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Author Talk: April 2010

April 2010

Best known to teen audiences for his thrillers like the Maximum Ride series, James Patterson’s latest book, MED HEAD, is a young adult adaptation of 2008’s AGAINST MEDICAL ADVICE, which captures the personal struggles of Cory Friedman, who has suffered from Tourette’s Syndrome and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder since the age of five.

In this interview, Cory describes the surreal experience of reading about his own life in narrative form and explains how his battle with these illnesses has affected his outlook on life.

Question: Can you describe the experience of reading the story of your life unfolding in a dramatic narrative form? Did you find it rewarding and cathartic?

Cory Friedman: To be honest, it was a bit spooky at times, digging back into all those tumultuous and sometimes painful memories in such intimate detail. And I guess there was a part of me that wondered, “Geez, do I really want to put myself ‘out there’ this much?” But in the end, I came to the decision that if this book could help people like me, then it would be well worth it. It’s been extremely rewarding. Dozens and dozens of the stories and letters that have been coming in have brought me to tears, and confirmed this was something that needed to be done.

Q: Though most of the book is centered around your tough experiences, it’s apparent that sports were one great salvation during your adolescence. Are there other positive memories you have of those days --- activities or events that you enjoyed, that gave you a sense of calm or freedom in troubled times?

CF: Yes. There’s something about sports (or any other exciting physical activity) that seems to have a “lose yourself in the moment” effect. For instance, I’m a drummer and was also the lead singer in several bands. When I’m “in action” and doing something I love, it definitely has a way of leaving Tourette’s behind. It’s like my body becomes so involved in such a “flow” state that my mind can’t get all caught up on the Tourette’s. In fact, the more time goes on, the more I’m realizing the immense power of our minds and the whole “mindbody” dichotomy of Tourette’s.

From my experience, a large part of Tourette’s is centered around a whole “OCD/fight or flight” thing: When you “tic” you become aware of it, and when you become aware of the tic ---  the tension, the uncomfortable feeling --- then your entire mental landscape changes. It’s like a perpetuating cycle that needs to be broken, and physical activity tends to do the trick.

Q: Do you feel that your struggles have fostered any positive outcomes or personal qualities --- for example, perhaps enabled you to better deal with any challenges in adult life?

CF: Absolutely. What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger. From a very young age, anyone with Tourette’s is forced to look very deeply at the world --- at life and at all humanity --- from an extremely unusual perspective, and that definitely fosters us to be more compassionate people. I guess what it comes down to is: Living with Tourette’s is an ongoing saga…. There will always be ups and downs, but we’re forced to become soldiers, and our passion for the joy that’s possible in life is what keeps us going.

Q: Would you have any thoughts to share with teens who may have their own problems, even if they’re not the same as the ones you had to deal with?

CF: I would tell them to hang in there, be tough, and realize every challenge that they overcome only makes them stronger. I would also add that no matter how bad things seem to be, how we choose to deal with it mentally can make a major difference in how much suffering we go through. When times are tough, it’s all too easy to get caught in a negative thought cycle. And that definitely only makes things worse.

Q: What was the most challenging aspect of your wilderness survival experience?

CF: To be honest, the insanely rough living conditions. Waking up at six in the morning with two feet of snow on top of my sleeping bag. Chipping away at frozen boots before I could even put them on (since they took our boots at night). Having to hike several miles through deep snow-covered mountains just to get to our next water drop…and then start the process all over again. Oh, yeah --- and having absolutely no idea when you were going to go home was a real psychological killer too.

Q: Has your life experience with the medical establishment positively and/or negatively affected your relationship with doctors, nurses, and hospitals?

CF: Even though I’m still on a very mild dose of prescriptions myself, I’ve become more and more anti-drug and anti-prescription over the years. If I could go back in time, I would’ve definitely opted not to be on many of the drugs I was put on. Doctors and nurses definitely have had their important places and times in my life. But when it comes to matters of the mind, cognition, OCD, et cetera, we really know relatively little compared to our knowledge of the rest of our bodies’ processes. Sometimes it felt like I’d become a guinea pig in an experimenter’s lab. I know I’m not the only one who’s had this experience.

I think the main problem is how little attention is paid to the mind and how we think, and how this affects us physically. The pharmacology of the brain is just one aspect, but it’s often the main aspect doctors deal with. In my case what’s going on inside my head mentally plays a large, if not larger, part in the improvement or worsening of my condition --- I’m 100 percent positive of this now --- and I suspect it’s true of many other people as well.

Q: What kinds of responses have you gotten from people who’ve read your story? What kinds of stories and experiences have they shared with you?

CF: The responses have been absolutely amazing. I couldn’t believe how many people have shared startlingly similar accounts of what they’ve been through…the struggles and the triumphs. Many of them have been able to see themselves in the book as it’s playing out. Equally amazing was the spirit, passion, and enthusiasm in their responses. I’m just so happy I’ve given people a sense of hope, strength, and positive energy in their lives and an outlet for sharing that newfound belief in themselves. It’s made a difference knowing that they’re not alone, and that ultimately they will become stronger, better people because of what life has so unfairly thrown at them.

Q: What’s your life like now?

CF: Life is definitely good right now. I am living in a very cool part of New York City in a fantastic apartment, where I’m in the process of trying to build a very successful Internet business. I get to work from home, and every day brings new and exciting experiences. As far as my Tourette’s goes, I’ve really gotten to a point where the tics have little (if any) impact on my life. I am happy. I am healthy. And I am living life to the fullest, each and every day!

Q: What are your dreams for the future?

CF: They are quite simple: To squeeze as much joy as possible out of this wild ride called “life.” To live life to the fullest each and every day. To build my first super-successful business…and then build several more…and to do anything I can to continue bringing hope to the lives of those who need it most.