My Friend ET, the dancing voice

A microphone

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“What it came down to was Jian’s communication skills, Jian came across very nervous and at times it was hard to follow.”

It was the last line of feedback about my third interview with a major, well known, company in London. I felt like being hit by a huge brick. They were talking about my shaky voice.

Before sharing what happened next, let me tell you a very important thing about me. I have Essential Tremor, in short ET.

A microphone

Essential tremor, the most common trembling disorder, is a neurological condition that causes involuntary shaking of parts of the body like the hands, legs, head, and voice. People often confuse ET with Parkinson’s disease even though they are two completely different disorders.

How common is ET? It’s surprisingly common. According to Imperial College NHS Trust, ET affects over one million people, with around 250,000 severely disabled by the condition in Britain. In America? 10 million people. Most people who develop essential tremor are aged over 40 but it can occur in much younger people, including children aged 5 .

In my case, ET affects my dominant hand and voice. I was diagnosed in 2020 just before the first lockdown. I tried two different medications but turned out to be one of many ET patients that don’t benefit from them, and surgeries won’t be considered until my life is severely limited by ET. Doctors still don’t know the cause of ET, except that over half of patients have a family history of it. Currently, there is no cure.

MRI-guided focused ultrasound surgery

And so I felt like I was hit by a force when I read their feedback. I don’t have any control over my voice tremor and I have very limited options to help myself when it comes to ET. And they were telling me that I failed the interview because of my shaky voice.

You may wonder if that made me feel small. Well for about 10 minutes whilst I shed some tears of frustration. After that, I decided to reveal my condition. Before then, I had hidden it because of shame and fear or being judged, as if ‘something is wrong’.

But in addition to worrying about being judged, was the fear of being treated badly because society is sometimes unkind to people of different shapes and conditions. But, that email woke me up. I am still Jian who has a talent to help people with product design regardless of my condition. The company had missed out on my experience and knowledge, and wrongly seen ‘being nervous’ as a reason to reject a candidate. They ignored the fact that anyone can get nervous during a job interview. They proved their inability to see the world full of people with billions of differences.

So I emailed the hiring manager to tell her my condition and why their feedback wasn’t ok. She hurriedly replied to me and arranged a call, which showed that they knew they hadn’t handled the situation well, but it still failed to undo the damage. It was their loss. I joined Wise not long after.

equality in diversity

Since the incident, I started freeing myself by telling people that I have ET. I began to define myself as someone with a dancing voice. ET is nothing to be ashamed of. It is a unique part of my identity.

ET is an invisible disability, and I want to use the word ‘disability’ a bit differently. I am disabled from not learning from differences. I am disabled from not being compassionate about others. I am a better person since my new friend, ET, came to me.

Anyone, including you, can experience a life-altering impact from illness like ET or accidents during their lifetime. So let’s be kind and open minded, remembering that every Wiser has different experiences and backgrounds to each other – let’s be more understanding about people different from you. Let’s make the world better together by being inclusive.

Lastly, when you don’t understand my English because of ET, kindly ask me to repeat. I won’t be offended and will gladly speak again. You will hear my voice happily dancing.

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