Actor Ryan Williams shares his experience of living with essential tremor
My name is Ryan Williams and I am an actor with Essential Tremor.
Contrary to my profession, I was fairly shy growing up, but at around 16 or 17 years old something changed. I had started to become hyper-sensitive to how other people would see me and treat me, because my hands had begun to shake uncontrollably.
One of the first time I can recall, I was giving a cashier some change at the local supermarket when they asked me:
“Are you alright?”
“Yeah, I’m fine. Thanks,” I replied.
“Would you like some help?” the cashier asked.
“With what?” I questioned.
“Your hands. Are you a little hungover from the weekend?” the cashier chuckled.
I hadn’t had a drop of alcohol. I didn’t even drink coffee then. Maybe I was tired. Maybe I hadn’t eaten enough. I scoured my brain for an answer yet, the more I did, the worse I felt and from then on, I would get anxious standing in line everywhere. Worrying that everyone was thinking I was some local drunkard who couldn’t even keep his hands steady to pay for his shopping. A paranoia that would haunt me on a daily basis. I didn’t want to be seen that way.
I used to think a lot of how my father and how his hands would shake when he tried to perform seemingly simple tasks. Yet he always would brush off any comments about it and just accept that he just had ‘shaky hands’. I decided to talk with my mum about it and from that conversation alone, I think she knew how much it was getting to me. She arranged an appointment with our local doctor as soon as she could.
After some basic tests, like lifting a sheet of paper and holding both my arms out straight, he would go on to conclude that I had a Benign Essential Tremor and:
a) It’s nothing to worry about.
b) It can sometimes be inherited from a parent.
c) It may even get worse as you get older.
d) There was no cure.
A cold wave washed over me. I was terrified. I had aspirations to perform for a living. How was I going to be able to do that when I couldn’t even hold a script steading in an audition? He offered me a prescription drug called Propranolol – a beta-blocker that he told may reduce the shaking but is only effective in 20-30% of cases - and that was it. I couldn’t believe it. No leaflets. No websites. No further reading.
How could there be no cure?
After 6 months on Propranolol, the feeling that this condition was only getting worse had started to take its toll so much that it inevitably evolved into depression. I would have panic attacks before going into auditions. I would dread if a girl asked to hold my hand or dance. I didn’t even want to go to the gym for the fear that people would laugh at me shaking as I did one push-up. I started not wanting to participate in anything at all.
Then came the second prescription: Anti-depressants along with a diagnosis that I was a unipolar depressive by the age of 19 ironically leaves you feeling a little low. I needed an alternative solution.
I desired a deeper understanding and perspective that I never had before in order for me to feel I could be part of the world again rather than feeling exempt from it. I would not let this condition beat me.
“I have a tremor.” has become my mantra. Seems obvious, right? But by simply starting to admit to myself and others what it was before they could make any conclusions of their own seemed to ease my paranoia and, concurrently, my condition. I suddenly felt more relaxed in social situations. I felt like I was finally able to focus on more important aspects of my life for once. I enjoyed interactive with humanity again. Some responses even started to baffle me. People would tell me they ‘never even noticed it’ or that ‘they have a friend who is like that. It’s fine.’
In fact, it was one of those same friends who recommended I try things like meditation and yoga as a way to be more present with the condition and truly gain an even deeper sense of empathy towards it. Relaxation; mindfulness and awareness. The more I practised these fundamental principles, the happier I became.
I finally had some foundation and confidence to talk about it with others. Talking and writing about what ails you is the ultimate expression of awareness and it is what I and so many others are here to do: to initiate the conversation. In fact, you reading this is proof of that
It’s true that having this condition can be an extremely isolating experience but I assure you that you are not on your own. There is help out there.
So tell your family; your friends; your teachers; your boss.
Shake things up a little. You might just get the answers you’re looking for.