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Lewis Capaldi's Journey with Tourette's Syndrome: Beyond the Spotlight

Unveiling the Power of Compassion

Last year, I completed a master’s degree in health psychology at King’s College London. Now, I am a clinical psychology student at the Université du Québec à Montréal, where I am privileged to learn from Professor Julie Leclerc, a leading expert on child development and Tourette’s Syndrome. My educational trajectory has provided me with a nuanced understanding of various psychological stressors and their extensive implications, especially for those confronting mental health challenges.

Through writing, I believe we can distill intricate research into relatable narratives, providing readers with a deeper understanding of diverse psychological journeys and the broader context in which they unfold. Ultimately, my aim is to cultivate a more compassionate and informed community, particularly for those navigating distinct challenges.

In the realm of music and performance, there exist extraordinary moments that transcend mere entertainment, resonating with the depths of the human spirit and underscoring the profound power of compassion.

Such a moment unfolded when Lewis Capaldi, the acclaimed Scottish singer, experienced an intense tic attack during his 2023 performance at Glastonbury. Astonishingly, the crowd united in a display of empathy, completing Capaldi's song for him. This act of compassion reverberated, not only among those present, but across various social media platforms.

Image source: BBC. Lewis Capaldi on stage at Glastonbury

Capaldi's rise to fame has significantly increased public awareness and understanding of Tourette's Syndrome (TS), shifting societal perceptions, and promoting greater inclusivity and empathy towards mental health.


Understanding Tics and Exploring Tourette’s Syndrome

Tics are sudden, involuntary twitches, movements, or sounds that individuals perform repeatedly. While those with tics cannot control these actions, the manifestation varies across disorders. There are two primary disorders characterized by tics: Chronic Tic Disorder (CTD) and Tourette’s Syndrome (TS). In CTD, individuals may experience motor tics, like repeated blinking, or vocal tics, such as involuntary grunting. In contrast, those with TS exhibit multiple motor tics combined with at least one vocal tic. Both require the tics to last over a year for diagnosis. Whilst ~1.87% of people experience CTD globally, ~1% specifically have TS.

While the symptoms of these disorders often stabilize or diminish after adolescence, approximately 0.08% of adults continue to exhibit persistent tics indicative of CTD. In contrast, about 0.005% of adults maintain symptoms consistent with TS. Despite their moderate prevalence, tic disorders are often neglected in terms of public understanding and research, highlighting the need for increased awareness and support. Indeed, Capaldi was diagnosed with TS at age 25, reflecting how many cases can go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed.

Adding to the complexity of tic disorders, individuals with tics often face additional challenges. Over 90% of sufferers experience co-occurring psychiatric disorders, including anxiety and mood disorders which contribute to academic or occupational challenges and social struggles and can diminish overall quality of life. Furthermore, disruptions in daily activities and social interactions caused by tics can lead to feelings of discomfort, frustration, and embarrassment, further impacting an individual’s well-being.


Tension, Time, and Release: Capaldi’s Parallel Journey with Music and Tourette’s

As Capaldi’s TS symptoms persisted, they became entwined with his musical journey. To many, these appeared as simple quirks or eccentricities typical of an artist, masking their true nature as signs of a neurological condition. Capaldi’s success in the music industry, despite his previously undiagnosed condition, is a testament to his resilience and musical talent.

From playing drums and guitar at age two, to singing in pubs by nine, Capaldi's early years were marked by fervent musical dedication which subsequently catapulted him into fame. However, whilst his career has boomed, he struggled with his mental health. In the documentary, "Lewis Capaldi: How I'm Feeling Now", he delves into his journey, intertwining his struggles with the pressures of the music industry and the challenges of his condition.

A prominent theme of the documentary is Capaldi’s struggle with the demands of staying relevant in music. He states that, “the clock is ticking”, to create new music as successful as his first number one hit, ‘Someone You loved’. One can draw a parallel between Capaldi’s experience with his tics and the pressure of his fame. Individuals with TS often experience premonitory urges, a mounting tension before a tic manifests, which is only relieved by the tic itself. Thus, both aspects of Capaldi’s life bring an inherent sense of pressure and urgency, reflecting the daily struggles faced by many individuals living with tics.

Throughout the documentary, Capaldi fearlessly embraces vulnerability, shedding light on the intersection of his extraordinary talent and the everyday realities of living with TS. His openness about his experience humanizes him, showing us that behind the captivating performances and chart-topping hits lies a person struggling with their mental health, acting as a reminder that even the most successful individuals are navigating their own unique challenges.


Embracing Tourette and Tic Awareness: A Path Forward with Compassion

Capaldi's journey in the music industry extends beyond his hits and stellar performances; it has become a narrative that illuminates the realities of living with tics and dispels their misconceptions.

His viral performance was more than a display of talent but a genuine glimpse into the life of someone with TS, underscoring the resilience of those who live with the condition. Capaldi's forthrightness in sharing his experiences paves the way for a broader dialogue, emphasizing the importance of empathy, understanding, and compassion.

Nonetheless, the conversation does not end with understanding alone. It is about fostering a society that moves beyond awareness, to active inclusion. A society where those with TS, or any condition for that matter, feel valued and seen for their inherent worth and contributions. Capaldi's story is a testament to the transformative power of compassion and the bridges it can build.

As we reflect on his journey and that of many others with tics, let us actively work towards a world that not only recognizes but celebrates our shared humanity, in all its diversity. By doing so, we take a collective step towards a brighter, more understanding future for everyone.

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