By Ambriel Johnson
Josh Hanagarne, a Salt Lake City librarian, keeps a delicate balance between his former Mormon religion and his family, who remain devoted to the faith.
Hanagarne said he first started to question his religion when he had to stop attending church due to his Tourette Syndrome.
As a young man, he was unable to be out in public for about two years because the Tourette’s caused him to have loud vocal tics. Hanagarne said it was the first time he was away from the church and its influence on his life.
Until that moment, he said, he wasn’t really thinking for himself.
“I was taught to believe as much as I was taught how to think,” Hanagarne said. “We are all the products of how we are raised.”
He met his wife Jeanette during the difficult time when he couldn’t speak over a whisper. His mother, who met her through the church, set them up.
Hanagarne said he tried to talk his wife out of going through with the marriage. He told her she didn’t know how bad it would get. Still, she wouldn’t listen.
She told him that not being with him would be harder than being with him, even when the Tourette’s was at its worst, he said.
The two now live together with their 5-year-old son, Max, a boy who is learning to think for himself.
Despite the huge role that religion played in his family, Hanagarne chose to leave it. It’s a decision that wasn’t easy for his relatives to take in.
“My family are my best friends,” he said. “Me leaving the faith was heartbreaking for them.”
Standing 6-feet, 7 inches tall, and weighing around 260 pounds, Hanagarne uses bodybuilding to deal with his Tourette’s. He recently published his memoir, The World’s Strongest Librarian: A Memoir of Tourette’s, Faith, Strength and the Power of Family.
During a visit to The Mark Twain House & Museum in Hartford last week, the ‘strongman’ was reminded of his love for reading, something that blossomed when he was just a small boy.
One of Hanagarne’s favorite authors, Stephen King, wrote more than 50 books. He was excited to be part of the security detail at King’s fundraising appearance for the Twain House that night.
“I read my first Stephen King book when I was in fifth grade – way too early,” Hanagarne said. “I was looking around the bookmobile and I found this big book, Misery…”
He said he’s always had the philosophy that the bigger the book, the better.
But Hanagarne’s Mormon mother banned King’s gut-wrenching stories.
“I started having tics when I was six,” Hanagarne said. “Tourette’s feels like you have to sneeze and you can’t let it out. You don’t know what it’s gonna look or sound like.”
It was not until he was a freshman in high school that his parents acknowledged his life-changing syndrome and took him to see a specialist.
“It took them about three minutes to diagnose me with Tourette’s,” he said.
Hanagarne enjoys working in libraries because they help him to control his body, and keep his syndrome under control, something he wouldn’t be able to do otherwise.
He also likes them, he said, because they allow him to think.