Essential Tremor Has Turned Me into a Problem Solver

Posted on June 29, 2022

Each semester, the IETF awards four $1,000 college scholarships to students who have essential tremor through its Catherine S. Rice Scholarship Fund. As part of the application process, students are asked to write an essay on the topic, “how essential tremor has affected my life.” The following essay is from one of our fall 2022 scholarship recipients.

By Deborah Davison,
University of Michigan,
Ann Arbor

Deborah Davison 2022 scholarship recipient

It was fall 2001 when I first noticed my hands shaking while completing a chemistry lab in college. I knew something was off when I grasped the glass tube with the metal tongs and my hands trembled transferring the liquid into a large beaker. It was at this moment I knew I had the same condition as my dad – benign essential tremor.

At first, I was not aware of how this condition would progress in my day-to-day life. Most notably, I would see the biggest impact when I would need to write for long periods of time or give speeches in class. Of course, I was slightly nervous when standing in front of the room, but the appearance of nervousness was only amplified by my shaking hands. It felt embarrassing and over time I caught myself more and more apologizing or making excuses. Sometimes I thought, “I just haven’t eaten enough” or “maybe I am really nervous.” But as I began to learn more about the condition, I found out there are other factors.

Now I understand my essential tremor is activated by increased motor movement. One of the hardest times of the day is in the morning when I am getting ready for the day. When I am feeling rushed getting dressed, eating breakfast, and putting on makeup, my hands become shakier. When this happens, I remind myself to breathe and slow down. Having essential tremor has given me the opportunity to reflect on how my body works and how I can take control to manage my life.

Essential tremor has turned me into a problem solver. Instead of someone who thinks, “I can’t do that or I need someone else to do it for me,” I come up with my own solution. I try my best to think of ways I can modify the environment to make it easier or safer. In the morning, I was having difficulty putting on my makeup. I took a rubber band and put it around the handle of my mascara which gave me more grip and stability. Sometimes when I am cooking, I find it dangerous to cut up fruits and vegetables. I did some research and found nylon safety knives, which help me feel more confident in the kitchen. Also, I have modified my drinking cups by finding cups that have indents to make them easier to hold. I still have trouble from time to time, but my hope is that I can continue to be as independent as possible.

Next semester, I will be starting a therapeutic recreation internship with the University of Michigan Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Department. As someone with essential tremor, I am looking forward to using my experience learning how to modify equipment to increase wellness and quality of life for others. With a little creativity and tenacity, it is my mission to teach people what is possible despite the circumstances they face.

*    *   *  *

Do you want to help support students with ET during their educational journey? Make a donation to the ET scholarship fund online.

One thought on “Essential Tremor Has Turned Me into a Problem Solver

  1. I too inherited ET from my father and have had it my whole life. I have also found ways to adapt and modify daily activities. Thank you for your courage to openly speak about living with ET and your tricks for daily living. Keep going and do your best to not let ET stop you from doing anything. Accomplish as much as you can while you are young, as ET does progress, and the tremor will become more pronounced and may affect other parts of your body including you voice, as you get older. Best wishes for your success!

Comments are closed.