When presenting those research results, or meeting with prospective new clients, I gradually became aware that my voice was sounding different. It cracked and was slightly shaky. It resembled Katharine Hepburn’s. If you’re old enough, you’ll remember her. She was a very famous actor with a career that began in the 1930s and lasted seven decades. I used to watch old movies late at night with my mom and grandmother when I was a kid on our twelve-inch black and white TV. The African Queen, starring Katharine and Humphrey Bogart, was one of our favorites. She, along with Lauren Bacall, were two of my idols. My goal was to grow up to be as sophisticated and glamorous as they were in those films from years gone by. Although Hepburn was one of my much-loved actors, I most certainly did not want to sound like her. Lauren Bacall, by comparison, sounded much better, with a deep, sultry voice. Unfortunately, I never had a sultry voice, and alas, I wound up sounding like Katharine did in her later years.
Around the same time, I noticed the vocal crack and hand shaking, I also perceived a change in my handwriting. It just didn’t look as good as it had, with the letters appearing somewhat shaky. When I first started to write something, it was really bad; fortunately, it diminished a bit as I wrote more. When I signed my name, either on a check or a charge slip, the Ms (and I had two of them—Mary and Martin) would be particularly squiggly. I’d always written well in longhand, although it was not as beautiful as my mother’s. She learned to write in the heyday of gorgeous penmanship. As a kid in the 1950s, sitting at our little flip-top desks, we learned The Palmer Method for cursive writing. Woe unto you if you did not reproduce those letters correctly. Worse, if you were unlucky enough to go to Catholic school, the nuns would crack your knuckles with a ruler for that infraction. Kids now have no idea what cursive is, and even our teenaged grandchildren struggle with trying to write anything in longhand. It makes you wonder how their signatures for legal purposes will be handled in the future. Like hieroglyphics, our cursive writing will someday be studied by archeologists attempting to understand
Finally, I began to have problems holding drinking containers like coffee cups or glasses. When I attempted to hold something with one hand, a very obvious tremor would start. This was worse in my left hand, so whatever was in the glass or cup would spill. This is not good in business situations when you’re juggling a cup of coffee or an adult beverage in your left hand, keeping your right hand free to shake hands (in a good way) with clients or prospects.
People would see this and say, “Are you OK?”
I’d smile and say, “Of course. I’ve probably just had too much caffeine (or had a rough day, if I was holding a glass of wine).”
I found it horribly embarrassing. In addition, the more it was brought to my attention, or the more stressed I was, the worse it got. Since I was a kid, I never liked to draw attention to myself, particularly if I felt I was being different or weird in some way. Those tremors were most definitely different. The only people I’d seen with anything remotely resembling them were old people or people with something horrible like Parkinson’s disease. I certainly did not consider myself old and hoped with all my heart that I did not have Parkinson’s.