With the second Downton Abbey film set for release in March 2022, fans of the period drama eagerly await to see what is next in store for the Crawley family. While creating the series, which first aired on ITV back in 2010, Fellowes was inspired to give Downton character and head butler Carson an essential tremor, something which the writer suffers from himself, but rarely talks about in public.
The Mayo Clinic explains that an essential tremor is a neurological disorder that causes involuntary and rhythmic shaking.
It can affect almost any part of your body, but trembling most often occurs in people’s hands.
Often not classed as a dangerous condition, it can worsen over time and stop you from doing certain tasks such as drinking from a glass, filling up liquids or tying shoelaces.
Speaking about his own experience with an essential tremor on chat show Lorraine, Fellowes, 72, said that he initially was in denial when first diagnosed.
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He said: “First of all, I was completely in denial. ‘Oh, I must have not slept enough last night, too much coffee…’ then I went to a specialist. He gratifyingly to me said, ‘No this is what you’ve got, it’s incurable, you’ll probably never get rid of it’, which I much prefer, then you know what you’re dealing with.
“But then nobody ever mentioned it. I thought nobody noticed.”
Showing the Scottish host Lorraine Kelly his hands, he continued to say: “Finally, my wife Emma said, ‘You must say at the beginning because everyone is looking at you thinking either he’s drunk or terrified. Whereas if you say right at the start you’ve got this tremor then they don’t care anymore.’ Now I do that, I don’t mistake silence for not noticing.”
According to the National Tremor Foundation, four percent of those over 40 are affected by essential tremors, with the condition common to run in families.
Fellowes’ father was also affected by a tremor at age 80, much older than when Fellowes first started to notice symptoms of his own at age of around 66.
“It gets better and worse, worse in the morning… actually it’s better when you’ve had a drink which is an interesting detail. It doesn’t kill you. It doesn’t hurt. It’s a nuisance,” the star continued.
“It’s tiresome. But there are plenty of things that are worse in the world that people have to put up with.
“That’s why on Downton in the last episode… we gave Carson an essential tremor, so he couldn’t pour the wine.”
The star also added that whenever he gets nervous or angry the shaking worsens, a symptom that is often confused with Parkinson’s disease – a brain condition that affects movement.
Due to the similarities in symptoms, John Hopkins Medicine stresses the importance of receiving a correct diagnosis.
Apart from noticing shaking and trembling, other signs and symptoms of an essential tremor to look out for include the following:
- Difficulty doing tasks with your hands, such as writing or using tools
- A shaking or quivering sound in your voice
- Uncontrollable head-nodding
- Tremors aggravated by emotional stress, fatigue, caffeine or temperature extremes
- In rare instances, tremors in your legs or feet.
Often essential tremors do not require treatment, especially if symptoms are mild. However, treatment options can be discussed if the condition makes it hard for the individual to perform daily activities.
Brain surgery and laser options are some of the newest options in medical advancement to try and tackle an essential tremor, but medication is also an option. For Fellowes, invasive treatment such as brain surgery seemed like a daunting prospect, one he was unwilling to try.
“[The specialist] said they had never operated on anyone in the creative arts and were not sure how it would affect them, so I thought I’d give it a bit longer,” Fellowes explained to The Mirror.
Instead Julian was prescribed propranolol – a beta blocker normally used to treat high blood pressure. “I used to eat it like cornflakes, but found it didn’t actually work for me – it only works for around half of those with tremor,” he says. “It’s not a tragic disability, so I’ve learned to put up with it.”
The Mayo Clinic also recommends lifestyle changes and at-home remedies that individuals can try to help relieve tremors. These include:
- Avoiding caffeine
- Drink alcohol sparingly
- Learn relaxation techniques.