Virginia Tech senior thrives despite sudden-onset Tourette’s syndrome

Before Feb. 6, 2016, Annemarie Bresson’s Virginia Tech experience was fairly typical. She had transferred in as a sophomore, and she felt at home in Blacksburg. She was studying dairy science, due to her self-proclaimed love of cows. Bresson was simply enjoying life as a Hokie.

virginia tech tourette's
Annemarie Bresson started in pre-veterinary studies at another university, and there, she fell in love with all things dairy science. When she toured Virginia Tech before transferring here, she said, “I felt so much more at home during that tour than I had the entire year before.”

But after Feb. 6, 2016, everything changed. And it all began with a drive home from a Virginia Tech basketball game. Bresson had been serving milkshakes with the Dairy Club, spending time with friends, and feeling great. But after she dropped off her friend and started heading toward her apartment, she was unable to control her body. After a long series of events, inaccurate diagnoses, and appointments with dozens of health professionals, Bresson was diagnosed with sudden-onset Tourette’s syndrome.

After she returned to Blacksburg in the fall of 2016, Bresson was struck with the reality of having to explain to everyone not only where she’d been since February, but also why she was acting differently. She decided not to delay the inevitable, so she made a video explaining the past few months and then started her own YouTube channel. In the past year, Bresson has created dozens of videos and garnered thousands of views, but — most importantly — she’s raised necessary awareness for a disorder about which most people are ill-informed.

But paired with the physical toll of Tourette’s syndrome was the internal turmoil of depression that plagued Bresson even before her diagnosis. When she didn’t know where to turn — both before her diagnosis and after — Bresson went to Virginia Tech’s Cook Counseling Center.

“I first went to Cook because I was hit by the worst depressive episode I have ever experienced,” said Bresson. “Suicidal thoughts were a constant in my everyday life, and I was so isolated that I wouldn’t leave my apartment for classes or even to get groceries. I met with a counselor and she instantly took me in, suggesting I enter a crisis center. It jump-started my mental health recovery.”

After her Tourette’s syndrome diagnosis, Bresson said, “Once again, Cook came to the rescue.” When Bresson was turned away from the emergency room with just a Xanax and the flippant diagnosis of a panic attack, Cook refuted the decision and sent her back.

“The staff instantly knew that my tics were more than just anxiety because they knew me on so many levels,” said Bresson.

Though her diagnosis has changed her worldview and the after-effects have transformed her Virginia Tech experience, Bresson is so much more than her Tourette’s syndrome.

In April, Bresson was the recipient of the Division of Student Affairs Aspire! Award for her pursuit of self-understanding and integrity. Her nominator for the award, Kathy Duncan, program support specialist in theDepartment of Dairy Science, said, “Annemarie has a wonderful and positive attitude with an infectious laugh that is a delight to hear.”

Bresson said, “I’m proud of my positive outlook on life. And I’m very proud that I’m able to be unapologetic for myself. I’m an African-American girl in a predominately white major. I prefer Chaco sandals over cowboy boots. Being unapologetic about being different has allowed me to try so many new things and keep an open mind.”

Bresson says that the highlight of her college experience took place one day at 2 a.m. while picking up cow manure during a showcase sale. She said, “I have never been so happy, and it made me know that this was where I belonged.”

Bresson’s passion for dairy science has spread throughout the department, as she founded the Dairy Science Ambassadors program and serves as head ambassador. The program has helped to double the number of applicants to the department.

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