Theresa Borrelli knows what it’s like to be an outcast. Growing up in 1970s West New York, she showed signs of Tourette’s Syndrome, a neurological disorder that causes involuntary physical movements. At the time, there was more ignorance of the condition than compassion for it.
Teachers at West New York’s Public School No 2 thought she was “acting out,” the author told a group of fifth and sixth graders at Weehawken’s Theodore Roosevelt Elementary School April 25. “I was, so-called, ‘bullied.’’
She spoke with the students about such harassment and how to respond. Despite being a tall, strong, star athlete in high school, she “was joked on, pranked by my peers, threatened. And that lasted well into adulthood. I’m still to this day ridiculed, confronted, harassed. Bullying happens to adults, also.”
A deep depression took over Borrelli through her older years. Eventually, however, she found her inner confidence by stamping her feet whenever negativity came her direction, “to get determined and secure and know that I’m not going to let people ridicule or harass me or stop me from doing anything.”
Despite her condition, she pushed through. Today, she’s published at least nine books, two of which are aimed at youth. One in particular, titled, “Why Is Jamie Different?” stars Jamie, a young girl who also has Tourette’s and struggles with making friends as a result.
She is planning two additional books for children, one of which she hopes to release this year. She’s also penned a memoir, “I Am Myself: Growing Up With Tourette’s Syndrome,” which documents her challenges with the disorder as an adult.
“I’m still to this day ridiculed, confronted, harassed. Bullying happens to adults also.” – Theresa Borrelli
She has lived in various local towns, including North Bergen from 2005 to 2008 and in Jersey City for 10 years. She now lives in Weehawken.
“When something happens, and you don’t know how to get out of a situation, you have to know to stamp your feet and say, ‘Enough! I’m better than that’,” Borrelli told the class. “Bullying can come from anywhere. It can come from your peers. It can come from home, from your brother or sister, parents, anybody.”
Rescued by writing
Borrelli first got into writing as a young reader, drowning herself in books, newspapers, and magazines. In the seventh grade, she began writing in her own journal. That was also the time she wrote her first song. In eighth grade, she began writing tiny dedications to friends and family. Soon, she began writing and reading poetry. Her writing also spanned through her time at Memorial High School in West New York.
After graduating from college, Borrelli continued penning prose, as well as ghostwriting and rap lyrics.
“I tried everything,” she told the kids. At 13, while walking along the Jersey Shore, she told herself she would one day write her own memoirs. At 26, she began that effort, which took many years to finally complete because she wasn’t entirely focused on it at first.
When it comes to a bullying victim seeking assistance, the 55-year-old urged the students to remain persistent, even if others don’t initially believe them.
“The more people you tell, you have to tell until somebody believes you,” she said. “Don’t worry about retaliation! Because you know what? Who’s going to get penalized? The bully.”
Regarding cyberbullying, she urged the kids to never accept friend requests on social media from people they are not familiar with, because such people may have ulterior motives.
Though bully victims might be perceived as weak by some, the Weehawken resident said bullies themselves are the ones with the greatest imperfections.
“They find satisfaction in making someone else miserable,” Borrelli said. “That’s a psychological impairment. If you want satisfaction, go play a video game. Go join a team. Go run. Get your adrenaline flowing.”
During a brief discussion in which she asked the students what their greatest fear was, one student told Borrelli she feared not living up to her potential because of possible roadblocks in life. The statement provided another teachable moment for Borrelli.
“There will be obstacles in your life,” she said. “If I want to do something, something else might occur. Everybody has obstacles. You have to do what’s in your heart, whatever makes you happy.”
After Borrelli left, two students spoke positively of her talk.
“I actually found her inspiring” said Alexsia C. “She stomped her feet and just kept herself going.”
“She’s impressive and very interesting,” added Nicholas S. “How she was able to get past this disease. She’s a really strong woman. She was able to find something else she enjoyed, and take her mind off it.”
For more information on Borrelli, email her at email@example.com. You can also contact her at 201-590-9094.
Hannington Dia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org