Now or Never

Q & A | What it takes to find a job when you have Tourette syndrome

"It's pretty hard not to be completely vulnerable out there, because it's entirely obvious when I walk in a room that there's something different about me."
(Photo courtesy Melissa Water)

Melissa Water is making big things happen. She's self-published three books, developed a mental health recovery app, and hosts a YouTube channel with over 4.5 million views.

But one thing she hasn't been able to make happen is getting a job.

Melissa has Tourette syndrome, a neurological condition that can cause people to make involuntary sounds and movements called tics. Those tics can be aggravated by stressful situations — like job interviews.

Melissa, who lives in Montreal and whose dream job is to be a professional writer, wrote a personal account of her search for work in the Montreal Gazette. This week, she opened up to Now or Never hosts Trevor Dineen and Ify Chiwetelu about her experience navigating the job hunt as a person with Tourette syndrome.

When you walk into a potential place of work, what is going through your mind in that moment?

It's pretty hard not to be completely vulnerable out there, because it's entirely obvious when I walk in a room that there's something different about me. So I can't just say "Hi, here's my resume" and completely avoid it. I often have to explain it and put it in my cover letter, generally before I meet someone. It doesn't get me very many interviews.

What is it that employers are seeing?

It depends. I can go from zero to sixty, so there are moments where I don't really tic a lot. But often when I'm nervous —which, [in a] job interview, I'm nervous — I'll tic. They'll see sudden movements, jerks and noises. 

How do you make yourself feel confident and comfortable in an interview?

Melissa Water has documented her journey with Tourette Syndrome and mental health on a YouTube channel that has over 4.5 million views. (Melissa Water)
I breathe. A lot. Focus. Nothing really related to Tourette syndrome, because I feel confident with it. I'm not ashamed of it in any way. I'm not afraid to explain what I'm going through or what my condition is. It's neurological — it's just my brain doing funky crap. I'm not at all shy about it.

It sounds like you're really confident. Have you always been that way? 

I was initially very embarrassed. Every time I would make a noise I would cover my mouth and make a shocked expression because I was mortified. I couldn't believe this was coming out of my face without me wanting it to. It freaked me out a lot. Especially in public, I was embarrassed. People would stare and make judgemental looks especially if I was cursing. 

I found a lot of embarrassment at the beginning, but my friends and family were like, "We don't care. You're here with us." They didn't feel embarrassed by me. Even one of my friends would say, every time I would swear, she would say "I love you." 

It was motivating to see it in a different light. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. You can hear Melissa's full conversation by clicking the listen button above.