I first started to notice changes in my movement around 18 years old. I was trying to pay with cash at a self-checkout and my hands were shaking so badly I couldn’t get my money into the machine. Being so young I didn’t think to pay much attention to what was going on with my body.
Fast forward to 23, I began struggling significantly with getting food into my mouth using utensils. Liquids, rice or anything with smaller pieces were nearly impossible to enjoy. At this point I was also enjoying my world as a young adult and frequenting bars on the weekend. Friends would see me shaking holding glasses up, and they would also see that shaking nearly stop after finishing a drink, which of course led to people thinking I had a problem with alcohol instead of my body. I knew that having a few drinks on the weekend wasn’t enough to be causing my shaking, but it didn’t make it any less embarrassing.
That’s when I finally saw my doctor. Even in my exam my doctor asked me about alcohol and if the shaking lessened after a few drinks. I thought, “here we go again, someone else is going to blame it on drinking.” That was the day I first heard the term essential tremor. He let me know my symptoms are often genetic, and we could try to treat it if I thought it was affecting my daily life.
In addition to struggling to feed myself, I should let you know at this point that I am also an artist, and was wanting to go to school to become a veterinary assistant. I needed fine motor skills for my illustrations, learning how to run labs, and administering injections. Shaking was very much affecting everything I enjoyed. He wrote me a prescription for beta blockers that day.
I spent several months feeling sick and tired as my body learned to process the medication, and after the initial hurdle, it turned out to work fairly well for me for several years. On a good day I can see my symptoms lessened significantly. I still have days where even with medications, my hands shake, my arms will jerk and I spill or break things.
I am now 30. Enough time has passed where I think it’s time for me to start looking into alternative treatments. The medication I’m on seems to be causing more side effects than it is helping.
With that aside, simply having a diagnosis and being able to work on treatment has helped me immensely. I was able to go to school for veterinary assisting, and graduated with honors. I have been working in both the medical and veterinary field for several years (although I no longer feel comfortable giving injections). On occasion, I even paint very detailed portraits.
The journey of life is never a straight path, and although I am approaching more changes in treating my ET I am thankful to have made progress so far.
Here’s to seeing what the future holds, and spreading awareness of essential tremor.