I Do Everything I Can and Try Not to Let My ET Get Me Down

March is National Essential Tremor Awareness Month and throughout the month we will be shining a light on people who have essential tremor. Everyone has a story to tell. We hope that these stories will resonate with others, validating the everyday struggles people with ET feel physically and emotionally. As we shine a light on these individuals, we are shining a light on ET and raising awareness. Please share these stories with others.

By Elissa,

I was diagnosed with essential tremor about 12 years ago, but I probably had signs of it earlier than that. I have head, vocal, hand, body and foot tremor.

My ET is familial. My paternal grandmother’s head shook but I thought it was old age. My father’s hand and head shook but I thought he was a messy eater. Also, when his head shook I thought he was just in deep thought. When I was very young I recall my paternal grandmother’s head shaking and it scared me . . . I didn’t know why her head shook.

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In my late 50s, I was president of my temple’s sisterhood. I remember shaking a lot when I had to speak in front of people. But I think the stress of the presidency brought out my tremors. 

For years I have attended the Essential Tremor Support Group in Pontiac, MI. The support group leader, Tom Pilarski and his wife Sabrina, are WONDERFUL people! My husband, Danny, is a huge support to me as well. He joined me at my first ET Support Group meeting and I met so many great people who had tremor like me. I was given materials to read from the International Essential Tremor Foundation (IETF) so I could find out as much as possible about essential tremor.

At one meeting, Dr. Peter LeWitt spoke. He is in charge of the movement disorder department at Henry Ford Hospital in West Bloomfield (not far from my home). I made an appointment with Dr. LeWitt and he told me about five different medications for essential tremor and explained their side effects. I picked Topamax because one of the side effects was weight loss. BIG MISTAKE! I slept all day! I have also taken Klonopin and primidone. Now I am on propranolol. This medication is the first medication that I feel has actually worked on me. I feel less “shaky” if that’s possible. I’ve been taking the medication for about a year now. I know the tremor has not disappeared but I FEEL a difference.

Three words I would use to describe ET as it relates to my life are: shakiness, debilitating and annoying.

Once when I had a pedicure, my left foot tremored so badly that the whole salon was in shock. You could see the looks on their faces. I was shocked as well. I had no control over my left foot. It was jumping all over the place! No one said a word but the looks on their faces said it all.

One of my side effects of ET is typing the wrong letters on the keyboard. I’m so happy that there is a red underline when I make a mistake so I can correct it. My handwriting is also illegible.

My vocal tremor bothers me more than any of my other tremors. I have Botox injections to help remedy the vocal tremor. Right now it’s fine but it has to be administered three to four times a year. After the infection, my voice is very weak for about three weeks before my “normal” voice kicks in.

My head tremor is something I just have to live with. I don’t see it, so it doesn’t bother me as much.

ET is my life. I live my life the best I can. I try to do everything I can and try not to let ET get me down. I try to support those who I know can use the support. I have connected many people with the IETF and my support group as well. I try to educate people about what ET is and how it is different from Parkinson’s disease.

I’m living with ET and I’m not going to let it get me down.

ADA Accommodation and DBS Therapy Provide Support for Fred

March is National Essential Tremor Awareness Month and throughout the month we will be shining a light on people who have essential tremor. Everyone has a story to tell. We hope that these stories will resonate with others, validating the everyday struggles people with ET feel physically and emotionally. As we shine a light on these individuals, we are shining a light on ET and raising awareness. Please share these stories with others.

Fred’s Story

Fred was diagnosed with essential tremor (ET) at the age of 62. That was just two years ago, and yet he has had tremors since he was a teenager. His grandfather had ET it and his sister has it. He said they all have always just adapted the best they could.

Unlike many people afflicted with ET, Fred didn’t let it stop him from going out to dinner, even though he couldn’t get a spoon of corn or peas to his mouth without spilling them. He remembers going through the buffet line at his nephew’s wedding and struggling to serve himself because of his trembling hands. Though he admits that his handwriting has never been good, it finally became so illegible that even HE couldn’t read it.

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“Taking communion at church got harder and harder,” he recalled. “And fine detail work, such as holding very small screws, became impossible.”

Fred applied for “reasonable accommodation” at work, where he is a water treatment operator. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employers are required to provide “reasonable accommodations” to qualified employees with disabilities. It gave him a sense of relief to know others were aware of his condition and that they would provide accommodations to support him in his work.

Through the years, Fred said what helped him cope the most with his ET was his faith and becoming comfortable enough to accept his tremor. He also sought support through the IETF’s Essential Tremor Awareness Group on Facebook.

“When you hear what other people with ET are going through, it kind of relieves the frustration you are going through,” he said.

Medication has never provided him much relief, and like many others, Fred saw his ET worsen with age. He got to the point where he knew he had to do something to get relief. So he went online and did some research on surgical options, then visited with his neurologist about Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) therapy. After learning he was a good candidate, he underwent surgery a year ago. Today he said he has his life back.

DBS therapy involves electrical stimulation to the brain through an electrode planted deep in the VIM (ventralis intermedius) nucleus of the brain called the thalamus. The implanted electrode is connected to a neurostimulator (battery) which provides the appropriate amount of electrical stimulation to control the tremor.

Today there are still times when Fred shakes a little, but not to the degree he did in the past. A small, but important thing he can do now, is serve his wife a cup of coffee.

“I’m excited to tell people about my ability to manage my tremor through DBS. There is hope out there,” he said.

Educating Family Physicians about ET and the IETF

By Patrick McCartney,
IETF Executive Director

One of the pillars of the International Essential Tremor Foundation’s mission statement is “to provide hope to the essential tremor (ET) community worldwide through awareness.”

As we all know one of the biggest challenges we face is raising awareness for ET. This is a daily task for our staff. We use a variety of channels including social media, printed materials, and talking with patients, caregivers, and family members every day on the phone who have questions about this disorder.

Another way we try to raise awareness is by attending national conferences and sharing a variety of information on ET. October 10 through 12 I attended the American Academy of Family Physicians Family Medical Experience in New Orleans, LA. There were more than 5,000 family doctors attending the event. This is the third year we have attended and it’s a great opportunity to share with family doctors the resources the IETF has available for them and their patients.

I shared our Patient Handbook, IETF brochure, ET vs. Parkinson’s fact sheet, medical alert cards, IETF pens, and Tremor Talk magazines with them. The ET vs. Parkinson’s fact sheets were so popular I ran out the second day and had to make more copies at the hotel for the last day of the show.

A couple of takeaways from this conference:

  • Every doctor I talked with had treated ET patients, but not one of them was AAFP Conference 2018aware of the IETF.
  • Several of the doctors I talked with have ET or have family members or friends who have it and were excited to see the resources we have to share.
  • Everyone I spoke with said they would share our information and/or direct their patients, friends, or family members with ET to the IETF either through our website or our toll-free phone number.

I would encourage you, as I encouraged these doctors, to be advocates for ET and the IETF in your community. There are a lot of stereotypes and stigmas associated with ET. Don’t let them prevent you from sharing your story and explaining the daily challenges you face because of ET. And let others with ET know they are not alone.  There are IETF support groups all around the country. You can find a listing of them on our website.  If there is not one in your area consider starting one or join our online support group on Facebook (Essential Tremor Awareness Group).

We appreciate your support and if you have any questions please don’t hesitate to contact the IETF at 1-888-387-3667 or info@essentialtremor.org.