The Shock At Billie Eilish’s Tourette’s Syndrome Shows We Need To Speak More Openly About The Condition

'The most common way people react is they laugh.'

Billie Eilish Tourette's Syndrome

by Lydia Spencer-Elliott |

Tourette’s Syndrome, despite the intrigue it generates, is not an uncommon condition. According to recent research, it effects 1% of the population—That’s 78million people. Yet, when Billie Eilish spoke about living with tics in a recent David Letterman interview the world was shocked.

‘If you film me for long enough, you're going to see lots of tics,’ she told the presenter as they sat down to chat. ‘I don’t care. It’s really weird, I haven’t talked about it at all.’

In fact, Billie has done such a miraculous job of keeping her Tourette’s Syndrome (TS) out of the public eye that many fans couldn’t believe she had it at all: ‘Huh, Billie had Tourette’s? I had no idea,’ wrote one user on Twitter. ‘Shout out to her for overcoming it perfectly cause I would’ve never guessed she had it,’ added another.

Does Billie Eilish have tics?

Billie was diagnosed with TS when she was 11 and has experienced ‘small’ tics since. When she’s performing or moving around the tics subside and the ones that happen when she’s chatting in interviews are often too subtle to see: ‘These are things you would never notice if you’re just having a conversation with me,’ she explained. ‘But for me, they’re very exhausting.’

What is Tourette’s Syndrome?

Tourette’s Syndrome is characterised by repetitive and unplanned sounds and movements and is notoriously hard to control. ‘Some people with Tourettes are able to suppress their tics for short periods of time [but] this takes lots of concentration and huge amounts of energy and is often described as being more painful than ticcing itself,’ Emma McNally from Tourette’s Action tells Grazia. So, Billie keeping hers at bay must be incredibly tiring.

‘Many people experience what is called a premonitory urge before a tic, some describe this as a build up of energy, some describe it as a hot painful feeling, others as blood rushing through their body or the feeling of tingling skin,’ McNally adds. ‘Whilst suppressing a tic, this premonitory urge gets stronger and stronger and can be extremely uncomfortable and often means that the individual can focus only on this. This often means that people with TS are then unable to focus on other things around them.

‘Many explain that lots of suppression will in fact lead to a rebound effect and an outburst of tics later in the day, once they are in a comfortable environment where they can tic freely.’

The praise from fans that Eilish has been able to ‘overcome’ her condition alongside her own statement that her tics are ‘weird’ speaks volumes about the way Tourette’s Syndrome is still viewed, despite being so common. ‘People tell us that they feel the need to suppress due to the way that society treats them,’ McNally explains. ‘We believe that this is down to the lack of awareness around the condition and the stigma that is associated with it.’

And even Eilish admits she has mostly been laughed at because of her TS. ‘The most common way people react is they laugh,’ she told Letterman. [They think] that I’m trying to be funny… And I’m always left incredibly offended by that.’

'The most common way people react is they laugh. [They think] that I’m trying to be funny…'

Reflecting on the subtlety of the condition, Eilish added: ‘What’s funny is so many people have it that you would never know.’ Many of these people, she explained, were in the public eye but she wasn’t going to ‘out’ them.

As with all prejudices, the more awareness of the condition the more likely it is the stigma will lessen and the more comfortable those with TS will feel speaking about their condition publicly: ‘I really love answering questions about it,’ says Eilish. ‘It’s very very interesting and I am incredibly confused by it. I don’t get it.’

Fans, with and without TS, have expressed gratitude and relief that Eilish is openly discussing Tourette’s – even if other musicians aren’t ready yet. ‘Thank you Billie Eilish for [] making people comfortable!’ praised one fan. ‘I like when Billie opens up about her tics it makes me feel less alone,’ added another. ‘Billie speaking up has helped so many people, including me,’ echoed a third. ‘Destigmatize!’

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