Paula Jean Ferri is an accomplished author, but it has been her struggles, not her successes, that have defined her and helped develop her into who she is today. At the age of 24 when she was diagnosed with Tourette syndrome, a nervous system disorder that causes uncontrollable repetitive movements or unwanted sounds called tics, Paula could have allowed it to hold her back. But she didn’t and today she is using her personal experience to help others with Tourette’s know that they are not alone and that their unique difference is a strength. In this interview, Paula discusses her story, her books, and her plans for the future.
Tell me about your first and second book?
Paula Jean Ferri: Absolutely! My first book is called Awkwardly Strong. It came from a paper which I wrote in college that my professors told me needed to be published. It was originally focused on Tourette syndrome and how it affects communication and expanded into how the weird, awkward and embarrassing things that we do are actually a strength rather than something that we should be fighting because they are different and how those differences can be utilized. My second book follows along the same theme as far as the difficult things that we deal with in our lives and how to properly heal from them in order to again use those to our advantage and to help other people.
What is the title of your second book and when was it published?
Paula Jean Ferri: Tragically Strong was published January 27, 2018.
When was your first book published?
Paula Jean Ferri: In August 2016.
Share the back story behind your motivation, outside of the college paper that you wrote, that inspired the books. What in your history or background motivated you to write on these topics?
Paula Jean Ferri: Awkwardly Strong involves a lot of personal experience. I like to think of myself as a very unique individual. Because I have Tourette syndrome, I can be in the middle of a meeting and scream at the top of my lungs and instead of everyone glaring at me, people will turn to me and giggle when they know what’s going on. That’s because of the person that I am and because of how I’ve explained my syndrome to other people. I’ve become an advocate for it.
Same thing with Tragically Strong. I’ve been through several difficult things in my life, but I’ve been able to heal and bounce back from all of them. When I share this with others, they tend to comment on how amazing it is that I have been able to heal and completely transform my situation. From several conversations that I’ve had with people and from offering advice, I think this was something that I needed to expand to reach more people because it is so relatable. We are all awkward. We all go through hard things.
What audience would you say will best be served by your book?
Paula Jean Ferri: The focus is towards those with neurological disorders and irregularities because of my background with Tourette syndrome. They are the focus, as well as those with any kind of comorbidity such as depression or even those that just deal with depression themselves and not the trip syndrome aspect.
Can you name some other comorbidities?
Paula Jean Ferri: Some other comorbidities are OCD, ADD, AGHD, and depending on the doctor that you talk to, Asperger’s, autism and depression. Those are the first ones that I can think of off the top of my head. Again, it does tend to vary by doctor because there is so little known about Tourette syndrome in the medical field.
Paula, how can your book help or support or encourage someone like you just described?
Paula Jean Ferri: First and most importantly, it can help them by letting them know that they’re not alone. People who tend to stick out often feel like they are all alone because no one else has their unique aspect or their particular difference. They need to know that they are not alone, as well as recognize the strength and opportunity that being different can serve.
Can you share a success story of someone who you spoke to that has Tourette’s, along with some of the advice or encouragement that you gave to them?
Paula Jean Ferri: There have been several people who have reached out to me. One of them is a friend who I go to church with. She deals with depression. But after reading my second book as a beta reader, she told me how inspiring it was. It made her want to “get up and go” was the phrase that she used which isn’t always an easy thing when you have depression. You don’t always feel that motivation or desire to get up and to do things. So, that’s one from a close friend which means a lot to me. There have been several others who have reached out to me and simply said, “Thank you. You have no idea how much this has helped.”
Is there a nugget or highlight from your book that you’d like to share?
Paula Jean Ferri: Yes. One highlight comes from a church experience. I’m a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Precinct and I often serve in the temple which is a very quiet, very reverent and respectful place. If you speak, you are asked to speak in whispers just to maintain that reverence and quiet. When I was young, I gave my Tourette syndrome a name. I’ll refer to it as Jess and we had this understanding that she had to be much quieter in the temple. But one particular time in the temple, she just got really excited, so she let out this loud scream. A very prominent member of the church happened to be in the same room. He leaned over and said, “Please, remember where you are.” He meant no disrespect. He was just trying to maintain the reverence of the temple, especially with being someone in his position.