My Journey with Essential Tremor

by Jackie Farrell

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I was born 1947 in Hampton Hill, Middlesex, UK. At the age of three my mother took me to a dance class. From that day dance became my life, and I knew from an early age it would be my career. I left school in 1962 to work as a dancer. After taking my first teacher’s exam at 16, I opened my own dance school in 1964 teaching ballet, tap and modern dance.

 

During my 20s a tremor developed in my right hand, which was finally diagnosed as Benign Essential Tremor in 1974. The tremor was slight so it didn’t really bother me. My school continued to flourish with many pupils going into the dance profession. Although the tremors progressed slightly in my 30s and 40s, including now in my left hand, I was still able to teach. From the beginning I decided not to take medication, preferring to cope without, which I still do to this day. (Although this works for me, if you are on medication it is important not to stop without consulting your doctor or specialist first.)

During my early 50s a ‘no-no’ head tremor was diagnosed, especially in certain positions. For others with ET this could be a ‘yes-yes’ movement. The hand tremors progressed and became more noticeable on activities that up until that point had been manageable. Not being able to control the hands, teaching dance became difficult. This was particularly true with classical ballet, which requires precise arm movements with specific hand positions and good balance. I then had to make an extremely difficult decision; I stopped teaching and took early retirement in 2004. At the time it felt like the end of the world, as dance had been my whole life since the age of three years.

In 1995, while still teaching, a back injury led me to take up yoga. After a short period of time it became apparent that the benefits of yoga were not just for the injury. Even more importantly, it was noticeable that my tremors calmed down considerably during the relaxation part of the class. Unfortunately after a year the class changed to an unsuitable day, but by this time yoga was part of my daily routine. In 2002 I discovered another local Hatha yoga class, which I continue attending to this day. It is perfect for me, with a considerable amount of focus placed on the true essence of yoga, uniting the mind, body and spirit.

This class led me to research in more depth the properties and benefits of yoga, meditation and other complimentary therapies that would benefit my tremors. In 2011 I unexpectedly found myself being drawn to teaching meditation. My yoga teacher encouraged me to take a meditation teacher’s training course, which then enabled me to start teaching in her studio.

In 2012 Essential Tremor was diagnosed in my legs and jaw, and since then I have also been diagnosed with Bronchiectasis. In order to manage my day, I practise meditation, yoga, relaxation and breathing exercises first thing in the morning. Fatigue is a symptom of ET so it is important for me to pace my activities each day; this helps keep the tremors more under control, as too much activity or exertion can increase them. Being mindful and in the present moment is also invaluable to me. However, there are days when my tremors have a mind of their own and are a challenge, especially when applying makeup, eating, drinking or writing, and the leg tremors can affect driving.

Over the 40 years I have lived with ET, I am frequently asked: Why are you shaking? Do you have Parkinson’s? Are you nervous? It is frustrating when constantly being asked these questions. I hasten to add that this is no disrespect to the person asking, to which I always reply courteously, knowing that they simply have never heard of Essential Tremor! How can it be said to be the most common neurological movement disorder, but be the least known?

At the beginning of 2014 I discovered March was ‘ET awareness month’, when the International Essential Tremor Foundation asked people with this neurological condition to speak out about the condition. Since then I have taken every opportunity to raise and spread awareness of this life altering disorder, including arranging a successful three-day information stall at our local library. Details of any forthcoming events & other ET information can be found on my Facebook page:       

Living Life with Essential Tremor

There is a saying: when one door closes, another one opens. How true this is for me. When the dance school door closed, another door opened to the path of meditation and raising awareness of Essential Tremor. So it could be said that I’m still involved with dance, now though the Dance of Life.

“Our path is sometimes rough and sometimes smooth; nonetheless, life is a constant journey…. whatever we do is regarded as our journey, our path. That path consists of opening oneself to the road, opening oneself to the steps we are about to take.”  ~ Chogram Trungpa