This is what happens when I try to hold my book because of my Essential Tremor.
As if I weren’t physically awkward enough, as if my weird, clunky walk weren’t enough, and my graceless inability to walk through a doorframe without hitting one side or another with my shoulders weren’t enough, I have been ‘blessed’ with a condition called Essential Tremor. Since March is Essential Tremor Awareness Month, I am going to take this time to make you aware of both the condition and what it is.
It looks, vaguely, like Parkinson’s, but it isn’t. For one, it won’t kill you, though it might annoy you to death, and in severe cases it makes simple things like buttons and eating food off of a spoon extremely difficult. Mostly, it’s embarrassing, because people make assumptions.
In a vastly oversimplified nutshell, what happens is this: the signal from my brain to my hand when I use the muscles in my hand is supposed to look something like this: ———————————————–. Instead, it looks something like this: – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – -. Stated a different way, when you pick up a coffee mug, your brain tells your hand and finger muscles to squeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeze. My brain tells my hand and finger muscles to squeezereleasesqueezereleasesqueezereleasesqueezerelease. Therefore, whenever I fill my coffee mug all the way up, which is most days because, well, coffee, the shaking in my hand makes it slosh over the sides and either on to my shoes or my shirt, depending on how I am holding the cup. I am incapable of taking a non-blurry photograph or a video that doesn’t make people crazy.
Now that I am a little bit older (no, not that old, but still, older than that) and the condition has progressed, it has started to take root in my neck. It doesn’t help that I have a giant, Fred Flintstone sized head, which means that my neck muscles have a lot of work to do to keep it upright. When the signal starts to stutter, it looks like I am shaking my head subtly but clearly “no no no no no no no no.”
Bear this in mind: I am a judge. It is a real problem when someone is testifying in front of me and it looks like I am shaking my head the whole time they are talking. When I am in the role of lawyer, every time I pick up a piece of paper, it shakes like I am terrified. It’s worse when I’m stressed or angry. And shaking can make me stressed or angry.
Oddly enough, one of the few things that makes it calm down is alcohol. However, tequila shots and the practice of law are mutually incompatible so that remedy isn’t a practical one under most circumstances.
Not too long ago, I had the privilege of giving the oath of office to two women who were being sworn in to the City Council where I live. I held the oath in my left hand as I held up my right to mirror them and the piece of paper flapped in its own personal earthquake. I didn’t think much of it, because that’s just what happens. There were a number of state and local dignitaries in attendance. When I was finished, and I walked through the gauntlet of Important People to get back to my seat, many of them clapped me on the shoulder and told me what a great job I did. I was confused. All I did was read a few lines off of a piece of paper. It did not seem worth of praise. And then I got to someone near the back of the room, someone who was a good 50 feet away from the actual swearing at, who said, “You did great. You shouldn’t have been nervous.”
I said, perhaps a little too plainly, “I wasn’t. I have a tremor.”
This poor gentleman looked horrified and embarrassed, and began to apologize. I tried to tell him that I wasn’t embarrassed about what I couldn’t control, and he shouldn’t be embarrassed for not knowing that things were not as they seemed, but the damage was done on both sides.
I guess the lesson is this: You can’t judge a book by its cover, but you also can’t blame people for thinking a book with a picture of people kissing on the cover is a romance. Things usually are what they look like.
But sometimes they’re not.
For more information about Essential Tremor, check out the IETF website at www.essentialtremor.org
If you enjoyed this and want to read more like it, visit Lori on Twitter, or on Facebook. Lori is a New Apple, Readers’ Favorite, and eLit award winner for her latest release, “You Know I Love You Because You’re Still Alive.” She is also the author of the bestselling books “Mismatched Shoes and Upside Down Pizza,” and “The Armadillo, the Pickaxe, and the Laundry Basket.”