Friesen: ‘See’ and ‘like’ everyoneJonathan Friesen was diagnosed with Tourette syndrome when he was 19 years old.
By: Sarah Gorvin, The Republican Eagle
Jonathan Friesen was diagnosed with Tourette syndrome when he was 19 years old.
But the Minnesota native had been experiencing the twitches, spasms and tics for more than a dozen years before that. The condition not only caused his arms and facial muscles to move constantly and without his control, but it also did something much more painful.
It made him invisible, Friesen said.
“To be ignored or to be mocked. One is not less painful than the other,” Friesen told an audience at Zumbrota-Mazeppa High School Monday evening.
All through school, he was the “twitchy kid.” His classmates wouldn’t talk to him, include him or hang out with him.
But it wasn’t only his peers who overlooked Friesen and his condition. Teachers never mentioned it either. No one asked if he was all right or showed any sort of concern, he said.
In fact, only one teacher ever talked about Friesen’s twitching. And that was to move him to the back of the classroom so his constant twitching wouldn’t disrupt the other students.
The situation was only made worse one Friday afternoon when Friesen had a grand mal seizure during class when he was in seventh grade.
“The worst day of my life wasn’t Friday (when he had the seizure),” Friesen said. “It was Monday.”
Over that weekend, Friesen asked himself who would want to be his friend after that. “On Monday, I got my answer: nobody.”
Now, Friesen is a motivational speaker and published author of five books for children and young adults. He was speaking in Zumbrota as part of the Goodhue County Education District’s Special Education Advisory Council’s quarterly meeting.
There are only two things every special education student — in fact, any person — wants to know, Friesen said.
“Does anyone see me? And do they like what they see?” Friesen said. “If they’re five or 95, that’s what we want to know.”
But, when children and adults answer those two questions with “no,” “suddenly suicide doesn’t seem bad,” Friesen said.
In fact, after his seizure, Friesen did answer both of those questions with a “no.” As a result, he basically quit trying. He locked himself in his bedroom, coming out only to eat and use the bathroom.
School fell to the wayside; Friesen only went about once a week when his mother dragged him to class. He would only last a couple hours before returning to his bedroom.
That lasted two years, until a classmate unexpectedly stopped by. At the time, Friesen said he didn’t really know who the girl suddenly sitting in his bedroom was or why she had come by. In fact, he said he still doesn’t know why. But he immediately felt the impact that her visit had.
“She talked to me. She made me feel human,” Friesen said. “She took the hate out of that room.”
After that, Friesen began going back to school. Things were still difficult, he said, but he eventually graduated high school and college. After that, he worked as a fifth-grade and special education teacher in Anoka and Robbinsdale school districts for 15 years.
Friesen’s first book “Jerk, California,” was published in 2008. It won a 2009 ALA Schneider Family Book Award for “best book for teens.”
The key, Friesen said Monday, is to not ignore. That lesson is included in all of his books, he said. Simple, small gestures can show children and adults who are hurting that they do matter.
“You come into anybody’s life – student, parent, husband wife… and you say ‘I like you and I like what I see,’ it turns their life around,” Friesen said.
“It’s a big deal and we all can do it. It’s pretty cool.”