It is very easy for me to see a somewhat normal day get turned upside down. Usually this occurs when I venture outside my own world into the unknown of strangers and daily activities. It doesn’t take long before my tremors wreak havoc on my life, even when I pray in earnest to just get through another experience with whoever is in my path. For the most part, people are kind and don’t seem to be put out by my shaky hands as I fumble in my purse for change, or my debit card, but there are times I feel like screaming at someone, “I have tremors; deal with it!”
So, just what is an Essential Tremor?
According to the International Essential Tremor Foundation (IETF), Essential Tremor is defined as “a neurological condition that causes a rhythmic trembling of the hands, head, voice, legs or trunk.” (www.essentialtremor.org). Some people feel an internal shake as well. Obviously, this makes daily tasks such as eating from a utensil or drinking from a cup, extremely difficult and sometimes impossible. For many people, walking and driving are no longer possible.
Many people confuse ET as Parkinson’s disease, however, they are two different conditions. IETF states ET is more common as it affects an estimated 10 million people in the U.S. alone. These facts make the world a little less intimidating, but the lack of information among the general public, even primary care doctors, frustrating.
Many people associate shakiness in a person’s body with Parkinson’s disease, and the two are easily confused. It takes a medical professional to correctly diagnose if a patient is afflicted with either Essential Tremor or Parkinson’s disease. Many general practitioners will refer a patient with signs of either disorder to a neurologist for a proper diagnosis.
The average age for people to develop ET is between 40-55 years of age, but anyone of any age can be affected with this disorder.
Information from the Mayo Clinic’s website, http://www.mayoclinic.org, in relation to Essential Tremor, states that most often, patients with ET will experience trembling of hands when the hands are in use, whereas a patient with Parkinson’s will present trembling of hands when the hands are at rest. Also, Essential tremor doesn’t cause other health problems. Persons with Parkinsons’ will present a stooped posture, slow movement, and a shuffled gait. However, some people with ET will develop signs of an unsteady gait, otherwise known as ataxia.
ET and Parkinson’s also tend to affect different parts of the body. ET mainly presents in a person’s hands, head, and voice. People with Parkinsons’ often begin in the hands and affect the person’s legs, chin, and other parts of their body. (www.mayoclinic.org)
I have been on the most commonly prescribed medications for treating ET, those being Propranolol and Primidone, without success. Many in my online support group have experienced the same treatment with varying results, mostly as being not effective. But with statistics from the International Essential tremor Foundation stating that less than 60% of people with ET are not helped with meds, it is comforting to know I am not alone. Still, I am frustrated by the lack of options for people with this life altering disorder.
ET makes everyday a struggle. Things like writing a check or being able to take a drink of water, is enough to put me over the edge. I don’t enjoy visiting like I used to for fear I will stumble into something, knock something over or spill a glass of refreshment offered to me. I feel guilty every time I have to ask my daughter to sign my name at a checkout counter, or carry a tray for me. Going out to eat is an ordeal in itself. I feel as if everyone is staring at me. I worry about spilling my drink, or getting the fork to my mouth. It never ends. Is it any wonder people dealing with ET have high rates of depression? Crying over little details is a constant.
So ET isn’t curable and there are no medications available for treating the disorder that show any real success. Where do I go from here?
First, I try to laugh. It won’t cure me but it will definitely not hurt me either. I try to remember I am not alone in this daily struggle, millions are dealing with ET as well and feeling the same feelings I have.
Second, I try, with difficulty, to not allow the ignorance of other weigh me down. I can’t speak well due to my tremors, but I will speak as clearly as possible when a rude salesperson or clerk insists on being a jerk. Such as ignoring me when I ask for help with placing my groceries in my cart, or helping me lift something. The manager will hear from me, even if nothing is done about it.
Lastly, I try to adjust. I use a an old plastic tumbler with a melted in side for drinking. My mishap in the kitchen with this particular cup being to close to my stove’s heating element, has created a perfect indention for my finger to grasp with ease making the tumbler easier for me to hold. I use spoons and forks with a weight I feel are better for me to handle. I also watch as many sitcoms and funny movies as I can. Laughter is the best medicine.
I hope everyone will search out their own path when dealing with chronic disorders that place our lives in a tailspin. Most of all, let’s practice patience, patience, patience. Those poor souls who treat us rudely need all the experience they can get!
Look for more information about Essential tremors at the International Essential Tremor Foundation’s website: http://www.essentialtremor.org. Their website has helpful tips for dealing with ET as well as articles about ET from medical professionals in this field of neurological study. You can also find articles about ET and Parkinson’s disease at the Mayo Clinic’s website, http://www.mayoclinic.org.