“Passions” star McKenzie Westmore is opening up about her battle with Tourette’s syndrome after keeping it a secret for 31 years.
The 41-year-old actress revealed the news to People, explaining that she wanted to “embrace her Tourette’s” and help spread better awareness to what is often a “misunderstood” condition.
“Nine times out of ten, people make jokes about Tourette’s, and I’ve just had to go with it because I didn’t want to be the odd man out,” Westmore tells People. “And I’ve realized that there’s no such thing as the odd man out, because we all have our own oddities.
“We should all have that freedom to be able to speak freely about what our own disabilities are, because we all have our own issues.”
Westmore was diagnosed with the nervous system disorder when she was 10 years old, and until now she has only opened up about it to close family members: her parents, her husband, and her son.
“I make a squeaking noise, like a mouse, and I still do it to this day,” she explains. “Most people outgrow it when they’re teenagers but I did not. Mine exhibits in vocal tics and in facial tics; I furrow my brows. I always had to lie and say that I had dust in my eyes, or if it’s the squeaking noise to try and distract people.”
When she was first diagnosed, the only treatment was lithium, and Westmore says that her mother “was not going to put a 10-year-old on [such a heavy-duty drug].”
“So I was not put on medication, and I just had to deal with it. And I was brutally made fun of in school, I was bullied, I was beaten up, and I just dealt with it. I had to live with it and get through it.”
It wasn’t until working on the short film “Goodbye Dessa”, created for the Easterseals Disability Film Challenge, when Westmore decided to come out publicly about her Tourette’s.
“The majority of our cast and our crew had disabilities,” she says. “And as while we were filming, I started to research it and I didn’t realize that Tourette’s syndrome is considered a disability. I looked at the Tourette’s community and saw that there was no face for this; nobody to speak on their behalf. I wanted to come out with this.”
“This was something that I had pushed aside, that I had Tourette’s,” she says. “I thought of it as this annoying thing. I’ve realized that I don’t have to hide from it anymore. I don’t need to stay quiet. I can tell people and not be embarrassed.”