On Hands

It’s not every day that I write anything related to my health. In fact, the last time I wrote about it on a previous blog was after being in a nasty bicycle accident. I don’t feel that writing about personal health has anything of value to readers. But I’m writing this post today anyway because it already had a profound effect on my mental health, one that I think is worth writing about.

What happened?

About 1.5-2 years ago (I don’t remember exactly when), I began to feel something odd in my hands. They suddenly became weaker in a sense that I was having trouble with lifting the 15-inch MacBook Pro — a device that weighed only 4.02 pounds or 1.83 kg — by holding it in the corners.

It wasn’t that I couldn’t lift anything heavy, it was just that I couldn’t do that with my wrist at an angle.

Interestingly enough, around the same time, both of my parents also began having pain in their hands. Between that and all three of us siblings having some sort of pain in our hands, I dismissed it as something that I got genetically and had to live with it.

I took vitamin B supplements on my brother’s suggestion and the pain eventually disappeared after a while.

Then, the pain resurfaced back in March this year, just around the time Bangladesh enforced a countrywide lockdown.

It’s important to note that I’m using the word “pain” in a generic way. What I feel is likely not pain, but I’m not sure what it is either. I thought I didn’t know the right word for it in English — as it is my second language, but when speaking to my brother on the matter (who is a doctor, though not practicing), I realized I didn’t have a proper word for it in my native language either.

Could this be due to typing?

At first, I thought that the pain was caused by my new mechanical keyboard with Cherry MX Blue switches. Those switches need extra force than the regular rubber dome key switches. So I put that keyboard aside. However, that didn’t improve anything.

I did the usual research on what this could be. As someone who has read about hand-related injuries before, the terms RSI (Repetitive Stress Injury) and CTS (Carpal Tunnel Syndrome) weren’t unknown to me. For a few days, I was convinced I had one of those, if not both.

This sent me down the path of intense research into ergonomic keyboards and why I really didn’t want to get one of them — because they are split in the middle with the “B” key on the left side. Apparently, that’s the “correct” way to type. But a large number of people also type the B key with the right hand. I’m one of them.

I actually tried typing the B key with the left hand for a couple of weeks, and it was frustratingly hard. Not sure if that’s because I learned touch typing at a very early age. But a better way would be to learn an alternative keyboard layout that’s easier on the hands — like Dvorak or Colemak. I’ve been learning Colemak for a while now, but without two months’ vacation, I don’t think I can realistically go cold turkey on it.

More importantly, even with a few days off from work, the “pain” didn’t seem to go away. It was at this time that I began thinking, it’s probably not caused by typing at all.

What triggers it? What does it feel like?

This is the fun (!) part. There doesn’t seem to be anything specific that ‘triggers’ the “pain” (pain is in quotes because, as stated before, it’s not exactly pain).

Immediately after waking up, I’m still in my bed and I feel the pain in both of my hands. Sometimes it becomes intense even when doing regular things like eating or lifting everyday things.

“Fatiguing” could be a more accurate word to describe what I’m feeling. If you ever started writing with a pen on paper and went on for hours, you probably felt it on your hand. That tiring, often tingling, feeling of exhaustion because you’re not used to writing on a pen for a long period? That’s what I feel in the corner of my wrists.

The difference is, in my case, it seems the hands are always tired, even when I haven’t been doing anything for hours.

It doesn’t necessarily get worse when typing, but I feel it. I feel every keypress requiring energy that goes through my hand into the finger. It sounds ridiculous, but if you type, you probably do so without thinking. But for me, I feel every single keypress — though some more than others.

Where does it hurt?

The second funny thing is the exact location of the pain always keeps changing. I’m not even kidding. It changes every single day.

Sometimes, the tip of the fingers hurt. Some other times, that fatigue moves from the pinky finger to the index finger. And very often, it moves from one hand to the other.

The most common point of pain is in the left pinky finger. It runs from the top of the finger straight down to just before the elbows, on that side of the hand. That means when typing frequent keys like Shift and A, it feels more fatiguing than usual.

The exact nature of the pain has also been evolving (I want to say “the pain has mutated” but it’s probably not the right time for that joke). These last few days, it’s less of a “pain” (Yes, enough of that generic word, I’m throwing it away now) and more of a “sensation.”

Is it tingling? I don’t think so. It’s not the same as you would get if blood circulation was blocked for some reason (like sleeping at weird positions). It’s different. It’s exhausting, but without actually doing anything.

When typing, I keep missing keys. I’m a heavy touch typist so I know my finger moved to type a key, but it misses it. It’s like the fingers are tired. Even when I start working after a two-day weekend, the moment I start typing, my fingers begin to misbehave. Between knowing that mistyping is an issue with the butterfly keyboard on my Mac and the slightly deteriorating condition of my hands, it’s just hard to get a day’s work without feeling deeply frustrated.

What am I doing?

The first thing I did was an ergonomic check to ensure my postures are right. Because I thought it might have been a typing related injury, I adjusted some habits like:

  • Floating the hands when typing (like a pianist) so my wrists aren’t resting on the keyboard. Wrists should be in a resting position only between typing sentences, not when typing it.
  • Making sure not to put a strain on my wrists, especially with mouse use.
  • Sitting upright instead of leaning forward and downward when working.

I did see some immediate improvement after I began following these ergonomic practices more strictly. My hands hurt less, but it didn’t pass.

I also tried replicating ergonomic keyboard positions. Some of these are ridiculous. I connected two different keyboards to my Mac and kept them on two sides of my hands to ‘replicate’ the feel of a split keyboard. It didn’t solve anything.

Like I said, switching to another layout also didn’t seem promising because Dvorak or Colemak, the Shift and A keys are in the same position. (Not saying they don’t/wouldn’t help, but it didn’t feel like an immediate solution.)

How does it affect mental health?

This one should be interesting. Grab that coffee if you haven’t yet. We’re going straight to the DC universe for this bit.

All kind of sickness somehow affects a person’s mental health. It breaks you down. It makes you sad. It may even make you depressed. But for me, anything that affects my ability to type hits me especially hard.

I often discuss my career and where it’s heading with my colleagues and close friends. If you’re one of them, you know that I often worry — maybe more than I should, because that runs in the family, too — about whether I’m on the right track.

I do not come from a wealthy family, and becoming financially independent at a very early stage in life (I haven’t taken financial help from home since the ninth grade) has been a significant milestone for me. So, naturally, I become worried about a time when I might have to go back to that situation again. I do my fair share of ‘saving for the rainy day’ but still. Not that my current job is at risk or something, it’s just my human brain being a human brain.

I have a trick that I use to stop overthinking and worrying about such a bleak future. Because writing comes to me naturally, and I’m fairly savvy in technical writing, I lead myself to believe that there’ll always be some sort of work available for that skillset. I can, at least, support myself.

However, something I never thought before (yay brain! More sauce for worrying!) is what if my ability to work on a computer — or to type — is affected? What then? I don’t think I could do anything else other than working on a computer, and I’m fairly certain a lot of you reading this are on the same boat.

It’s probably ridiculous to worry about that. If my hands are affected, I would have bigger things to worry about. Also, hands are not the only thing that could affect my ability to work.

You can see where this is going. While I’m thankfully still well enough to be able to type this nearly 2000-word post after a full day of work, all those feelings of exhaustion, fatigue, and other weird sensations that I don’t have the words to describe are contributing to the deteriorating condition of my mental health.

You wouldn’t see it in me. I’m still cracking PS5 jokes or uploading memes to my Facebook stories, but as the pain lingers in both of my hands affecting my ability to type comfortably (among other things, but typing is what matters the most), so does the worry of a bleak future where I can’t type anymore, and therefore, am unable to work.

Why am I not seeing a doctor?

This is the worst part of this whole situation. You know that strain of the virus that’s been ravaging the world for the past few months? The situation is getting worse here in Bangladesh with every passing day.

With over 80,000 cases of COVID-19 infection as of today (a number that’s widely believed to be far lower than the reality), and with no sign of flattening the curve, hospitals are the last place you want to be anywhere near right now.

Yes, I could visit doctors at private consultations, but I believe whatever is going on with my hands would need an X-ray to figure out (which my brother agrees with), and that means going to the hospital.

I do not want to put myself at direct risk of contracting the virus — and risking my family members in the process — unless it is a life-threatening situation. Granted, whatever is going on with my hands requires medical attention nonetheless, but I really, really, don’t want to go anywhere near a hospital in this pandemic.

My hope is to tiptoe around the pain and hope it goes away like it did before. Or at least, wait till the COVID-19 situation gets better.

However, everyone has already figured out that we’re going to have to tiptoe around the coronavirus as it’s here for the long haul. How long can I keep tiptoeing around both? How long until either my hands get miraculously better or I have to risk exposing myself to the virus and go see a doctor?

If the thing with my hands keeps getting worse, I’ll have to do the inevitable and go to a hospital to get my hands checked.

Who knows (Certainly not WHO) what nightmare that could bring to my life.

In conclusion

Even though it is my belief that the pain in my hands is not related to typing, I would like to remind you to be careful about ergonomics and proper sitting postures while you still have time. If you get RSI or CTS, it’s not fun anymore. I probably don’t have either, but I’m already depressed.

This short video by the Wall Street Journal is a good watch to understand the basics of an ergonomic setup.

As for the pain in my hands, here’s to hoping I don’t lose my ability to type anytime soon. There are just so many things I still want to write!

Have you had pain like this in your hands before? Feel free to share your stories and suggestions in the comments or reach me via email. I would love to hear from you.

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  1. I really hope you get this diagnosed soon and recover. Thanks for sharing!

    > I would like to remind you to be careful about ergonomics and proper sitting postures while you still have time.

    Such a basic thing, which I neglect every time until I read something like what you shared. Will work on this!

  2. Bhai do a thorough check up and I guess it could be a mechanical displacement of some part.

    I would suggest getting some physio therapy before going fully to the traditional doctor/medicine route.

    Get well soon!

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