if I just tried a little harder or concentrated more, I could catch that tic," she said. "I look at a close friend [who has Tourette syndrome] and I can see her tic and recognize that feeling in my body and how it looks from the outside. Never for a moment do I expect her to control that, so I am more patient with myself."