Shakes With Bern #1: “I couldn’t even lift my pen…”

You probably saw the announcement on the GyroGear facebook page: one of the team has shaky hands, and is now doing a series about the things she used and did that helped her. But how did she end up with shaky hands in the first place? Well, here’s the very quick introduction.

 


 

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In 2009, I was diagnosed with Bipolar II Disorder, amongst other things, after I had quite a bit of a breakdown just after a university seminar. I remember screaming at the psychiatrist during the triage (although I don’t actually remember consciously doing it; it was really a reaction), and then the waiting room outside falling silent. I didn’t know that that would start me on a journey that honestly, I still struggle to cope with today.

 

During those years, I didn’t think I would make it to see 25, much less this very moment. Shortly after the diagnosis, I was massively suicidal and uncontrollably emotional. Titrating my medication was also nightmarish (and this I’m sure many of you reading will understand). Every month was a new dosage or new medication entirely, followed by another month of side effects, where things never seemed to get better. I was ready to throw it all in, ready to drop out of university, ready to die, honestly. To be honest, the biggest part of why I didn’t was because I was a teacher and a coach at the time, and I loved my students and the responsibilities I had to them.

 

The side effects were horrendous; from the sudden weight gain, to vacillating between manic insomnia and then an inability to wake up or get out of bed, rashes, psychosis… Nothing, however, was as bad as realizing that one day, as I was marking my students’ papers, that there was something wrong with my writing.

 

I’ve always been someone who loves the feeling of pen on paper, but that evening, something felt… off. I couldn’t pinpoint it until suddenly, it felt as if I had a sudden small seizure, and my red pen slashed a livid line across the paper. It took every ounce of self control to not panic as I attempted to assess the situation. My letters had become wavy, and my hands were shaking. My heart was also pounding in my chest and I had broken out into a mild sweat. At that point, I chalked it up to taking my medication and some coffee just about an hour beforehand. I figured, perhaps I could continue marking the next day and things would be better. Maybe even take my medication earlier.

 

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. I did discover that the few hours immediately after taking my medication were the worst for my shaking hands. Very often in private I’d attempt to draw, or write something, forcing myself to make everything smooth and straight. But I’d fail and in my anger, I’d throw the writing implements across the room before holding in tears. There were points where I couldn’t even lift my pen. How was I going to teach or coach? Even after the medication wore off more, and the shaking decreased, it was still bad enough to really interfere with things like eating or buttoning up my shirts. After over a year of taking different medications and different combinations and dosages, I was also genuinely exhausted to my bones. Would I have to spend yet another couple of months not feeling like I actually owned my body?

 

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(That’s okay though, I did all of the above with some seriously shaky hands. I’ll show you how in the next few entries!)

 

I would spend hours looking at my art materials longingly, wishing I were able to use them like I used to do as a teenager. It was incredibly debilitating, being unable to do what I used to take for granted!

 

But here I am 8 years later, not only drawing and painting again, but with a company that’s aiming to help me, and the millions of others around the world like me. And this is the first entry in this series, where I’ll take you along those 8 years to show you what helped me and what didn’t. I hope that for many of you out there, whether you’ve been diagnosed with shaky hands for a long time, or if it’s the start of your own journey, you’ll find it helpful.