Having ET Has Given Me a Different Outlook on People with Disabilities

Each semester, the International Essential Tremor Foundation presents four scholarships to students with essential tremor. The scholarships represent hope for the future, and provide support to these students during a pivotal time in their lives. As part of the scholarship application process, each applicant is asked to write an essay that answers the question, “How has essential tremor affected my life?” The following essay is from one of our fall 2019 scholarship recipients.

By Madison Young,
2019 IETF Scholarship Recipient,
Student at Arkansas Tech University, Russellville

I think there are about seven basic things that people all have in common. We like to laugh. We have good days. We have bad days. We like to smile. We sometimes cry. We have days where we just feel lazy. We like to be liked. The things that make us different are in no way basic. Differences come in so many forms and varieties and complexities. Differences in human beings are as numerous as the stars. Differences are what make us unique and interesting. My differences make me, me. I am Madison Young, a high school graduate, a full-time college student, a Sunday school teacher, a sister, a daughter and a person with a disability.

Madison Young Fall 2019 Scholarship Recipient

Recently I was talking with a sorority sister about my tremors. She has noticed them many times but finally asked the question. I gave her the basics about essential tremor and told her I am technically disabled. Her response was amazing. She told me she was disabled, too! We were both so surprised and excited. We high-fived each other and laughed. Something that made us different made us the same. We realized we weren’t alone. I sometimes find myself trying to hide this that makes me different, but I forget that it bonds me with others and forms a connection. As we started to laugh and carry-on another sorority sister looked at us like we were crazy. We shared with her what we were laughing about and she was surprised about the disabilities. Not only are we both completely abled bodies to anyone looking from the outside, but we also are not ashamed to share it. I could tell this other sorority sister of mine was now sad for us. There is no reason to be, but that is normally the first response. I also know that with her, a little label will go under my name in her mind and that is how she will think of me. It’s not bad of her however. It will be one of the differences she remembers about me. And my sorority sister with the disability – I will probably make a mental label about her, too, but it will fall under a category called common connection. It was a way for us to grow closer even if we do not have the same disability.

When I look at the big picture, and try to think about how my tremors have negatively affected my life, I come up blank. There is no defining moment where I go “oh, there, that’s where tremors ruined my life.” Having essential tremor has given me this connection to others that I never realized I could have. It has given me a different outlook on people with disabilities because not all of them are physical and we all struggle with different things. At the end of the day, we are all just people with a few basic things in common and an overabundance of differences. Differences are what make us . . . us.

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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.

Her ET Has Taught Her to Advocate for Herself

Each semester, the International Essential Tremor Foundation presents four scholarships to students with essential tremor. The scholarships represent hope for the future, and provide support to these students during a pivotal time in their lives. As part of the scholarship application process, each applicant is asked to write an essay that answers the question, “How has essential tremor affected my life?” The following essay is from one of our fall 2019 scholarship recipients.

By Elizabeth Carroll
2019 IETF Scholarship Recipient,
Student at University of Massachusetts Amherst

For the longest time, I didn’t notice my shaking hands. Classmates would point it out in the cafeteria and I’d respond quizzically. By eighth grade, however, my hands were nearly impossible to ignore. Writing became difficult; at times I would finish a sentence only to realize I couldn’t read my own handwriting because my hands had a mind of their own. Small tasks, like eating and buttoning my own shirt, brought frustrating challenges on my worst days and minor irritations on my better days. Eventually, a neurologist diagnosed me with essential tremor (ET). While the condition runs in my family, I found myself caught off guard. My diagnosis labeled me with a disability, the same disability that I witnessed rob the independence from my elderly aunt.

Afraid, frustrated and self-conscious, I began to work with doctors and my school to manage my condition. By high school, well-versed in my 504 Plan (a plan that documents how a school will provide support and remove barriers for a student with a disability) and armed with special pencils from my school district’s occupational therapist, I entered freshman year feeling more confident about my tremor than ever before. My accommodations were transformative in the classroom, but I quickly realized that in order to use them, I had to talk to my teachers about my 504 Plan. With that came a new valuable skill: how to advocate for myself.

The year I got my diagnosis of essential tremor was the year I discovered my fascination with the law. Advocating for myself in the classroom was my first taste of being an attorney. I was my own client, negotiating and listing my needs to meet my goal. As my high school career continued, it became clear that my tremor was not going away, but neither was my fervent desire to attend law school and spend my career advocating for others.

My tremor and love for the law have become intertwined. Quite literally, my tremor is there whenever I participate in mock trial and government programs. Public speaking is a battle between my expressive hand gestures and violent trembling. Once, I was even marked down in the National Judicial Competition for having “distracting hands.” While I was outraged at that scorer’s ignorant comments and point deduction, I returned the next summer to the National Judicial Competition to play a defense witness who was the victim of domestic violence. My performance included “believable shaking hands” and earned me two nominations for the Outstanding Witness Award, making me the first in Massachusetts history to get that close to winning a coveted glass gavel award.

Outside the courtroom, however, my tremor has taught me about law on a deeper level. I have a unique appreciation for special education law, as I understand the difference that accommodations can make in a child’s education and future. When I graduate college and law school, I hope to be right back where I am today. Yet, instead of advocating for myself in the classroom, I’ll be advocating for another student with a disability in court or at an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) meeting.

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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.