The Streamer Who Could Not Stop Saying the N-Word
This is a bit of an usual story for me to write. It is not about technology, programming, rockets or history but about the struggles we humans can go through exemplified by a social media personality which caught my attention. Despite all the scattered thoughts and a lot of doubt, I decided to post it.
Imagine playing a computer game online with other people. Suddenly you start yelling the N-word into the microphone without intention. Not just once, but repeatedly. We live in a society and online world more conscious of race and sexual orientation. It is hard to imagine anything more taboo to shout into the microphone. You can imagine the backlash.
This was essentially my introduction to Twitch streamer Sweet Anita in the media. She has a rare variant of Tourette syndrome called Coprolalia. It causes those who suffer it to say obscene, socially inappropriate or derogatory remarks.
I cannot ever remember meeting anyone with Tourette or at least not anyone with Coprolalia. Thus I was curious.
Youtube gives us access to people with life experience we would never have known about in the time before social media. I have listened to people who have been in prison for many years of their life. A Yakut native of Siberia explaining her life traveling abroad while looking Asian but speaking and thinking like a Russian. The life of a Japanese Ramen Chef. I’ve watched a gay American couple detail their life in Copenhagen, Denmark. I have heard African-Americans living in Sweden, German and other places in Europe compare their life and challenges with racism. All this gives us a unique ability to walk in the shoes of people with very different life experiences from ourselves. Hopefully making us more open minded and less prejudice.
However, Anita gave me the first window into the life of someone with a neuro-developmental disorder. I admit that when I learned about Tourette’s as a teenager it was something we sort of laughed about. We imagined this crazy person just spewing out vile vocabulary uncontrolled. We never spent any time thinking about what it would be like to be that person.
Anita has all sorts of videos about doing silly stuff. Watching her play games with other players while saying the most inappropriate words felt like a form of entertainment. It was easy to get into that mindset because Anita came across as such a charming girl who says the worst words in the most cheerful and disarming fashion. Often these words would get combined in ways that made everything quite comical. She would laugh at herself and it all seemed in good fun.
I suspect like many others I continued watching because it was intriguing and entertaining. However the more I learned about Anita, the more I got reminded of the famous quote from Robin Williams.
Behind a charming and fun exterior there was a person who had lived a very hard life and in many ways still was living a difficult life. Getting to know her life story threw me a loop. It was pretty dark.
A Dickensian Childhood
She had gone to school as a child in dread, because she would get put on the spot by teachers and students for saying inappropriate things in school. Her last day at school was at the age of 13, when older students attacked her and beat her into a coma. All because she had said inappropriate words she could not control.
Going to school while staying safe was simply not possible. Nobody believed her. They thought she was seeking attention. Even outside of school the torment did not stop. She had a paper route to make some money like many other teenagers. This also became impossible as kids would chase her and throw stones at her. She would come home bleeding from the head and face. Thus she was forced to stay inside almost all day. Not for weeks, but for years. She remarked on how she watched summers pass by outside while other children played and her life was draining away.
Such a bleak childhood made me think of a sort of modern day Charles Dickens novel. Except this wasn’t the end of it. You see her mother suffered a serious illness from she was a young child which kept the mother in bed. Her mother could not work. The paper route actually gave money she needed to buy food.
Anita with all her problems had to care for her mother from a young age, maker her breakfast and dinner. She had to pay the landlord and even arrange her own doctor appointments while she was still only a child herself. Without much income, the debt collectors would come and take all their stuff. Eventually when there was no more stuff to take, they became homeless.
Here is a part I am not quite sure I have understood correctly: She had a father and I believe she may have lived with his family at times. However nobody in that family seemed to have accepted her behavior. She would get regularly punished for her tics. For somebody who suffers Tourettes, a tic could be an involuntary movement, word or sentence spoken. Thus she would knock over glasses, shout inappropriate words. This would lead to her being sent to bed without any food. Her behavior deprived her of joining any excursions to say an amusement park or something else fun, which a child might enjoy. Thus she would get constantly scolded and judged. This led her to stay with her mother instead. While it was difficult it meant should could get away from constant judgement and punishment.
An important thing I discovered about Tourettes from Anita and from later reading is that the mere fear of saying and doing inappropriate things make you more likely to do so. This causes development of sever social anxiety. Every time you screw up, you would get more afraid of screwing up, causing you the screw up even more. This created a downward spiral where you become terrified of being around strangers.
What is shocking about Sweet Anita is just how late she got diagnosed. I believe she got diagnosed around the age of 24, but may not actually have been told her diagnosis until 27.
Actually getting a diagnosis was a life-changer according to Anita, because it gave her a way of explaining her often offensive behavior to strangers. To give a sense of how mortifying this was let me use some examples Anita provided herself. She would tell friends at school: “I hope you die.” Shocked, friends would ask why she said that, but she could not offer an answer.
In another case she would tell ask a friend: “What sound do you make when you get raped?” One can imagine how extremely uncomfortable that is to say for a kind and compassionate person. It also explains why it was difficult for her to hold onto friends.
And it isn’t just words. Anita remarked how she has to tell friends to not go close to the edge of a cliff while they are with her, since she may push them over the edge. One can see some of this manifest itself when she does unboxing on youtube. Items she holds up would suddenly get tossed in a random direction. She would sometimes knock her head with a metal object she his holding up an examining.
Yet know that her condition had a name, made it possible to deal with. She could warn people ahead of time that she has Tourettes. E.g. when getting into a taxi, she can tell the cab driver to not slam the breaks if she yells “cat.” Apparently this is one of her common tics.
How Online Computer Games Saved Anita
Yet it is hard to overcome social anxiety when you had it for years. Push-to-talk while playing online games helped her a lot. It allowed her to interact socially with other people while filtering out her Tourettes, so others could see the person behind the Tourettes disorder.
Seeing Behind the Facade
The more I learned, the more I realized how easily we are fooled by a comfortable facade. Judging by a lot of the comments to Sweet Anita’s videos, many people don’t fully realize what a handicap it is. Many seem to be deeply envious of her success as a Streamer. She has over a million followers.
To many being famous, adored and making lots of money is something they dream about. To them Anita is someone who has it all: Looks, personality and fame. By the way there are more people on Youtube who have gained fame from Tourettes.
Yet there is a heavy price for this. Anita has herself remarked on how she was a really good student and wanted to be a scientist. Her Tourettes made that dream impossible. Being a famous Twitch streamer is not necessarily her first choice. In fact she was never able to hold a normal job apart from the paper route as a child. You can imagine the difficulty of having a job when you involuntarily insult your boss and colleagues in the worst possible ways. Streaming is simply something she was able to do with her condition. And it is only possible because Twitch is making an exception for the use of bad words, due to her handicap.
Anita laws and smiles on the screen. But in real life she is a person which can hardly sleep due to a auto-immune disorder which makes her wakeup after just a couple of hours from literally drowning. Her body does not take away liquids in the normal way, and thus she frequently gets liquid into her lungs. She requires a lot of liquid to flush down food. Sometimes a day or two can pass before she can eat.
For us viewers the Tourettes is a fun 15 minute video. We can tune in and watch it whenever we want. Anita can’t. It is there 24/7. Even while alone with nobody to talk to. You can tell sometimes that she gets tired of it. She tries to explain something to us viewers but get constantly interrupted by the offensive and ridiculous remarks produced by the Tourettes. It is not always easy to separate it from normal speech, because it is quite context sensitive and can work in word and sentences which make sense in context.
Why Am I Writing About This?
This may seem like a random subject for someone writing primarily about technology, society, history and economics.
However, while I am a completely different person from Anita, I am also a content creator. You show a certain facade. To the outside world, you are what you write. Writing articles, books or making videos can be agonizing. The imposter syndrome is very real. I have taught material many times and wondered why I am doing it. Why isn’t somebody else more talented who knows what they are doing?
Have some measure of success and you get contacted by all sorts of people who want to do stuff with you. People who seem to imagine you being the fountain of creativity and energy ready to jump to twenty different projects at the same time.
While in reality you are actually a person just stumbling through life. So much of my writing is therapeutic. Often writing can make you take your mind of all sorts of other problems you have. Sometimes it is what gets me through a day.
I had traumatic experience many years ago. Since then I don’t think I have ever been quite normal. But it is funny how easy it is to fake normality. One can be an utter mess and your colleagues at work, friends and family really have no idea. People have this stereotype that somebody with a depression has a sad face. That somehow you can tell by looking at them. But you can be smiling and chatty while struggling with depression.
There was a pretty high profile example of this with Meghan Markle. I don’t really care about royals but I found the story about how depression and how people refused to believe she was depressed. As described by Terri Cheney in Psychology Today:
“I just didn’t want to live anymore,” a tearful Meghan Markle told Oprah, and the world was shocked. It was even more stunned by the video of Meghan wearing a glittering blue ball gown and a radiant smile, attending a royal function the very same day she had told Prince Harry she was afraid to stay home alone, for fear she would do harm to herself
People are very good at faking emotions because we tend to be terrified of showing to the world what we actually feel or expose our weakness.
Serving in the Royal Guard
I was reminded of that when I served in the Norwegian Royal Guard 24 years ago. I hated every single day with a passion. Lots of people got themselves out. There was people who faked mental illness. I remember a guy who fit the stereotype of an American quarterback. Square jawed, broad shouldered and real good in sports. I remember he could do a roll while holding his rifle and end up in a shooting position. In many way he was what you would imagine the perfect soldier looked like. Yet surprisingly he hated the service enough to purposefully break his finger to get out of it.
Another guy we looked up to just cracked after about half a year. You would never have guessed he would be the one to do it. He was also this kind of cool tough guy. Martial arts expert. Real talented at everything we did. He had spent a ton of time outdoors in the wild. He was used to spending a lot of time out in the Norwegian wilderness. Yet he just had enough. He could not take a day more and declared himself a pacifist, to get out.
But I stuck out the service, the whole year despite hating it. I often asked myself why. I realized it had nothing to do with bravery, but about being too coward to quit. I just didn’t want to be seen as a quitter. Conformism at its worst.
Playing the Role of Normal
Once you look, you begin to see this conformism everywhere. I had an acquaintance once who was transexual, except I didn’t know when I spent time with her. She seemed like a typical guy to me. Maybe even a bit more macho that the average guy. A handyman. Good and building stuff. She fit all the male stereotypes in action and language.
Later I came to know that he had begun the transition to she. We talked online for some period. I admitted I was kind of blown away because he was the last person I suspected was a women. She acted so much like a man. However she told me none of it was real. Everything I had seen had been just an act. She had just observed men around her and mimicked their behavior. It was an act.
It was eerie how well I could relate at the time. I was in a bad spot with depression, and realized I was pretty much playing the role of a mentally healthy person every day.
However anyone play a role can only fake that role so far. Reality tends to show through the cracks. For me it was things like often being completely incapable of doing my job. Other times it was constantly forgetting meetings. Depression apparently screws up your memory. You start forgetting a lot of things.
That is the problem with playing the role of normal. You need a way of explaining to people why all these different things are happening. Why do you never reply to messages? Why do you forget meetings all the time? Why do you not pay attention to what we are talking about?
This is what made me relate so much to the story Sweet Anita told about living with Tourettes. This constant attempt at trying to play the role of normal. Trying to fit in, while constantly getting sabotaged by Tourettes throwing in insults directed at your friends and strangers. She needed an explanation but could not give any. That was why having a diagnosis was such a relief. She had something to tell people.
I had had such as similar experience. Once you got a diagnosis. You can actually tell people instead of trying to make up excuses and cover up. The more you try to cover up, the worse it tends to get. Interestingly Tourettes work much the same.
Simply accepting you have a problem can make it become a lot smaller, even if it never quite goes a way. For me it means not measuring myself by how I performed while I was still normal. It means judging each day of your life according to a new normal.
A handicapped person will have a hard time being happy if he/she measure their performance against what they achieved before becoming handicapped.
Anita still has her problems but her online success has helped her overcome many of her problems. It allowed her to become a social person and have faith in herself.
It is something I can relate to as well. Some of the stories I have written with a lot of positive feedback has really lifted my spirits. I have often struggled to find words to thank the people who write positive things to me. They have inspired me to write positive feedback to people writing stuff I like. Because until you get this feedback, it is hard to realize just how much it means to a writer or content creator of any kind.
It is not something I have always been good at. I may write a critical remark instead about some small part I disagreed with, when in reality I really loved the article or video I saw. In fact there are many times I really like stories I strongly disagree with. But it is easy to get too wrapped up in writing what you disagree with, rather than letting the author know that they wrote a really good story, even if I didn’t agree with it.
Maybe that should be my new years resolution for 2022? Write positive feedback to people rather than get into endless discussion.
Thanks for reading, and a happy new year to all of you!