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He cannot help himself. The stove burner is hot. He reaches out his right hand, feels the heat rising up from the burner and—flick—touches it. And again. And again. He will not stop until the touch feels perfect.
He cannot stop himself. He has been tying his shoes for 10 minutes now. One shoelace must not touch the other before it is time. Can't have that. He is frustrated from doing it over and over again. There were times as a boy when he would be in tears over this. It's not his choice. It's the way it must be. The laces must feel perfect.
He cannot understand himself. He has been trying to leave the gym floor for the last 45 minutes. He is exhausted. He is gasping for breath. There are two more practices tomorrow, but still he keeps on. He must swish 10 straight shots before he leaves. And not just any swish. The net must snap perfectly. If even one doesn't swish to his absolute satisfaction, he must start over. He will shoot until they all feel perfect.
Every day, every minute, every second, Tourette's syndrome messes with Chris Jackson's life. "Man, there are some days I get to practice and I'm beat," he says. "I'm fighting myself all morning. Getting dressed, I'm tucking in my shirt for 10 minutes. I have to. If I don't, I'll feel crooked out there. Tying my shoes, and touching everything. People just don't know."
And yet without Tourette's, even he admits he would not be where he is today.
Chris Jackson was 17 before he was found to have Tourette's syndrome, a genetic disorder of the neurochemicals in the brain that fully affects approximately 200,000 people in the U.S. and may affect as many as 1 in 1,500 to a lesser degree. Until then folks in his neighborhood in Gulfport, Miss., just thought he was a little peculiar, touching things all the time, whooping uncontrollably, jerking and rolling his eyes and doing weird things like clicking his seat belt in and out, over and over, until the sound felt perfect.
Hell, his family was a little peculiar anyhow, wasn't it? Hadn't his uncle Crazy Willy shot himself in the head? Something odd in the blood?
The son of a white man and a black hospital cafeteria worker, Jacqueline Jackson, Chris was the middle of his mother's three boys, all three conceived with different men. Was it a strain of Tourette's that made Jacqueline do the crazy things she did? Like hiding behind Chris's bedroom door and scaring him half to death. Or often traveling halfway to work and then doubling back to check if a door was locked or the oven turned off, things she had already checked 10 times that day. She had a perfectly good bed she rarely slept in; instead, she slept on the couch or on the floor. Even later, when Chris bought her the best bed money could buy, she wouldn't sleep in it.
Until Chris was in junior high school, doctors thought he had epilepsy and prescribed huge pills. But the pills made him sick, so he would pretend to take them and then hide them in the bricks behind the washing machine at home.
Whatever it was inside his head, it scared him. One day when he was in junior high school, he stood at the mirror and watched as his shoulders gave 100-volt-like jerks as his eyes blinked and rolled, as his head flicked to the side, over and over again. "God, help me stop," he prayed. But he could not stop. Shoulder. Eyes. Head. Repeat and repeat. He stood there and cried. And he cried himself to sleep.