Can you help me stop twitching?
June 5, 2011 8:29 PM   Subscribe

Since I was a little boy I've had all sorts of facial twitches. I don't think this is a medical issue because they're not involuntary. The problem is that at this point in my life I'm so used to twitching that I can't stop. If you can imagine, it causes me a lot of stress.

The twitching happens practically all over my face. Squinting my eyes, scrunching up my nose, opening my mouth wide, pulling my neck, clenching my teeth, blinking hard, blinking rapidly and finding it hard to stop until I get it just right, peering out from the corner of my eye, clearing my throat, swallowing, inhaling/exhaling completely (until there's no more room), and probably some more I'm forgetting.

These are not amazing descriptions, but it's hard to describe muscle spasms. They don't last long, but happen in succession, maybe a few in a row.

I can usually control myself when I really need to (around people), but even then I have trouble. I'm worried that at this point I don't even realize when I twitch. If I stop and think about it, of course I can hold off twitching for a few minutes, but the thought of breaking decade-old habits is daunting.

When I twitch, it's like I'm trying to soothe a muscular itch, twitching until I get that "feeling" of relief. I tend to twitch more when I'm tired, and it tires me out even more. After a couple bouts or so, I might come to my senses and stop.

The blinking problems are stupid because, when it's bad, sometimes I can't even keep my eyes open. The breathing problems are obviously bad because I can't breathe properly.

Does anyone have any advice? I'd appreciate any help or ideas.

Thank you.
posted by jykmf to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Have you discussed this with a doctor? Because, as a daughter of someone with Tourette Syndrome, it sounds a lot like the tics of TS. These tics are really strong compulsions, not involuntary movements, and there are all kinds (not just the heavy cursing you see in movies).
posted by katillathehun at 8:38 PM on June 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Seconding possible Tourette's. This is treatable -- see a physician!
posted by TheLittlestRobot at 8:42 PM on June 5, 2011

Also: an excellent book about TS is Amy S. Wilensky's Passing For Normal. It's a good read for anyone, I think, but if it turns out you do suffer from TS, I recommend it even more.

Like TheLittlestRobot said, it IS treatable. Don't confuse that for curable, but there are medications and non-medical techniques that can help you manage it.
posted by katillathehun at 8:45 PM on June 5, 2011

I did this for many years with my right hand, which shook horribly all the time. It wasn't involuntary, it simply felt more comfortable/natural than keeping my hand motionless so I did it a lot. I solved my problem by addressing some underlying emotional issues and massaging my hand with the back of a vibrating electric toothbrush. The stimulation helps to calm my hand muscles. You could also use a more expensive, more powerful massager but try a cheap, battery-powered toothbrush first.
posted by acidic at 8:46 PM on June 5, 2011

I used to have extreme neck pulling, blinking hard and rapidly. For me, I can tell you that it's anxiety and stress. I think I had so much pain and stress in my body and soul from childhood traumas that I would do this. It's my theory, I'm not a mental health professional and I have never had a diagnosis. I know myself and I am certain this is why I had all of these tics.

My mother did it, too. Especially the blinking and people used to tell me that I blinked just like my mother. I had no idea I was blinking so abnormally. I knew I would pull my neck in but I had no idea I did it so often until people commenting that I would pull my neck like a turtle. I used to compulsively pull my neck in over and over. That was a big one.

I have a dear friend that clears her throat and I can tell you it is stress and anxiety and nothing else.

I have stopped doing it. I no longer have tics and if I do they are very rare. I have had some therapy. I have grown and matured and forgiven and I'm much more relaxed and at peace with who I am.

Good luck to you.
posted by Fairchild at 9:00 PM on June 5, 2011

IANAD, and I agree with the Tourette's Syndrome possibilites, but...

Stereotypy could also be an explanation. A lot of behaviours can be considered stereotypy. I play with facial hair all the time, my sister constantly twirls her hair. As I'm typing this, my right leg is going a mile-a-minute. As I think of what to write next, I'm twisting some chin hairs. Your facial twitches could be a form of this. Read the Distinction from Tics section of the Wiki; it's saying a lot of info that the OP is presenting.
posted by XhaustedProphet at 10:24 PM on June 5, 2011

Best answer: Chronic Motor Tick Disorder. I also have this. My mom has this. You could see a neurologist if the condition is severe. I personally have found that people don't notice my CMTD unless I tell them about it. Lowering my stress levels helps keep symptoms at bay also. Feel free to message me on here if you have any specific questions.
posted by JesseBikman at 11:00 PM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you can't stop doing it, then it is, by definition, involuntary, right?

You really should see your doctor.
posted by inturnaround at 11:01 PM on June 5, 2011

What you describe sounds a lot like stimming (self-stimulatory behavior) as seen in people with Asperger's syndrome or who are otherwise on the autism spectrum.

It can be a sign of stress, or paradoxically, a sign of relaxation (my friend with Asperger's tells me that when he is too stressed, he can't stim, because he is *too stressed to stim*.)
posted by Year of meteors at 11:02 PM on June 5, 2011

Best answer: Well I for one jykmf had this when I was younger.

A guy at school had propper involuntary muscle twitching and I found it fascinating. I tried it to see how it was and then - it stuck. I started blinking hard, then blinking lots, then I remember at one point in my life (I was playing football at school with my friends) I had to stop playing football because I couldn't see, my eyes were blinking so much they were essentially closed. Then I started pulling my voice box (making a very high pitched god-whining kind of noise) then as I grew, it changed yet again into pronunciation of very hard constant sounds "X-KSSS" "G-Ghu" "J-j-JHE" for damned-if-I-knew-why.

Thinking about it now, I have always had something or other that has been in my life. A while ago, it was a mixture of quivvering my right thumb and tensing my stomach muscles.

The success I had was to try and make myself change these habits, as I understand it, losing a habit is very very very hard. So I focussed on giving myself a new habbit (or twitch, spasm, whatever you want to call it) So currently, I have moulded my habbits into kegal exercises (tensing the pelvic floor muscle (i think thats what it's called) ) and reminding myself to sit up straight.

So now my habbits now involve correct posture and strengthening my gentleman area - Winner!

Good luck with everything man
posted by Cogentesque at 2:56 AM on June 6, 2011

Extreme anxiety can cause things like that.
posted by mleigh at 3:19 AM on June 6, 2011

Response by poster: I really appreciate everyone's answers.

It seems like what I have is Tourette Syndrome or Chronic motor tic disorder (the two seem to be connected). Some of my descriptions match word for word (felt like I was reading about myself), and as I read I was more and more amazed that my problems have all been documented in other people.

I actually felt better today, for several reasons. First of all, it's a bit of a relief to know that other people are struggling with the same thing, and I'm able to give my problems a name. I suppose, before, I didn't even know how to tackle this issue because it's hard to solve a problem you can't define. Nothing has changed, but being able to say to myself that I have Tourette Syndrome/Chronic motor tic disorder somehow helps me relax.

katillathehun, I will take a look at that book. Thank you for your sort-of internet diagnosis.

acidic, I'll give the massage method a try. My twitching tends to go away when I'm relaxed so it makes sense. This also means I'll attempt to be less stressed out in general.

XhaustedProphet, I checked out Stereotypy/stimming and I don't think that's the cause of my twitching. There are some subtle but distinct differences I can see. However, it may be a possibility.

JesseBikman, thanks for your input. It seems like CMTD/Tourette's is what I have.

Cogentesque, seems like you and I went through the same thing (though, I think I started twitching on my own). I really like the idea of shifting the habits towards something more productive or less intrusive/stupid looking.

The next time I see my doctor I'll bring up this issue and hopefully she'll have some idea of what to do. Even if I don't seek professional help, I feel better just having addressed the problem.

Thanks very much.
posted by jykmf at 2:14 PM on June 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

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