I’ve always had a slight tremor in my hands, and I’ve always been self-conscious of it. When I was in college my aunt insisted I have my thyroid levels checked because “hands aren’t supposed to shake that much, honey.” But the thing is, for whatever reason, mine are. My hands are shaking hands.
The tremor affects my voice from time to time too. When I’m excited or nervous, or sometimes for no reason at all, my voice breaks or trembles. My voice is a shaking voice.
There’s a name for what I have: essential benign tremor. I liked the name until I found out that my tremor is an essential tremor because doctors and researchers have essentially agreed that they don’t know what causes any of this. (I’m not making this up.)
These shaking hands and this trembling voice don’t bother me too much. The hand tremor is limiting, sure. I’ll never be able to thread a needle in record time, and eating soup in restaurants is not in my best interest. And I’ll admit my frustrations: I can’t do the fine detail work on certain things that I wish I could. But that’s alright. I’m okay focusing on things that don’t require exquisite fine motor skills.
Lately, I’ve been going out more. Being social, meeting new people. In some of these situations, I have the luxury to send a quick message ahead of time, “hey, this is a little awkward, and kind of embarrassing, but I wanted to tell you that I have a tremor. It’s no big deal, but some people see it and think I’m a nervous wreck when I’m not.” Those who get the awkward message before a date, well, they can do what they want with that information. I send it as a courtesy. I send it with the assumption that they will notice and assume something is wrong. I send it because I want them to pay attention to me, not my shaking hands.
Most say nothing.
So far, in fact, only one person has acknowledged my message. Rather than talking about why my hands shake, we talked about why people feel a need to announce their differences. We talked about the reasons and ways in which we explain our tics or tremors. And the more we talked about it, the more I realized that my shaking, my trembling, my spilled soup: these are my things. They should be used as a barometer of nothing—not of how I feel about your presence or my performance. They are not indicators of nervousness or fear or anxiety. They are not indicators of calm or distress. They’re simply indicators of my own-ness.
If I could walk into a room of strangers, carrying only myself, all of my Self, I would bring this tremor and tremble. I would bring shaking hands out of pockets and make my voice carry loudly so everyone could hear me—even if it cracks and breaks.
And, truly, this is what I do when I teach. I move into a room, introduce myself, and launch into a discussion on something I know quite a bit about. I speak clearly and assuredly. My voice breaks and my hands tremble and I go on.
I bring myself into a room, without having sent a message, without having felt a need to tell anyone about the ways my hands move or my voice sounds. I come to do the thing I do best: teach others how to communicate, how to use words clearly and effectively, how to use their voices without fear or hesitation or self-censorship.
I’m nixing the courtesy message next time. I’m going to bring myself into the room just as if I were teaching—no warning, no preparation: just my tics, my trembles, and me.