Restless Legs

Restless Legs

by Susan Hodara

I don’t think I should have to consider my legs if I don’t want to, but tonight they are insisting. Like nagging toddlers or hungry cats, they are demanding my attention, drawing me from attempted sleep, forcing me to move. I remember the first time I saw a commercial for a medication meant to treat “Restless Leg Syndrome,” an ailment described as the uncontrollable urge to move the legs. “Come on,” I thought. “Ridiculous.” I decided it was a condition manufactured by the pharmaceutical companies to sell a new drug. On a deeper level though, I did not want this syndrome to exist. For one thing, it interrupted sleep, and I had enough problems getting a solid night’s rest. And the idea that the legs could will the mind implied a lack of control I did not want to accept.

Yet here I am, one o’clock in the morning a gnawing inside my left calf. I’ve been lying here for over an hour, waiting to drift away, but I keep being sucked to my leg. It’s lying there, outstretched beside its mate, thick white socks on my feet to keep them warm.

But I cannot find comfort. There’s something in it, on it, like a thick rubber band being pulled, or a piece of rope being twisted and twisted and twisted again. It’s vaguely located, a darkening, a doggedness that only relinquishes when I shift. I bring my leg just a little to the right, and it is enough: the
feeling dissipates like cockroaches in a nighttime kitchen vanishing into corners and cracks when a light is turned on.

I relish the — what? — the absence, the normalness of ignorable legs. I twist onto my other side, adjust the pillow beneath my head. I am drowsy. I extend my toes and bring them back, then try to stop noticing my legs and fall asleep, but within minutes, I’m feeling it again: the same calf, the odd tug. I try to pinpoint it. I try to name it: pressure, ache, twinge – no word is right. I kick my leg, shove it underneath the other one and press as if to squeeze out the feeling, but it’s still there, a kind of physical tinnitus of the limb.

My leg is, in fact, restless. I jerk it to the side, stretch it down to the edge of the mattress — when the feeling comes, there is no choice but to move. Even a few inches will do, and the sensation subsides, but only for a pause. I try to sleep, I want to sleep, but it returns dependably to rouse me, and I start again, bending my knee, unbending it. I offer up a challenge: my will against my leg. It isn’t real, I tell myself. It’s a phantom. I will not move. I will not move. But it persists, drives deeper, daring me, smirking, and in less than a minute, I cave. I can’t help but slide the calf. It’s in there, alive. It is half past one now, the night draining away.

this refers from the word “asleep” in Sally Bellerose’s essay Ballast

  1. I have a friend with RLS . . .I want to send this to her! Thank you Susan, for helping us to understand!

  2. Susan- beautiful writing- what a gift to be able to write loke this- I envy you !

  3. I am the wife of your dear old friend Thom. He sent this to me because sleeping with me, isn’t exactly sleeping. THIS was a great description! I have had RLS for years and years in both legs and now? It is oddly gone. Could it be the vitamins I am taking, or the biking or less dairy and wheat or, the bar of soap my mom put under the sheets while I was visiting! Restful slumber Ruby. I’d love to meet you one of these days. Diana

  4. I have resless leg syndrome and you have described very well the torture of this experience. I have been using a product called All Calm – it’s a magnesium powder that you dissolve in hot water and drink 30- minutes before going to bed. It has worked well for me and my doctor said it is safe. You can google All Calm and get to the order page. No one should have to suffer from this. The word misery exists to describe feelings like RLS.

  5. I need to tell my husband about the All Calm. He’s had some off and on problems with RLS.

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