March is Essential Tremor Awareness Month

By Maggy Schoonover, Program Manager

Once it was known as familiar tremor, benign essential tremor, or hereditary tremor. It’s not just shaking or anxiety, it’s a neurological condition. It’s also not Parkinson’s.

Seven to ten million Americans have this condition. I am not writing this blog to scare you, rather to inspire and/or enlighten you. Some people in your life may have this and you might not even know. It doesn’t need treatment if it’s mild, but treatment may help.

The reason I celebrate/recognize this month is due to the fact it is familial for me. My grandmother and mother both had/have this condition. I always saw them have the characteristic hand shaking when writing or holding anything heavier than a newspaper. It wasn’t strength based, as both of them were nurse’s aides and provided care to patients for decades. It became more visible as they got older. I recognized it in my mother when I was a teen. She had got a formal diagnosis in the late 1990’s. She thought it was anxiety, but her PCP said differently. She was too busy at the time to entertain the idea that treatment would work, so since it was negligible, she ignored treatment. I tell you this, because she still works full time, sometimes overtime. She has never had treatment, other than calming exercises, mental and physical.

Well, as it turns out, guess who was diagnosed next? Yours truly.

Maggy and her mom.

The difference between my mom and me is stark. While she is quiet, reserved, and prefers to stay out of social situations, I am outgoing, always busy, and enjoy social outings. But we do have this condition in common. Being social is how I found out I might have this condition, from a friend. They asked me why my hands were shaking when I was out to lunch with them after my daughter was born. When I went to the doctor initially, they thought it might be too much caffeine or anxiety. I cut out the caffeine, but they continued. I tried anti-anxiety medication, but they still continued. (Mind you I was 23 at the time, had a new baby, and was less than pleased at the thought I was becoming my mother.)

They finally conceded that I may have essential tremors. I started to work out and stretch in an attempt to strengthen my body, so I would shake less when lifting things. It didn’t help. They were still there, but mild. I became a nurse’s aide; it didn’t affect the care I provided, but I was shaking after work. I went into a less physical job, and they continued.

I am now in my late 30s and it continues. Some people still ask if I am okay if I have a shaky day. I am somewhat able to control my tremors through mindfulness and mediation, but still, it is more evident than it was 10 years ago.

Maggy and her daughter.

Will meditation cure this condition? No; but being calm can reduce tremors. It can help with acceptance and tension.

I encourage you, no matter what conditions, life or medical, that you may have, you can overcome it and become successful. You are not a condition, that is just one facet of a deep, complex, wonderful life.

Have a great day!