The young girl stood in front of her mother and the doctor, unsure of what they were discussing. The mother’s eyes began to water, sending warning signals to the girl with bright red hair, she then knew that this conversation was anything but positive. Little did she know this was the start of a lifelong journey that would come to affect her whole life.
Mckenna Brewer, 18 year old college student, has been through more than meets the eye. At the young age of eight, she was diagnosed with Tourette’s, a disorder that involves uncontrollable repetitive movements or sounds, more commonly known as a tic. Although many see the case in its extreme or within small habits, there is middle ground.
Her Mother, Cathy Brewer, was hit hard by the news. She frantically searched for parents who knew what they were doing, rented books from the library, and researched until the late hours of the night. Brewer added that, “I was so terrified for my daughter and I was in the dark on what to do, luckily I was able to find people who understood and reached out to me. I tried my absolute hardest to help my daughter through it.” After many years of trial and error, Brewer had it down, and knew exactly what her daughter had and what she needed.
McKenna Brewer has a vocal tic, where she makes small, but loud noises. She describes it as, “Noises that I honestly do not even realize I make until someone points it out. They are high pitched and make me trip up my words.”
Now that Brewer is older, it only becomes severely noticeable when she is excited or happy, but she was not always so calm; her tic used to be an everyday, common occurrence. “I remember the first time someone asked me about it in class,” Brewer laughed, reminiscing on a time when she feared her disorder.
“They did not say much, but she gave me that judging look and it made me want to suppress everything,” explained Brewer. And so she did. “I would choke down my words just to feel normal,” adds Brewer.
This became a habit within itself, and Brewer’s disorder became her own little secret. When times became especially rough, Brewer would confide in her mother, spilling tears that were louder than her tic.
School was a whole other ball game. Whenever a noise would slip through her sealed lips, her cheeks would become red in shame, embarrassed when everyone’s eyes fell on her. Truly, she felt like a disruption both for others and herself, recalling that she felt as if, “I needed my own room to learn, it was distracting to always be worried about who was looking and listening. I struggled to do work in school, I was always up late finishing homework.”
Brewer explained how she especially hated when teachers would call on her when her hands was not raised. Brewer knew the answer, but she did not want to speak for fear of something coming up. What if she let out a noise? And worse, what if someone noticed? Brewer was terrified of her classmates bullying her, so she stayed quiet and reserved, contrary to what her bright red hair said about her.
Brewer was not always so timid. Before third grade, Brewer was fierce and outspoken. Her mother, laughed about old memories of her daughter, “She was a very loud kid, and very confident for her age,” but then Brewer grew melancholy thinking of the painful experiences her daughter has gone through, “She has definitely changed a lot, she is still quite outspoken, but she did lose a bit of her confidence and I hate that it is because of her Tourette’s.”
Brewer had everything figured out as child, she knew what she wanted and how she was going to get it, and as childish as that may sound, Tourette’s took that confidence away from her. It stripped Brewer of her happiness and in return gave her a mind full of anxiety. One can only imagine how damaging it could be on such a young brain, and nothing got better in middle school. If anything it got worse.
“In elementary school kids did not really notice my tic, but in middle school people were a lot more blunt. They never asked about it, but they sneered at me, giggled with their friends, pointing fingers. It was a lot to put up with at that age.”
Brewer agrees that school was the biggest obstacle in her experience with Tourette’s. Her mother added on that, “At that age, kids do not know the severity of their words and I would always get so upset when they got away with what they did to my daughter.” But beside school, Brewer did feel safe in one place, home. “My family has always been so supportive of me, and we have always been close. My sister and I have a great bond and my parents are always giving me great advice. They are a huge reason I was able to get myself back up.”
At home, Brewer could breathe easy and talk as much as she wanted without growing timid. Her words flowed so easy that she never wanted to leave. But the real world called and before she knew it, high school had begun. “High School was extremely scary for me, I did not have many friends freshman year, so I did not have the best start.” Like before, Brewer’s fears had followed her into her teenage years, haunting her ability to meet new people and figure out what she wanted to do. But Brewer was determined to change
Obviously, surrounding herself with friends and family that accepted her helped Brewer grow more confidence and was part of the reason she is the way she is now.
Someone who was always able to cheer Brewer up on the worst of days was her grandma. Although, thousands of miles away in Pennsylvania, a simple call could stop her tears. Brewer smiled at the mention of her name, claiming that, “My grandma has always been very encouraging and can cheer me up almost immediately. I miss her immensely, so every time I get to visit her, I cherish it,” admit Brewer.
Although love can be the best remedy, there is no doubt medicine was a huge part in helping her Tourette’s syndrome. Clonidine, a medicine that helps reduce the frequency and severity of ones tic, can be taken in pill form, or even as a patch on your arm. Either way the medicine helped Brewer, like millions of other children, in controlling her tic and helped build up her strength again. Though some days it seemed to do more harm than good, it would make her sleepy and more susceptible to sickness. But slowly Brewer became less dependent on the medicine, eventually seeing amazing results her senior year.
“Nowadays I find that my tic rarely comes out, sometimes when I am really stressed or excited it will show up, but It is not noticeable like it used to be,” Brewer says.
But before all this could happen, Brewer had one more thing she needed to conquer: college. Before she even had to apply, the stress of college was already a weight on her shoulders. Maybe not so much because of her Tourette’s, but Brewer admits figuring out what she wanted to do was a huge part of overcoming her anxiety. Her grades were amazing, even with all
four AP classes she took, and her job, she managed to come out on top. Brewer finished her junior year with a 4.3 GPA, and was ready to take on the challenge of applying for college. Brewer had no idea what to do with her life at the time though, she continued that,
“I had no clue where to apply and what major to start in. But my dad really helped me find my way, I did some programming with him over the summer and decided it was what I wanted to do.” Figuring this out gave Brewer a breath of fresh air form the stress of junior year. Plus she already had her sights set on Colorado University’s prestigious engineering program, and no less alongside her best friends. Later, in the fall, Brewer received her acceptance letter into the engineering program. Elated that she had finally managed to get through high school, she could not help but think back on her past and how Tourettes made her life ten times harder, but made her ten times stronger.
“Seeing the progress I have made makes me extremely proud of myself. When I had just been diagnosed, I was so unconfident and scared, even through ny tween years I struggled so much, but highschool really helped me in a way I can not explain. Although my insecurities still get to me once and awhile, I am so much happier and healthier than before,” Brewer commented.
Brewer’s senior year could not have gone any smoother, apart from a small bumps in the road, graduation came quick. Brewer admitted she was extremely nervous to leave highschool behind, “As dramatic as it sounds, walking across that stage was scary, it symbolized the end of a part of my life and suddenly a new chapter began,” and Brewer was ready as she could ever be for the new adventure.
Brewer thought she was ready to set off for college, but as the move in date approached, her tic began to appear more frequently, she again became terrified of the judging eyes of college students. What would they say? Bigger classes meant more people would see her.
Brewer admitted that “I have tried my best to stay positive with this transition from highschool to college, but I can not help but feel very stressed out. I love it here, but my tic has been more frequent with the stress of a new atmosphere.”
On top of that, Brewer added, that Calculus 1 has been kicking her butt. But with her father’s help, she was able to pass. Brewer laughed about always calling her father for help, “To me, my dad is a math magician. He just has this ability to solve any problem thrown in his face and everyday I work to be like that.”
Brewers father, Gary, is no doubt amazing with math, although he was not always like that. Just like his daughter, Brewer struggled throughout high school with Dyslexia. His grades were low, but eventually he was able to bounce back, similar to his daughter. When I asked Brewer about his elder daughter, he replied that, “I am very proud of her and what she has been able to pull through. Brewer worked extremely hard to be where she is today and she deserves to succeed.”
Similarly, Brewer’s mother is just as zealous. Brewer went to her in the darkest times, confiding in her when she felt like no one was there. She has seen her grow up out of her hard shell
and become a strong woman, “I get emotional thinking about her progress. Seeing her once so sad about her disorder and now seeing her exceeding at her life, it makes me so happy,” Brewer’s mother commented.
It seems at this point, that Brewer’s Tourettes has done nothing but bad on her life, but Brewer confessed that, “Tourettes is not something I would wish on anyone, it is hard to push through, but truly it did teach me to be strong and to be passionate in what I believe in. It is a part of me I can never erase and I have accepted that.”
It is true that the young girl that once feared her disorder has come to accept and cope with everything it throws at her. Somehow that fragile girl was able to conquer her fears and use them to her advantage. Tourettes is no longer a secret for Brewer and she is willing to own her situation, she added on that, “I am actually planning on getting the blue Tourettes ribbon tattooed on my ankle. I want to be able to look at it when those insecurities get to me and remind myself of how strong I truly am.”
But Brewer still has a very long way to go, a whole life lays ahead of her. Brewer is sure to push through the obstacles life throws at her. Brewer has evidently been through alot, but somehow she was able to overcome the monster that once was her disorder. She knows deep down that the fight is still not over as, “Tourettes is not something that is just going to go away, it is going to be with me forever,” Brewer commented. Almost in finality, she parted with me saying that, “All I can say for sure is that I am happy and my Tourettes is not going to change that anymore. I know what I am capable of and I am so much more comfortable in my own skin. I do not suppress my voice anymore, if anything I make sure everyone can hear it,” shares Brewer, who has truly prevailed through her syndrome and has made amazing comeback from the shy girl she once was.
Seeing her so happy is a delightful sight for someone who has seen her suffer so much. Brewer truly is a brave, confident spirit who has shown that nothing can stop her, even the disorder that once controlled her.