Writing on essential tremor with a bit of humor

When I am nervous, my hands shake and my palms get sweaty. My heart beats faster and my stomach acid churns like it’s trying to make butter. Sometimes, my head wobbles like I’m a bobblehead doll. Of those symptoms, the only one other people can see is the shaking.

When I am not nervous, my palms are dry, and my heart thumps along like normal. My stomach does its normal thing, which is craving things like tacos or coffee or salty snacks or whatever it’s in the mood for. My hands still shake, though, and sometimes my head bobs on my neck.

This is because I suffer from a neurological condition called Essential Tremor. Basically, the signal from my brain to my hands stutters. Sometimes, the signal to my head stutters, too, and it looks like I am shaking my head “no” when I am under the impression that it is perfectly still.

Essential Tremor will not kill me, and my personal condition is not so severe that it interferes with my ability to get food into my mouth or anything like that. So in that regard, it isn’t that severe.


It means that fastening a necklace clasp is brutal and it is easier for a camel to pass through an eye of a needle than for me to pass a thread through one.

“Basically, I have the fine motor skills of a five-year old. I can do most things, but they are sloppy. And I look like I’m scared out of my mind while doing them.

This is a real problem for me professionally. For more than a quarter century now I have been a lawyer, and I am currently a part-time Municipal Court Judge. I have spent a long time honing my skills. I am rarely nervous. However, every single time I pick up a piece of paper in a courtroom, it flutters as if I am in a panic and can barely hold on to it. This doesn’t play well in front of a jury. No one wants to hire a nervous-looking lawyer. Sometimes, when I am sitting on the bench and listening to testimony my head will subtly shake side to side and litigants will accuse me of disagreeing with them before I have heard them out. It isn’t true, but I get why they think this.

I’m not embarrassed or self-conscious about my Essential Tremor.

It’s more annoying to me than anything else, and many times I will just get out on top of it. I will give a quick explanation by way of introduction and then move on. I know I’m lucky in this regard. Because I’m not shy or afraid of speaking to crowds, I can address this problem head on. I can shake hands (ha-ha) with my condition. A lot of people can’t.

I count my blessings. I shake with what my kids call my “shakeys” but not with shakeys that will do anything but irritate me. I have the chutzpah to address the social stigma by looking it directly in the eye and figuring out alternate ways to scoot a plate along the buffet line. I take my pills every day to tamp down the shakeys, and await the day when they get bad enough for me to risk having a neurosurgeon stick probes into my brain or (and this sounds so much better to me) zap targeted ultrasound waves at my head in an effort to slow down the flapping.

Until then, I’ll be here, looking like I’m in a state of utter panic when I’m probably just wondering what’s for dinner.