David Sedaris’ Childhood Experiences With His Compulsive Behaviors in A Plague of Tics From Naked by David Sedaris

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Neurotypical people, known by the mentally ill community as someone without a mental illness, often do not truly understand the reality of psychological instability. Some people view those who suffer from mental disorders as lazy or crazy, as though the person’s intent is to do something off-putting or abnormal, rather than understanding that intent has nothing to do with the actions.

“A Plague of Tics” is an excerpt from Naked by David Sedaris in which the author illustrates his childhood experiences with his compulsive behaviors, along with the reactions of those around him in regards to his “antics” or “special problems” (Sedaris, 361 and 363), as his teacher describes his mannerisms, Reading this excerpt is an incredibly personal and revealing experience which perfectly encapsulates the thought process behind someone with an obsessive- compulsive disorder, along with presenting an unfamiliar perspective.

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From the very beginning of the text, Sedaris introduces the nature of his disorder – his thoughts are intrusive and demanding. As he walks home from school, his brain requires him to follow a routine of counting steps and touching certain items in the right place and the right way. However, if his mind makes it clear that the trip was unsatisfactory, for example, if he “[worries] that [he] hadn’t touched [the telephone pole] in exactly the right spot… it needed to be touched again” (Sedaris, 361-362), he has to walk back to school and begin the process over again. Sedaris explains that this isn’t what he does for his enjoyment – “pleasure had nothing to do with it.

A person had to do these things because nothing was worse than the anguish of not doing them” (Sedaris, 362). As much as he longs for a way to free himself from these required actions, he understands that there is no “off switch” for his mind. In regards to his mind, Sedaris claims that he is “commanded” to follow these actions before “[he] is free” (Sedaris, 363). Through his vivid descriptions, a reader who may not have. A strong understanding of obsessive-compulsive disorders can begin to grasp the helplessness. The inability to object to the brain’s demands, which comes with this nature of mental illness.

Another revealing characteristic of the text is Sedaris’s observations and experiences. With his peers and superiors in regard to his tics. Each of his teachers felt worn down and frustrated due to Sedaris causing. A constant distraction in the classroom, and always felt the need to discuss these atypical and detracting behaviors with his mother. Whenever a teacher entered their home, his mother handed them an alcoholic drink and they shared in the mocking of Sedaris. He describes her as a “ringleader, blowing the whistle and charming the crowd with her jokes and exaggerated stories” (Sedaris, 367). To all the adults in his life, Sedaris was merely a punchline. And this did not improve by the time he hit high school. Where he writes that he was seen as “just plain retarded” by his peers, since his “nervous habits [did not fade] during high school” (Sedaris, 369).

While many people view obsessive-compulsive actions and tendencies as awkward or even disturbing, they do not usually recognize how the consequences of perception of the person with these tics. Sedaris’s piece can help people acknowledge the immorality of their own preconceptions as they view themselves through the lens of those they judge. With only an outsider’s perspective, we are all blind to the reality and mental torture that one faces daily with a mental illness. As Sedaris illustrates, his compulsions were not fueled by his desire to garner attention; the opposite is true, since he wanted nothing more than to be free of his intrusive thoughts, “whatever was demanded of [him], [he] had no choice but to do it” (Sedaris 366). When the reader is put into his shoes, they recognize his daily mental turmoil and thus begin to sympathize with him, and those like him, in a way which they had never before considered.

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David Sedaris’ Childhood Experiences With His Compulsive Behaviors in A Plague of Tics From Naked by David Sedaris. (2022, Dec 28). Retrieved from


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