Baylen Dupree

A selfie of Baylen Dupree, a nursing major at WVU.

Editor's Note: With the interview subject's consent, some of the following quotes have been modified for clarity, including the removal of tics.

WVU freshman Baylen Dupree was officially diagnosed with Tourette syndrome in 2021. Now she’s using TikTok as a way to spread awareness about her condition to over 2.5 million followers.

“Like that's all I wanted to do with my platform was to let people know that you can be happy and you can be competent and you can love yourself the same way that an average person can,” Dupree said.

Though her popularity quickly grew on TikTok, Dupree said her account didn’t start off as an awareness platform. She initially sparked interest from viewers with a video of her ticcing while explaining a prior video.

“I don't even know what it was about, but it was just confusing. So I had to explain it,” Dupree said. “And when I went to explain it, it was too hard for me to explain it. So all I was doing the entire time was ticcing.”

The video was viewed over 5 million times. Many viewers thought Dupree was faking her tics — something that she would address in future videos.

“I didn't want my video of me having Tourettes to blow up that badly. Like, I didn't want people to see me like that,” she said. “But then as I started making more videos and showing people how I do things, like how I bake a cake, I'm going to show them how I use chemicals, things like that. How I brush my teeth, how I do daily things that the average person can do perfectly fine, but it takes me 10 times longer and harder to do it.”

Now, she uses these videos to educate other users, as well as a way to connect with others who have Tourette syndrome.

Tourette syndrome is a neurological disorder in which someone experiences tics, or sudden involuntary movements or verbal noises.

The Mayo Clinic classifies tics into two categories — simple and complex. Simple tics can include but are not limited to squinting, twitching, grunting and coughing.

Complex tics are more severe. These may include repeating words or phrases, jumping or jerking various body parts.

It feels like an urge,” Dupree said in an interview. “It’s very fast and involuntary because that’s what it is. But it feels like an itching urge.”

Though Dupree was diagnosed this past year, she has experienced tics since she was seven years old.

When she was first diagnosed, Dupree ticced about 10 times a day, with only two different tics. She said the pandemic has since worsened her condition.

“We weren't allowed to go out, which created more anxiety and more stress in my life,” Dupree said. “And the more anxiety or stress or hyper emotion that you feel it makes your tics worse.”

Dupree is not allowed to drive or handle sharp objects, and she even had to quit her job bagging groceries due to her condition.

She added that being around large crowds of people and eating out in public can be challenging as well.

“It's very difficult because I throw food and I put my hands in drinks,” Dupree said. “And I've kind of grown to suppress those tics a little bit if I want to be able to function in society like everyone else.”

Some tics can be suppressed but it can be very irritating for the person. Suppressing tics, she said, can often lead to headaches, nausea and pain.

Dupree has also been diagnosed with ADHD, anxiety and OCD.

OCD plays a large part in her condition. Often, she will do things in sets of three, which can include her tics.

“I was out to eat one night and I smashed my head off the table, like completely smashed it. And I was crying and the only thing I could think about was I had to do it two more times. So I had to find a way for me to go back that day and do it two more times or do it in that moment two more times to get that feeling, that urge.”

Dupree recalled having to leave class on multiple occasions due to tic attacks, as well as wearing headphones during lectures in an attempt to calm them.

“Finals week was probably when my tics were at its all-time peak,” Dupree said. “I couldn’t even pour myself a glass of water.”

Since her rise to fame on TikTok, Dupree’s classmates have expressed their support for her platform, which she said gives her confidence in living with her condition as well.

Dupree mentioned an interaction where a classmate encouraged her to not hold in her tics.

“So I started to get a little bit more comfortable as the semester went on. And by the last week of school, I would call my mom and be like, ‘Mom, I said that tic today,’” Dupree said.

As much as Dupree highlights her struggles with Tourette syndrome, she also emphasizes the importance of respecting the boundaries of those who may have the condition.

“If I first meet you and the first conversation you have is you laughing at me, we won’t be friends,” Dupree said. “We just won't, we won't get along because I'll feel embarrassed. And I don't want to feel embarrassed. I want to feel like we're friends.”

Due to the severity of her condition, Dupree is taking the spring semester online. She currently lives with her boyfriend, along with her brother and his girlfriend.

“They make sure that I don't hurt myself. They make sure that I'm still having a good time at college,” Dupree said. “They take great care of me.”

Dupree is studying to become a nurse, a dream she has had since she was young.

“I always wanted to be a nurse due to the fact that when I've always been sick and been in hospitals and nurses have been the part that made me happy when I'm sick,” Dupree said. “So I looked up to them and I was like, I want to be like you.”

Dupree said her battle with Tourette syndrome is an everyday challenge.

“So, like, even going to like a regular day of shopping is like 20 times harder for me because it's the social aspect for it, where I'm stared at and looked at as inferior,” Dupree said. “So that's when I looked at myself as inferior to everyone else because I have something that I can’t control.”

In addition to her TikTok account, Dupree said she aspires to start a club for students with disabilities.

“People need to be looked at as equal to someone who's not disabled,” Dupree said. “So I wanted to create a group of people who can all relate to each other the same way that a group of yoga students can all relate to each other.”

As well as informing and raising awareness, she hopes to inspire her audience to have self-confidence.

“You can still have confidence and be disabled,” Dupree said. “I want to be that person that's like, ‘Look at me. I'm confident. You can be confident.’”