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.

Essential Tremor Has Strengthened My Resolve

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 2018 scholarship recipients.

 

By Graham Gaddis,
University of Tennessee

As the sixth child in a family of 16 children I am sometimes overlooked, but if we met for a personal interview you would learn how capable I am.

Photo of Graham Gaddis, IETF Scholarship RecipientIn the shadows and in the quiet, I have found an identity, and much of this identity has developed from facing head-on the difficulties of living with essential tremor (ET). I realize that having ET has actually strengthened my resolve to tackle life’s challenges and achieve my personal goals.

The process of living with ET has also enabled me to focus on my genuine priorities. I don’t have the time or the energy to be pressured to be someone else or simply please someone else. As a result of ET, I have learned to stand in my own skin and really pursue my own interests. For example, I am the fifth kid to go to college in my immediate family. My father, aunt and uncle are physicians. I have three sisters who are registered nurses and my brother is studying engineering. Therefore, most people thought I would enter college in a STEM field (science, technology, engineering, math). But my future dreams include farming and food production. I have chosen to major in a field that is completely new to my family, but that I am sincerely passionate about. I think this boldness to pursue a degree unfamiliar to my large extended family has developed as I found courage dealing with my essential tremor.

It has not been easy to struggle daily to spread peanut butter on my sandwich bread, assemble a bookcase with 80 screws dropping them over and over again, or have to practice, in private, my penmanship so that it would be legible. I don’t really like that I spill a drink if it is too full. These things are not “fun”, but in the scope of the greater things in life I can still do everything that God has called me to do. I can shower those whom I love with kindness. I can contribute to my community and have a legacy of faithfulness. I can be sympathetic to the trials and difficulties others face and help in their time of need.

I know I can walk through the challenges of having essential tremor and I can still find joy in all of the areas of life that really matter.

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Interested in supporting students with ET during their educational journey? Make a donation to the ET scholarship fund online.

 

Essential Tremor Follows Madison to College

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 spring 2018 scholarship recipients.

 

By Madison Young
Student at Arkansas Tech University
Russellville, AR

I knew when I went to college that my essential tremor would come with me and life would be something different than what I am used to. The friends and people I have been around have seen my hands and arms shake for years. Now there would be new people. Plus, the stress of college would kick up the numbers of tremors I have based on the amount of stress on my body. I knew I could handle it or hoped I could.

I am a rehabilitation science major/pre-physical therapy so there will be no easy courses, but I also know what I want to do with the rest of my life. I am not going to let a little tremor disorder dictate my path. Right now, I am in a rehab science class and it is all about how to help people with disabilities – how to cope, adjust and react. I had no clue going into this class that I would learn how to adjust to my own.

Yes, I was diagnosed when I was 13, but I have never thought about how this would affect my life long-term, or how I should or would deal with it. I have only thought about how I am just a girl with a little tremor disorder. I honestly haven’t spent much time considering the positive and negative ways I have reacted to having ET. Truthfully, I have continued to think unrealistically, that I could get better. Only recently have I started to adjust to thinking that this is my life, and this is how it is going to be, and it will be progressive. This acceptance and so many new things I have learned about myself and others are helping me move past the fact that I do have this disability.

I could compare having essential tremor to being left handed (I happen to be left handed) or having a hitch in your step. People do not notice it for awhile; they think they see some shaking, but dismiss it. Then they see it happen again, and again, and once they “really” see it, they can’t not see it. My new friends in college didn’t see it for awhile. Now they are constantly trying to see it – see how bad it is, wonder if they can do something to make it better and ask me questions. I know that it is all with good intentions, but it is annoying at times. It makes me wish that I had never confirmed what they thought they were seeing. I could have left the elephant in the room. However, we all have our disabilities, disorders and differences. I have decided it can be looked at as a way to connect with people and bond in a way that others cannot. College kids . . . we all have things that make us self-conscious, but we move past those thoughts together and use our newfound friendships to build a support network and celebrate the things that make us unique. Carry on world. I’m going to be just fine!

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Would you like to support students with ET during their educational journey? Make a donation to the ET scholarship fund online.