What do a talented glassblower in Maryland, USA, and a steampunk crafting genius in Yorkshire, England, have in common? Beyond their obvious talent in their respective crafts, they also have hand tremors. But this hasn’t stopped them from churning out some seriously amazing work (as you’ll see later!). This featured article will tell you about how they get over their challenges, how they manage their tremors in their craft… and most of all, how they keep their hopes up and where they find their motivation to keep going.
Let’s meet our stars!
Andrew used to be a steelworker before the onset of the tremors, which then prompted him to find another outlet for his “creative energy”. Glassblowing, with its 3D form, texture, and its myriad of possibilities, was a natural choice. In fact, he now displays in juried competitions. A wonderful gentleman with an amazing energy and positivity, you would never know that he is 68 and has had tremor for many years. Most of all, he wants to inspire and champion others.
Denise is a modern-day Wonder Woman: after being diagnosed with cancer, she was then diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. Yet, she still does what she calls her “embarrassing mum dances” in the kitchen with loud music, skips and dances with her dogs, and crafts costumes for steampunk gatherings. This 55-year old heroine’s only fault is that she sometimes engages in “unladylike swearing” when she is stressed over crafting, she said while giggling conspiratorially.
“How do you cope with your daily stresses due to your condition?”
“You have some good days and you have some bad days,” Denise admitted. It’s a sentiment echoed by Andrew, but both were very vehement that it can be managed. In fact, both shared their strong reliance on family to keep them upbeat. When Denise gets particularly stressed during her crafting, her family “often brings her lots of cups of tea”, and her husband bought her a sewing machine with an automated threader to help in her sewing adventures. Andrew’s wife, Mary, “generally doesn’t make a big deal out of it”, he noted, smiling. “It’s something I’m grateful for”. Of course, she was very happy to say that many of the changes she’s had to do so far were “fairly minimal”, such as cutting food into larger pieces or not filling his cups too full. It’s clear, though, that beyond the physical assistance, it’s the emotional support and encouragement, knowing that their families support and love them unconditionally, that helps.
“What are some of your worries?”
“You know, for my dad, it started off with small things, like dropping crumbs onto a napkin, then it moved onto a full-on bib, then at the end someone had to feed him,” Andrew solemnly recounted. “I hope I don’t have to end up that way.” Yet, he remains hopeful that modern technology will soon bear fruit for tremor sufferers.
Denise, too, was solemn about this, but she insisted on maintaining positivity: “we have to stay in the NOW, not the future. I plan maybe 2 months in advance at the most, but mostly just week-by-week. I don’t want to think about what I can or can’t do in the future, whenever I can have fun now, I’ll do it!”
What are some strategies you have for crafting and other detailed work?
“Writing is one of the hardest things for me”, Andrew said without a doubt, “sometimes I have to ask my wife to help me sign my pieces with a dremel.” He spoke about how glassblowing was an attractive craft for him to pursue also because he didn’t need to rely on his hands alone, but also his “arms and shoulders”. For heavy pieces, he also asks his teacher to help out. “As long as I can turn the glass at a key moment, or have say in the direction, I can still feel that the piece is my own.” Mary thoughtfully added, “it’s about going with your strengths and finding what works with them, to find something else you love doing.” Glassblowing is also an extremely hot activity, and oven temperatures can go up to 2000 degrees Celsius. It was difficult at the beginning, but he advises “stick with it for a time before you quit, eventually you’ll get used to the stuff that you found challenging at first.”
Denise offers another suggestion: “some days I can’t craft, and it’s frustrating, but if I do something simplistic, I can still feel like I’ve done something.” For her, that’s setting cabochons into jewelry settings. Deep breathing and mindfulness also help with the tremor. In addition, she joked that sometimes, she uses some choice swear words to help alleviate the stress at the moment! The timing of the medication is also important. “I take my medicines at about 8-9 am. Usually I’m good to go in about 3 hours.”
“What keeps you motivated and hopeful?”
Both of them proudly announced supportive family and other structures around them. Humour in particular is a huge source of comfort for Denise: “my eldest daughter, Tessa, joked that ever since I became ill, I became a lot more interesting!” Laughing, she also spoke of doing things simply because it made her happy, such as “photobombing” people during steampunk conventions, or challenging her daughters to races up the stairs at home. “The last one has to put the dogs to bed!”
Andrew speaks fondly about being in a space where he isn’t judged. “My wife thankfully never makes a fuss about it, and when it comes to crumbs, well,” he chuckled heartily, “let’s just say when we’re at dinner with my grand-daughter, she’s always got so many more crumbs around her than I do, so no one pays attention to mine!”
Being upfront about their needs and “letting go of the ego” was also echoed in both crafter’s statements. Both spoke about coming to terms with their condition and not to remain in denial over what they could and couldn’t do. Andrew matter-of-factly stated “I know pushing harder won’t get it done, I know stressing over it won’t help. So I just have to take a step back for a while.” Whether it’s to take a break, or to re-evaluate his design plans and execution, he recommends creating some space before going back in.
Denise strongly advocates being upfront about her disease and her needs and to “accept every scrap of help”, whether from healthcare professionals, loved ones, or even strangers. In fact, it was because someone offered to help carry her groceries that she heard about GyroGlove! “There’s no shame in accepting help,” she announced confidently. In fact, her colleagues are aware of her limits, and her boss even got her software to help translate her voice to text! It’s clear that a supportive space can stem from you reaching out!
“What are some important messages you’d like to share with the community?”
Denise was very frank about this part: “There’s a bit of a difference between the older generation and the younger ones. The older generation wants to maintain a sense of independence, but they must accept the help that they are offered,” even though not wanting to be a “burden” or “feeling useful” is important.
Andrew had a similar message when it came to coping with the emotional stresses of tremor. “I read frequently with my grand-daughter”, and that gives him a sense of purpose. He also had another strong message to add. “Plan for your retirement! I assumed that when I retired I would go back to art because that was what I was interested in when I was younger.” Having options may help stem the feelings of helplessness and uncertainty that comes with age.
Coping with tremor is definitely hard, but the support of family, especially on an emotional level can help with how you perceive the tremor. With a large variety of devices, and even DIY life-hacks, there’s more things than ever to help arm your battle against tremor. Finding safe spaces where you won’t be judged is also crucial, whether it’s an actual physical space like a cafe where the service staff know and are willing to help, or a group of people that you regularly keep in contact with. There will always be a way to lift you up!