Today I found out that I have a disease called "Essential Tremor," and what I want to know is: who the heck names a disease with "Essential" as part of the title? There is nothing about this disease that seems essential. A much better name would be something like "extremely-annoying shaky limb disease." Nevertheless, I have a deeply-disturbing feeling that nothing will ever the same.
Actually, I've known for months that something was wrong, but I didn't have a definitive answer as to what that was until now, so my wife and I chose to keep quiet about it. Knowing for certain helps, though; not just because I have a name to assign to the symptoms that I have been experiencing, but also to know that I don't have something far worse like Parkinson's Disease, which is fatal. (Note: The Essential Tremor page on the Mayo Clinic website has a great breakdown of the symptom differences between these two diseases.)
I first started experiencing symptoms well over a year ago when I noticed that one of my legs would start to shake. Sometimes my right leg would shake while driving - just enough to be annoying, although occasionally enough for me to ask my wife to drive. At other times one of my legs would shake while standing, and occasionally one of my feet would shake while supporting my balance as I was seated on a stool in our breakfast nook or when performing at church. However, over time my fingers started to shake, too. Sometimes my finger muscles would fire on their own and pull inward into my palm; on one such occasion the thumb on my right hand would pull inward every 30 seconds for almost a week. I soon discovered that if I shook my hands, they would continue to shake on their own, and tasks like pouring liquid from a bottle might result in uncontrolled shaking. In a few episodes, I would be performing a repetitive action such as typing on a computer keyboard or tapping my foot, but when I would mentally signal whichever limb to stop moving, the action continued on its own, and all I could do was watch in amazement as my extremities seemed to have a life of their own. As anyone can imagine, between typing on a computer for a living and playing various musical instruments as a hobby, I am typically extremely aware of exactly what my fingers are doing, and you cannot imagine how terrifying it was to watch my fingers simply quit responding correctly while playing classical guitar or some other delicate task. Needless to say, as my symptoms increased in both frequency and severity, my emotions quickly moved from amusement to confusion to concern and then alarm, and my wife progressed through many of those emotions as well as she witnessed my rapid decline during the first half of this year.
I started a diary of my symptoms earlier this year, and I had hundreds of episodes documented by August when I was finally able to see a neurologist who specializes in movement disorders. That being said, my neurologist quickly dispelled any fears of Parkinson's Disease and he prescribed medication for Essential Tremor, to which I have been responding rather well. There are some side effects, though, and a common effect is drowsiness. This led to a brief work-related experiment recently, where I was off my medications for a week or two due to long hours and a heavy work schedule; I couldn't afford the luxury of being tired, so I simply stopped taking my medication. As expected, my symptoms quickly returned. However, when I restarted the medication my symptoms abated, so I feel pretty confident about my current course of treatment. That being said, stress exacerbates my condition, so I've had to have a talk with my boss about changing what I do; we'll see how that goes in the months ahead. (Microsoft isn't known for being a stress-free environment.)
So what does all this mean? For now, it means that when I behave myself and I stay on my medication, I am usually symptom-free. I have good days, and I have bad days - but thankfully the good days far outweigh the bad, and even when I have a bad day, it's nowhere near as bad as when I wasn't on medication. Occasionally I'll be playing something intricate on the guitar and it simply falls apart; sadly, I'm learning to live with that as a part of my new reality. However, I try to be an optimist, so I told my wife that I have an unexpected benefit from all of this: whenever I play something incorrectly on the guitar now, I can blame it on a tremor, and no one will ever know if I'm telling the truth or if I just suck at the guitar. ;-)