Welcome To Biscuit Land: A Year in the Life of Touretteshero (Souvenir Press, 2013) is Jessica Thom’s personal story. Written in a diary style format, the reader becomes a “fly on the wall”, traveling with Jessica through her day, each month out of one year. Living in London, Thom’s entries describe her many interactions with strangers using the public transport system, her frustrations and challenges and provides a clear picture of what it is like living with Tourettes, a widely misunderstood neurological disorder that, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, affects nearly six per 1,000 children in the United States alone. The reader learns that things most people take for granted, like washing one’s hair (Thom refers to it as “shampoo bowling”), is challenging for someone living with Tourettes.
On page 10, Jessica Thom warns the reader: “If you’re easily offended, this isn’t the book for you. If not, welcome to my mind.” Thom is referring to her recording of vocal tics which include profanity. She explains that she belongs to the group of 10% of people living with Tourettes who swear involuntarily. Stephen Frye, an English actor, screenwriter, author and television presenter for the BBC, met Jessica Thom doing a series of programs for the BBC about language and he wrote the forward to the book in which he humorously refers to her profanity in his last paragraph. He shared a video of Jessica on his website during the period of time that she was writing the diary. Jessica Thom, in the video, describes Tourettes as “(It’s) not my problem; it’s my power.”
Her story is an honest, moving account and during the writing of the book, her physical tics increasingly had an impact over her life, forcing her to use a wheel chair due to impairment of mobility. She introduces the reader to her friends: Leftwig Idiot, Fat Sister, King Russell and Poppy and describes how these individuals are her main support and loyal friends. The back of the book includes frequently asked questions and answers about Tourettes Syndrome.
She never writes with self-pity. In fact, humor is sprinkled throughout her book as she even records some of her favorite vocal tics that included “I’m sorry for crashing my life into yours” or “Noah, learn to swim and leave the Barn Owls behind.” On page 75, she describes how a political campaigner rang her doorbell and as he was speaking about the local election she couldn’t help but tic “Yay, sheepdogs!” during his presentation. Needless to say, he was quick to leave her door stoop.
Reading her book, I was struck by the ignorance and cruelty of strangers: one London cab driver asked her if she was possessed; a woman filmed her, using her phone camera, jerking and twitching on a London train; another woman at the post office refused to stop screaming at her, demanding that she stop swearing; teenagers, middle aged and elderly people alike, nervously stared, commented or laughed at her. Through every unpredictable reaction, she tries to explain to them her condition and explains to the reader she feels a “need to prove I’m sane.”
She writes about the impact the side effects of medication have, how her mobility makes public transportation nearly impossible, how her sleep is interrupted by shouting, jerking or “throwing myself against a wall”. She explains why she needs to wear padded gloves at times, to protect her skin from damage when she cannot control how her hands bang against her chest. She shares her feelings of loneliness and at one point writes that she was feeling “broken, sad, and desperately alone.”
But Jessica Thom quickly regroups and in later entries chooses to focus on the kindness of strangers and the support she receives from personal assistants, friends and programs like HRT, Habit Reversal Therapy (an approach to manage tics and replace damaging tics with ones that have less physical or social impact). She shares how much she enjoys swimming and working with children and shares the interactions she has with the children as they question her about her tics. These interactions are amusing, touching, and sometimes humorous.
She even created Touretteshero, an organization that celebrates the humor and creativity of Tourettes, and its tag line reads “Changing the world one tic at a time.” Jessica Thom wears her superhero costume as she educates children and adults about the disorder.
This book is a valuable one for anyone who lives with Tourettes or knows someone who does. It sends important messages of encouragement like “Most problems are solvable if you get creative.” Or sharing what her friend Leftwig Idiot said to her when she was feeling discouraged: “You have to believe that something is possible first and then look for ways to make it happen, otherwise you don’t even bother trying.” Her optimism is evident throughout this heart-warming story, and Stephen Frye said it best when he wrote in his forward; Welcome to Biscuit Land is “her gift to the world”. Jessica Thom is inspirational and her story will help, encourage and amuse millions of people around the globe who understand or want to learn what it’s like living with Tourettes.