BS Week 2016
Tornado at the Target


I got pulled over on Friday morning. I haven't been pulled over in a damn decade at this point -- no tickets, no warnings -- and I was completely caught off-guard by the sight of flashing lights in my rearview mirror. Whaaaaat.

I hadn't been speeding, I'd used my turn signal for a lane change, didn't run a red light, so I was pretty baffled as I pulled over and watched the cop car come to a stop behind me. Maybe a brake light was out? Eh? Whatever it was, it was most likely something in the realm of "slight pain in the ass" as opposed to BITCH U GOIN TO JAIL NOW. 

And while my brain remained mostly calm and logical, the rest of my neurological system decided to freak the absolute fuck out. My Essential Tremor turned up to 11, and I began involuntarily shaking like a leaf from head to toe. 

By the time the officer approached the window I could barely get my license out of my wallet or roll down the window. My head was bobbing, my legs were bouncing, I was a damn mess. 

He looked concerned. The very first question he asked was whether I was okay.

My voice cracked and trembled as I attempted to explain that yeah, yeah, I'm fine, I have this tremor thing and it can get really bad when I'm anxious. 

"Anxious? Because of me?" he actually sounded a little hurt. 

I stared at his absolutely non-imaginary authority figure badge and admitted that yes, a little bit, or at least the situation. 

(Plus I was now going to be LATE for an APPOINTMENT and I've seriously had enough of that lately and I'd been all set to arrive a few minutes early and now ALL WAS LOST.*)

*Okay fine it was just a waxing appointment. But it's super-inconsiderate to be late! And now I was late!

I'd been pulled over because we were overdue for the minivan's vehicle emissions inspection and my tags had been suspended. Whoops. I had no clue about either issue and promised to take care of it ASAP. He was super nice about it, and let me off with a warning. Very cool, thanks.

He then asked repeatedly if I was okay to drive, then checked the back of the car to make sure I wasn't transporting any kids. I repeatedly assured him that I just needed to take a few deep breaths and be on my way and it would stop on its own, especially since being all embarrassed and self-conscious about it is another super-awesome trigger. Gross motor/executive function isn't severely impacted, and I could safely operate the vehicle. Just probably couldn't tune the radio dial or reapply my lipstick on the first try. 

I drove off and made it to my appointment and back just fine, although the tremor remained at a pretty intrusive level for several hours afterwards. I tried to write about it but even just reliving that moment when my entire body turned against me so spectacularly made it worse; I returned to a half-finished AlphaMom column and still couldn't make it through a sentence without my fingers typing a messsss ofg tyupos. mom was diagnosed with Parkinson's a few months ago. I'd always assumed her hand tremors and mine were related, so it was a hard diagnosis to hear, obviously. She has good days and bad days, and it's tough to see all the small take-for-granted movements and activities that are now a constant challenge. She's still trying to find the right balance of medications and therapy, though, so I'm hopeful she'll see marked improvement soon. 

I've been repeatedly assured by both doctors and Google that no, I have ET and it's different, and in no way raises my odds of developing a more serious neurological disorder. And yet when I have an episode like Friday, ET alone can still feel pretty damn serious. Like an out-of-the-blue, full-body panic attack that has ZERO correlation to the level of panic or stress going on in my head. I can't control it, I can barely explain it. It's embarrassing as fuck and I hate it. 

I've been reluctant to go the medication route (since results aren't guaranteed but side effects are, and all the "natural" non-regulated herbal stuff sounds a bit snake-oily), but I don't know. It's probably going to have to happen eventually. I see improvement when I am super careful about caffeine, getting enough sleep and vitamins and keeping general stress levels low, but that's not always doable. Random shit wakes you up at night, you spend a couple sleepless hours thinking about every tiny thing currently stressing you out, you cave to an extra cup of coffee to get you through the next morning...and then a cop pulls you over and your whole body goes batshit haywire on you. Hello, normal things that happen in life! Thanks for suddenly taking away my ability to hold a pen.

Okay, so this one devolved more into cranky frustration than the usual breathtaking dumbness/I fail at life retellings. Guess I'm still a little shook up (RIMSHOT GEDDIT) from the experience. 


Maybe joining them on the slip-n-slide would help? Or at least result in a non-ET-related injury of some kind. 




I'm so sorry to hear about your mom. I do hope they find a good treatment plan.

I'm not normally one to write "Oh this reminds me of my life ..." So, forgive me for this. My dad and his sisters all have these tremors and they've never progressed, and no neurological disorders have been diagnosed. Thank goodness. Maybe they're ETs?

I have noticed that when I get anxious (I'm working through GAD - which I'm pretty sure was brought about by horrible HORRIBLE insomnia), that I feel like I'm trembling inside. I haven't seen any evidence that I'm actually trembling, but I can feel it. It's bizarre, annoying, and in no way calms my anxiety (haha). So, I know it's not the same thing, but I'm sorry to read that you experience this. I think the hardest thing about having anxiety is that we hate ourselves for it.


Please let your mother know about the Parkinson's Voice Project. The progression of this disease can leave people with little or no speech and swallowing problems. If not now, then hold the information for later.

It's a free service and great community of people advocating for PD.

Laura B.

How I think I am: Totally calm and cool as a cucumber and able to handle whatever life throws at me.

How I actually was when I got pulled over last week: Shaking and laughing and crying all at once and goddammit where the HELL did my insurance card go PLEASE don't arrest me and my car is TOTALLY insured, I PROMISE.

When I got back to the office I cracked a bottle of wine, and a colleague drove me home after work. Okay fine, it was my boss. My boss drove me home.

Thank you, publishing industry, for continuing to accept alcohol at work as an integral part of the biz.


I have never heard of ET but, I'm almost 100% certain that I have this. I've had a problem with my hands shaking since I was a little kid ("you'll never be a surgeon! Har, har!") and, as an adult, I notice it the most when I'm doing strenuous exercises (and my trainers love to comment about how I must be in worse shape than they thought because I'm shaking so much). Thank you for sharing that this is a "thing" and I'm not just a freak.


I am so so sorry to hear about your mom. I really hope that she can find the right medication combination to help her.

I was diagnosed last year with MS. I hate it...95% of the time I feel ok (my symptoms are very mild and I know how very lucky I am right now), but it sometimes rears its ugly head and then I get miserable.


You are definitely allowed to vent! That is all super frustrating. I appreciate hearing about ET because it doesn't seem to be a common thing people blog about/hear about??? Sucks that getting "off routine" can throw your body through a loop like that, because having kids is basically "haha you aren't allowed to sleep and also no sitting down and eating a hot meal" anyway! :P


I'm sorry about your mom.

My dad has ET too. It's very annoying. He has had the occasional episode like you described.


My mom has ET. It is only affecting her hands right now but writing and eating are becoming very hard for her. She's on medication and you can tell that it really helps. She also wears those little wrist weights if it's really bad. The weights cause her muscles to fatigue and her hands shake a lot less.


I feel you. So much. I have an anxiety disorder and get super shaky when I'm anxious or tired. I had an episode at Starbucks last week. It was hot, crowded, (why are Stabucks so hot???) I was flustered and my hands began to shake. Noticeably. That look people get on their faces, like, "dude, what the f is wrong with her." It's awful. I want to go, "it's essential tremor, not the goddamn DTs, I swear!" It happened when I had blood drawn at the doctor's office and the rude technician actually looked freaked out and asked "why are you shaking??" It's nice to know I'm not the only one.


That slip n slide will result in grass burns to the knee area and redness upon the chest, trust. I did the science on it for you last summer.


I have also had an ET since I was a kid, but it was only since becoming a nurse that I learned there was a name for it. I work in the NICU, and occasionally I have a parent ask if I am nervous, but I just calmly explain that I have an essential tremor, but it does not restrict my ability to do my job. If it ever does, I will absolutely go on a beta blocker because I know a lot of people who have had good response to that treatment.

I also have the full-body reaction when something sudden and anxiety-provoking happens (my last bad one was when someone hit my car in March and caused $17K worth of damage to it), and I used to have a bad adrenaline reaction at work, but as I finish up my tenth year working in the NICU, I have acclimated to adrenaline-releasing events and don't react as strongly until after the emergency has passed. All of my coworkers are aware that my hands shake but I can still put in an IV and help with any procedure that needs to be done, and it really doesn't affect me much anymore. My explanation of it being an actual medical condition usually is enough of a reply to any questions I get.

I hope that your mom has success with controlling her symptoms soon. Parkinson's is such a hard diagnosis, but there has been so much money put into research since MJF announced his diagnosis, and I hope she benefits from this!



I am so sorry to hear about your mom's Parkinson's. I hope that her medication helps.

As for your ET, is there any chance that meditation might help? The Headspace app, which starts off with something like 10 free sessions, has been useful for me. (I know it's not like you have a lot of free time, but 10-15 minutes a day might make a difference.)

Amy Shaughnessy

I second the Parkinsons Voice Project with a loud huzzah. My mom has PD as well and they have been amazing for her. My mom has no tremors at this point (6 years diagnosed) and it seems that she has the non-tremor variety. But it has affected her speech volume and she does have a periodic lisp, which PVP has been very helpful with. Amazing results, amazing service. Good luck with your ET and your mom's PD. It is not easy, but truthfully we are in a much better place than we thought we might be when we first got the diagnosis.


A stressful, frustrating & embarrassing moment is a perfect mix for an anxious response. Glad you choose to vent and keep it real. It helps all of us and hopefully you too!
I am sorry to hear about your mom's diagnosis. It's tough to watch these things unfold. Hang in there.

Rachel M

I know nothing about ET, but my mom has had Parkinson's for 15 years. Her symptoms definitely got better once she was settled on the right dose of medicine. Right now she is trying a special diet to see if it helps. If it does I might add another comment here.


I get anxious if I'm ever stopped AND I've been a police officer for five years now. It's just what happens.

So sorry to hear about your mom, that's tough stuff. Prayers.


That sounds really hard. My asthma can hit me like that - it kinda creeps up, then something stressful happens and my voice goes all breathy like I'm about to cry or lose control, and I'm not, I swear. But yeah - in your car, with the cop walking up to you? So sorry!


I recently went off my anxiety medication because I couldn't stand the side affects (it basically made me into a dull zombie who slept all day.) Now I feel great and energetic, and I am able to get things done, but there is a constant knot of tension between my shoulders that never goes away and it's hard for me to fall asleep if I get disturbed.

It's annoying to have to choose between having the symptoms of a disease / disorder or having the side effects of the cure for it. I totally feel you there.


I usually don't comment, but I have a suggestion (feel free to ignore as you choose!). Consider asking your doctor for a short letter that explains the ET, that it flares in anxious situations, and that it doesn't affect your ability to drive, etc, and keep it in your glove box. It's nice to have back-up for your statements to show the officer(s), and lends some validity to the situation in case the kids were with you and the scrutiny was intensified. This has been helpful to me....I was born with some eye issues, and have had 3 surgeries. My eyes don't track together as a result. While this is normal for me, it is also an indicator of being impaired, so, ya know, I like some medical establishment back-up to my 'No, I haven't been drinking (occifer)', claim!
Very sorry to hear the news about your mom, would be nice if your family could catch a break for awhile. Wishing all the best.....

ccr in MA

I'm so sorry about your mother's diagnosis. As for the cop, was he new? Doesn't everyone freak out to at least some degree when they get pulled over?


I want to second Shes's recommendation about keeping a letter or notecard in the car or even your purse. My MIL and some of her siblings were diagnosised with Huntington's Disease (think ALS, PD, & Lou Gehrig all in one). Anyway those that can/are still allowed to drive find these letters helpful as people often call the cops thinking a drunk person is getting into a car and driving, due to their erratic walking pattern and shaking. It helps the whole process of getting pulled over go much smoother.

I'm sorry to hear about your mother's diagnosis.

Amy in StL

We tried out a slip n slide a couple years ago at a friend's house. It turns out that running and belly flopping down on the slide sucks so much more in your 40s than it did in your teens.


Long time reader, first time commenter! Just to say sorry for your trouble and also I struggle with physical symptoms related to anxiety and stress as well. Not the same issues as you, but I can relate to feeling like the body is betraying the mind. I have found acupuncture and Chinese Herbal medicine critically important. It's not at all snake oil, though it's not for everyone. I recommend trying it at least 2 or 3 times before writing it off. Many insurance providers cover it if that helps legitimize it. It has kept me off pharmaceuticals and I'm grateful for that. (apologies if this is assvice too, ughn.) Take care and feel better!


I just want to send you a virtual hug.


I'm sorry to hear about your mom. My dad (former football player, coach, and building contractor) was diagnosed in 2008. He was a part of the Michael J. Fox Foundation study until recently. It breaks my heart to watch my own personal Mr. Fix It no longer have the ability to do seemingly easy things like hang a picture. The positive news for you is that the one thing they have determined is that it is not necessarily genetic. And like the poster above me, I just want to send you a virtual hug and tell you it's going to be okay.


You may be interested in seeking information/advice from Johns Hopkins Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders Center.

Peace and comfort to you and your Mom.


I have ET. TELLING people helps because then they don't get nervous about you shaking. When you say why, and that it is not contagious, people are kind.
Sometimes mine is worse than other times. When it is bad, tell people that it is bad and will settle shortly.
Telling others helps them understand and normalizes ET. Bring it out 'of the closet' and learn to say it' loud and proud' because this really helps more than just you. Just look at your commenters to remind yourself of this.
Sometimes, I have found taking deep slow breaths will help chill down the shaking. And retiring from a totally stressful job was miraculous in slowing the progression and intensity for me.


Sorry to hear about your ET. My 15 year old stepson had episodes so bad we took him to the ER. They gave him Xanax but we decided it was too addictive and convinced him to try acupuncture. Did I mention he hates needles and got really upset at the idea. But weeks later he was begging to continue. I don't know how it helped him but something about "channels"? She also asked him to limit dairy, caffeine and spicy foods. Sugar was ok. When his ETs came they were a fraction of what they used to be. Hope this can help you. And bless your mama. Hope she gets all the answers she needs.

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