My Tremor Makes Me Empathetic and Has Influenced My Career Goals

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 2021 scholarship recipients.

By Megan McFadden,
Butler University, Indianapolis

Photo of Megan McFadden scholarship winner

I was a bit nervous for my very first college exam. I had studied hard but worried about remembering everything, running out of time, and WiFi issues given that it was an online exam due to COVID-19. It had not occurred to me to be worried about my essential tremor (ET). There was a proctoring system on my computer that first needed to scan a photo ID before I could begin my test. I held it up to be scanned, but it did not work. I tried again, and again. Only then did I realize my shaking hand was the problem. This delayed when I could begin my test, which was stressful. However, I persevered and did not let my tremor hold me back from performing well on the exam. While my tremor made it difficult for the system to recognize me, I will always recognize myself despite my tremor, and remember that while it is a unique part of my charter, it does not define me.

My ET has impacted me in other ways. I have struggled with my handwriting as a result of my essential tremor. It is often not the neatest, even when I focus and take my time. This can again be frustrating at times, especially in school when trying to write tidy essays or create visually appealing projects. While typing is much easier, even then I sometimes notice my ET. Some friends and fellow dancers have asked about it, mistaking it for nerves. I do not know anyone else with ET, so I have explained it to them. I work a little hard to make quality products in the classroom and in the dance studio due to my tremor, but that sense of hard work and determination is what makes me, me.

Having ET has had positive impacts on my life, too. While it makes me unique among my peers, it also connects me to family. My father and my paternal grandfather also have essential tremor. We all struggle with our handwriting and it is not uncommon to have several drinks spill a bit at family dinners. My tremor has become something we have in common and I am grateful to have them as a resource. When I first developed it, I was a little scared. They were supportive and reassuring. This commonality has generated valuable conversations, with them sharing life lessons and me feeling closer to them.

I believe my tremor helps me to be empathetic and it has influenced my career goals. I am double majoring in political science and data science, with plans to work in the public policy or nonprofit sector working with those in need, especially children. My tremor will make me a better advocate. ET has impacted my life by teaching me that:

  • Everyone faces challenges but they do not define us
  • We often fear what we do not understand
  • Research is important
  • Education and support from others can make a tremendous difference

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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.

2 thoughts on “My Tremor Makes Me Empathetic and Has Influenced My Career Goals

  1. Wonderfully written Megan. I struggled with a lot of similar issues in college and in my last quarter I went to the office for student with disabilities and asked for help. They gave me more time, my own room, and let me type my written exams. Suddenly I could focus on what I was supposed to be doing and not distracted by worrying about my hand cramping, and running out of time from having to stop. Highly recommend 🙂

  2. One time I was held up, suspected of being drugged, when trying to enter an examination room. Before another examination, I asked for a viva (oral question-and-answer), without success. Both cases would have been assisted if I had had an ET diagnosis and a medic alert card saying so.

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