Benign Essential Tremor & Art

What exactly is benign essential tremor? In a nutshell, it’s your brain misfiring and sending various parts of your body a signal to move, which causes a tremor. The most common area affected is the arms and hands…like what I have. Needless to say, this condition sucks for an artist. Essential tremor can also affect the head and vocal cords. The most famous example of this variety was Katherine Hepburn.

The tremor in my hands began when I was still in high school. I wasn’t officially diagnosed with essential tremor until I was nearly thirty. In my younger days, it didn’t really bother me as I wasn’t taking my artwork seriously. Even when I got into art school, the tremor didn’t really hinder my drawing. In fact, up until recently, the tremor seemed to calm down whenever I put pencil to paper.

Essential Tremor and the Artist

For me, when my hands are at rest, there’s no tremor. It’s only when I try to hold something (like a pencil) that my hands start shaking. Stress definitely makes it worse as does lack of sleep. And, it’s gotten worse the older I get. As I approached the big 5–0, it made it nearly impossible for me to draw. It got to the point where I didn’t even want to look at my drawing table, much less sit there and try to draw. Not surprisingly, it was depressing.

I read about an artist whose tremor was so bad, he could no longer produce the highly detailed drawings he once did. There was in fact, no way he could even draw a straight line. When he tried, it came out as a completely zig-zagged line. Instead of giving up, he embraced his tremor. His artwork is now much more abstract, and he’s come to be at peace with that.

I’m not. I’m not okay with that. I don’t even like abstract art. So, no. I’m not going to embrace the tremor. I’m going to find something that allows me to draw the way I’ve always drawn for as long as I can.

Of course, I researched the condition even though I already knew that there is no cure. But I thought there might be something out there that could lessen the tremors to some degree. And there is. I did find a number of things I was willing to try and were within my price range.

Beta-blockers (prescribed for high blood pressure), which I was already on (for the tremor, not high blood pressure), were supposed to help. It didn’t. I had no issue giving up the prescription in order to try natural alternatives. CBD oil showed promise. It’s pricey, but I was willing to give it a shot. I tried CBD vaping and CBD oil for several months. Unfortunately, for me, it didn’t do much.

The weighted glove has helped subdue much of the tremors.

I found a weighted glove online, meant for people with tremors. It’s basically a fingerless glove that weighs a half pound. Oddly, this did work. I’m not sure the science behind why it works, but it does and that’s all I was concerned about. For the most part, the tremor calmed enough for me to function.

About the same time, I read an article about a new treatment for people with essential tremor that’s been giving good results. The treatment involves sending ultrasound waves into the part of the brain that causes the tremor. A lesion is created, which eliminates the tremor. It’s non-invasive in the sense that they don’t crack your skull open. But still, creating a lesion on my brain, non-invasive or not, kind of freaks me out. I will keep an eye on this treatment and see how things go as this becomes a more commonplace procedure.

doTERRA Copaiba essential oil helps to calm the nervous system. (Photo Credit: Myra Naito)

And it’s strange how the universe works sometimes. About this same time, I received a newsletter from doTERRA, the essential oil company. The oil they highlighted for the month was called Copaiba. It comes from South America and has been used in everything from folk-medicine to soaps and fragrances, and even as a source of biodiesel. The article compared Copaiba to CBD in terms of cost and effectiveness.

Copaiba has been known to promote a healthy immune system and calm the nervous system. It is also a source of CBD and as it turns out, is only a fraction of the price…$35 instead of nearly $200! That being the case, I bought a bottle immediately. I don’t have to use a whole dropperful like I do with CBD. I only take one drop in the morning and one drop at night and within two weeks, my tremors had decreased noticeably.

So, for now, I’m sticking with Copaiba and my weighted glove. I’m keeping an eye on a procedure that will create a lesion in my brain in the event the tremor worsens. The depression has lifted, and I’ve gotten back to drawing my highly detailed animal portraits, business as usual.

Freelance copywriter who is passionate about art and fitness. Check out my art blog at mnatiodesigns.com/blog/ or follow me @mnaito_fineart .