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 Megan McFadden,
Essential tremor (ET) impacts my life in expected ways, but there are occasions when it surprises me and complicates life in ways I did not anticipate. Most recently, ET was a surprising obstacle to completing a rapid COVID-19 test before seeing family during the holidays. The first step of the test seems simple: squeeze drops from a small bottle into a tiny circle on a plastic disc. My shaky hands could not do it accurately. Droplets fell everywhere except where I wanted them to be. I was frustrated and worried about wasting a hard-to-find test. Thankfully, I eventually got enough liquid where it was supposed to go and tested negative.
My ET also impacts my life in other ways that seem less significant, but more pervasive. One is doing my job to the best of my ability. Last summer, I worked at the National Whitewater Center in the guest relations department performing customer service tasks. I regularly had to put wristbands on guests, often over 100 times daily. I also slid credit cards through hand-held scanners and handed out parking passes. I wanted to do my job properly and quickly, and ET made that challenging. Some guests were more understanding than others.
ET also impacts my life socially. While it may seem trivial, selfies are important to my generation. My tremor makes it tough to take a good one – mine are blurry. While it may appear my friends are moving with excitement, in fact, they stand still as statues. It’s my tremor that cannot stay stationary.
I find that ET impacts my life by teaching me about self-acceptance. My first instincts are often to feel badly, whether that’s concern over possibly wasting a valuable COVID test, or apologizing to impatient customers, or avoiding selfies. But what I’m learning (and re-learning) is that ET is part of who I am. My photos are blurry, but who I am is coming into clearer focus. I do not have to apologize for being myself. People’s reactions to my ET are about them, and have little to do with me. I no longer blame myself for the ET and shift my focus to what matters most. That includes finding sorority sisters happy to snap a pic, asking for help when I need it and speaking out about ET.
When I started talking about my ET more in the past year, and sharing on social media, relatives and family friends started sharing their experiences with me. Many people close to me have ET and never mentioned it! I felt less alone, more understood, and happy to share helpful resources. When I explain what ET is to people, I’m reminded that information leads to understanding. And understanding leads to support. While my tremor can be a challenge, it has also led me to value the immeasurably important communities and support systems around me, and to continue speaking out about it. I am motivated to speak and educate more people about ET and increase understanding and support.
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Do you want to help support students with ET during their educational journey? Make a donation to the ET scholarship fund online.