“Your handwriting is bad”
All my life I had heard the above statement.
“Why do you write in such a manner?”
A few months ago, my answer was simply, “habit”.
The reality was something else and I was unaware of it. A few years ago when I started writing, poetry, articles and quotes became my life and lifeline. I never thought that something inside me would be able to disrupt my ability causing an internal suffocation. Holding a pen was somehow always a difficult task for me. Still, in spite of this, secretly something was developing within me.
Every line coming out of my pen is the best thing I can claim as my own, very own. The individuals with the art have a way of expressing themselves. But my handwriting being rough has always made me an outcast. From childhood, I knew that there was something not ‘normal’ about what I was going through. Writing was difficult for me. My parents and primary teachers believed I was mimicking inappropriate modes of writing from someone else. In that case, unaware of the actual cause, I must have to support their beliefs.
The love for literature has always driven me to study literature, to have a degree in literature. And finally, I was supposed to prove my love by getting a rank in EFLU Entrance Test (English and Foreign Languages University). But everybody concerned, says, “You write slowly, you can’t complete the literature paper” and that swallows everything. Today, I’m at a place where handwork is everything. My marks, my career, my future, in fact, my life rests on the tips of my fingers. My repeated and increased problems led me to consult the doctor finally. And that’s when I met the term ‘writer’s cramp’.
The term ‘writer’s cramp’, also known as ‘Scrivener’s Palsy’ or focal hand dystonia is a neurological condition which affects a muscle or a group of muscles of a specific body part causing involuntary muscular contraction or abnormal posture.
In focal hand dystonia, the finger either curls towards the palm or extends outward without control, leading to a complete loss of stability in the fingers. It is characterised by cramps or spasms of certain muscles in the hand or the forearm and presents itself while performing fine motor tasks; mostly during writing or playing a musical instrument (musician’s cramp affects 1% of professional musicians). This type of focal dystonia is referred to as task-specific since it’s symptoms develop only when the individual engages in a particular activity. ‘Writer’s cramp’ first develops by interrupting the writing ability of an individual.
As far as this disorder is concerned, there are no well-understood causes. In the past, it was believed that the condition was likely to have developed as a result of two causes. First, due to fine motor activity or second, due to an inappropriate way of writing. But recent studies do not support these cases. Recently, there is evidence to support these types of focal dystonia develop due to the malfunctioning of the basal ganglia and sensorimotor cortex in the brain.
1) Early symptoms demonstrate the loss of precision muscles coordination. There is declining penmanship, repeated small injuries to the hand, trembling, dropping items and cramping pain. In my case, the first symptom was of declining penmanship followed by trembling of my right hand a few years later. At the time, I rarely had the cramping pain.
2) Muscle pain or cramping from exertions like holding a book or turning over pages. As the years went by, I started to experience trembling and cramping of my hand while holding a glass full of water. It was harder to grip smaller things compared to bigger things.
3) Difficulty in finding a comfortable position for the arm even with minor exertions. I sometimes need to keep my hand under the pillow while sleeping to counter the trembling at nights and am able to sew but I can’t insert the thread to the needle.
4) Other symptoms include jaws trembling, resulting in the grinding of teeth and difficulty in swallowing which leads to cramping and pain. Personally, I never experienced such problems.
However, the disability and symptoms vary from patient to patient.
It was always more difficult for me to write down-stroke than writing upper-stroke and had to push the copy upward while writing last lines of the page.
The symptoms worsen significantly with use and may cause a ‘mirror effect’ in other parts of the body. For example, the use of right hand may cause cramping and pain in the left hand or even the legs. Stress, anxiety and fear may worsen the symptoms. Other symptoms also include mood swings, depression due to declining levels of activity, difficulty concentrating, short temper, sleeping shortness and mental stress due to the to inability to cope with the lifestyle.
Though dystonias can be induced by chemical exposure, ingestion, brain injury, genetic predisposition and other methods, task-specific dystonia is still challenging to be treated fully. However, there are some partial cures like chemical injections of Botulinum Toxin (BOTOX) which my doctor suggested. The injection is estimated to be effective for up to a year, but not helpful in all cases. As expected, I refused. As the problem increased, the other option I was given was to change the hand I write with.
Believing in myself, I accepted the second option of writing with my left hand. Disability can’t win over my desire. Every poem or every article my pen produces is the anti-depressant to my stress and cure to my mood swings resulting from my inability. The art of writing becomes the cure for a ‘writer’s cramp’ patient!
I can’t give up my writing and I don’t need external chemicals to keep my pen alive. But for some years ahead I will need to get used to hearing:
“You started writing with your left hand?”
And I will be repeating my story to people.
However, all causes and consequences aside, I will be cherishing everything I have. God has bestowed the precious gifts of my words to write and to say. Each and every encouraging comment I get on my writings wins over a writer’s writer’s cramp.
For the small things, I have my left hand and for the rest, I have my right hand. Without going with the flow I am surviving to live differently. I am a bi-armed Jill.