The singer was in an interview with David Letterman when she began ticking.
We’ve come a long way in our understanding and representation of chronic conditions. However, certain disorders, like Tourette Syndrome, remain mostly under mystery and stigma.
Symptoms of Tourette Syndrome revolve around involuntary, repetitive movements or sounds known as “tics,” such as facial grimacing, twitching, humming, jerking the head and yelling out phrases or even swear words. These behaviors, which aren’t the norm in most social interactions, have often been the punchline of a joke or resulted in bullying.
Over the years, several celebrities have come forward revealing themselves as having Tourette Syndrome in an effort to raise awareness of the neurological disorder, perhaps the most well known being pop idol Billie Eilish.A year ago in May 2022, Eilish sat down for an interview with David Letterman for his Netflix show “My Next Guest Needs No Introduction” when she began visibly ticking. The conversation that sprung from that moment has recently resurfaced online, and it is a still great example of how we can avoid misconceptions with sensitivity.
While on camera, Eilish experienced a tic where she quickly shook her head, prompting Letterman to ask if something was wrong. When she matter-of-factly stated what was happening—“I’m ticking”—Letterman began asking sincere, thoughtful questions.
First, he asked if something triggered it, to which Eilish replied it was the lights (bright, fluorescent, flickering and flashing lights are a common sensory trigger for Tourette’s). Previously the “Bad Guy” singer shared that her tics manifest less when she’s concentrated on something like performing or horseback riding, but otherwise, they are quite common.
“If you film me for long enough, you’re gonna see lots of tics,” she told Letterman.
Tics can understandably be easy to misinterpret, especially for those who don’t know much about Tourrette’s. Even Letterman admitted thinking that she was “fed up” and looking away on purpose.
“The most common way that people react is they laugh because they think I’m trying to be funny,” Eilish explained. “I’m always left incredibly offended by that.”
Letterman then shared his appreciation for Eilish including him in the conversation, along with concern as to whether or not he might have exacerbated the situation. On the contrary, Eilish was grateful to him for asking and with enthusiasm stated that she “loves answering questions about it.”
Though diagnosed at age 11, Eilish didn’t go public about having Tourette’s until 2018, for fear of being identified solely through her condition. If this is a fear for an insanely popular music icon, imagine what it must be like for folks in everyday life.
In fact, the video prompted a lot of heartfelt responses in the comments section from those who either have Tourette's themselves, or have loved one who displays symptoms. Here are just a few:
"As someone who has Tourette’s, it can be really frustrating how misunderstood it is by the general population. I appreciate her being open about it and bringing attention to it."
"The worst reaction to my Tourettes is 'what the f**k is wrong with you?' Its honestly heartbreaking, and makes me hide away and avoid going out most of the time. And I'm not even on the high end of the spectrum, mine is more stress and anxiety induced, I could go months without ticking."
"When I was little, my parents would make fun of me in front of my siblings. Never realized how much of an effect it would have on me as an adult. Having a supportive inner circle is so important."
"Sometimes my tics are really bad during college, and I frequently get odd stares. I appreciate Billie being more open about it — maybe if more people knew, they’d react differently."
"I’m honestly so glad there's a celebrity as big as Billie who has Tourette’s and will make it more known to people because a lot of people don’t know what Tourette’s are."
This is why awareness is so important. Insensitive reactions can be more than just hurtful—they can steal away a person’s humanity. Tics or no tics, people deserve to be treated with respect. And often that begins with honest, compassionate conversations.