January 23, 2014

Why I'm on shaky ground

It’s a good thing I am not a brain surgeon. I would get sued every day. I would probably maim or kill my patients.

If I were any kind of doctor, or toy assembler or jewelry repairman, I’d have a major problem on my hands. In fact, my hands are the problem.

It’s weird that I’m able to come on this blog and share everything about my mental illness, but I’ve been shaky about writing this one. Just like my hands.

My hands shake morning, noon and night. They shake when I’m nervous. They shake when I’m not nervous. They shake when I’m at a cocktail party I want to attend like I want my toenails ripped off. They shake when I’m by myself watching football.

When I finish my workout at Crossfit, after I’ve embarrassed myself in other ways, they shake even more. Same with yard work.

It’s become a big joke in my house. My kids love to point out how much I’m shaking. When I carry two dishes to the kitchen, they laugh as the dishes rattle and clank like a china factory in an earthquake.

My kids and my wife are the only people who can get away with mocking me. Anyone else does, and I get self-conscious—as if I need another reason.

I’ve had a tremor as long as I can remember. Kids made fun of me when I was little. I should’ve served those guys a shaky knuckle sandwich, but I took it all in stride and felt humiliated.

I once asked the doctor about it, and he explained that I have a benign familial tremor. In other words, the shakes run in the family and I won't die from it.

It’s been a much bigger problem lately for another reason. I take 1,200 milligrams of Lithium every day for bipolar, and it makes it a lot worse.

My current doctor has been trying to find the right meds to minimize my shakes. I took a blood pressure medicine called Propranolol for a while. It helped for a few hours, but as soon as I got on Lithium it got a lot worse. So now I’m on another drug. It seemed to help for a while but the shakes have come back with a vengeance.

The worst part about it is my shakes have given me a drinking problem. Not that kind of drinking problem. I haven’t had a drink in four months. I’m like Ted Stryker from Airplane. Unless I’m drinking out of a bottle or a really big cup I can clutch, I struggle to get a drink to my mouth without spilling it everywhere.

This is becoming a problem. If I’m at a luncheon or a dinner, I just don’t drink anything. My hand shakes too much when I try and lift the glass to my mouth and I end up making a spastic motion to get it there or spill it all over my shirt.

I’ve learned to eat a whole meal without so much as a sip of water.
I have strategies, but they don’t always work. I’ll go to the table before other guests get there, hold my glass with two hands and chug as much as I can. If I can get half of it down, sometimes I’m able to take a few sips during the meal. I’ve got no chance if the glass is filled up all the way.

I’ve learned the hard way that I can no longer walk around the office holding a cup of coffee. First of all, I look like a trapeze artist trying to walk a tight rope. That’s how hard I have to concentrate and how careful I have to walk.

If I’m clutching a cup of warm coffee and someone wants to shake my hand, I’m cooked. I can’t do the right-to-left hand transfer because my left hand is worse than the right.

Sometimes even just holding a cup of coffee while I’m standing still is a problem. I was walking up the stairs at work recently and a friendly coworker stopped to chat. I didn’t listen to a thing she said. Sure enough, I got a major tremor and coffee spilled all over the place. That was really fun.

So if you see me shaking, I’m probably not nervous at all. At least until you point out my shaking hands.