For the past three years (on and off), I have been restless. I don’t mean unable to rest or relax due to boredom or anxiety, I mean my legs have been restless. I suffer from a condition called Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS). It is characterised by a compelling urge to move the legs, particularly when in bed and trying to sleep. The cause is unknown, but it is thought to involve a malfunctioning of the nervous system.
If you have never experienced RLS, you can’t begin to imagine what it feels like. I’ve tried to paint a picture for you below to give you a better understanding of this little known disease.
This is a typical ‘restless leg’ night for me:
I’m really tired, so naturally I decide to go to bed to sleep. I get to bed and after about 10 minutes of lying there and starting to slowly drift off to sleep… ”Shit! It’s started!” I begin to get a crawling/tingling sensation throughout my calves (some people ask me if it’s similar to a leg cramp – no it’s nothing like a leg cramp, I’ve had a leg cramp and it’s definitely not that!). It is almost like someone has poured caffeine into only your calves and there’s a party inside them. I like parties sure, but right now I want to go to sleep and I don’t feel like dancing! But no matter how hard you try, you cannot stop moving them. Keeping them still and trying to relax is so unbelievably uncomfortable that you cannot possibly do it. It’s like your brain knows it’s time for sleep and it just wants to mess with you!
So, next thing I do is get out of bed and go for my muscle relaxant tissue salts. The recommended dose is to chew 1-2 tablets. I’m tired and desperate, so I chew 6. I go for a walk around my house, stomp on the floor, do some calf stretches and give them a massage, then I go back to bed. An hour later, I’m still kicking and moving around in bed. The muscle relaxants haven’t worked. I get up again and I drink double the dose of my Magnesium powder (maybe that will work), go for a walk around and jump up and down again, hoping my legs will begin to tire – no such luck. Nevertheless, I go back to bed, as I have to get up early for work tomorrow!
Another couple of hours go by, I still haven’t slept because my legs are still having a party and it’s a late one. My legs seem to be enjoying it, but I’m sure not! At this point I’m in tears, tears of exhaustion and frustration. I just want to sleep! I kick my blankets off, bang my legs on the bed and scream, because I just don’t know what else to do. At this point I would happily cut my legs off if I could ever bring myself to do so! But I can’t do that…. so what else can I try? “I know! A bath!” I run myself a bath with some Epsom salts (this has helped before). Whilst the bath is running, I walk around the house and chew on some more tissue salts (they’re all natural so they won’t kill me). By this point it’s 2am, I can’t take a sleeping pill because then I won’t wake up at 6am when I need to (crap!).
The bath is relaxing and the salts seem to be doing a little bit of good, I begin to fall asleep in the bath. I jump out of the bath and quickly run to my bed barely dry, because I feel really sleepy again, so I must get to bed before this feeling goes away! Quick! The race is real. I’m worried that as soon as I go to bed the feeling may come back again (it usually does). I feel nervous and I feel scared. I get to bed and the feeling is back. I begin to cry again. Not knowing what else I can possibly do, I put on my mediation playlist and try to relax as best I can. I toss and turn, kick and bang my legs around for a while longer, but eventually I am so tired and exhausted that I fall asleep, and thank God I manage to sleep until my alarm goes off at 6am.
I am exhausted. I have to go to work on approximately 3.5 hours sleep, when my body is used to 7-9. How am I going to do this? I have previously called in sick due to this very reason and my bosses never believe me. They obviously think this ‘RLS thing’ is something I have made up. So knowing this and not wanting to disappoint my boss nor feel guilty, I get up, push on, and go to work. Work is difficult today, I get work done, but not as much as I usually would and not to the same standard. How can I on half the amount of sleep I am used to?
Recently, after a lot of research late one sleepless night, I found a drug called Sifrol. This drug is usually prescribed to people with Parkinson’s disease but can also be used for RLS because they are both types of Neurological Disorders, which are caused by faulty or lack of dopamine signals in certain areas of the brain. I went to my Doctor and asked for this medication. He didn’t even know what it was and had to look it up! But I knew I wanted it and I wasn’t leaving without it! I got it of course, and have been taking it for a month now. I take it every evening, a couple of hours prior to going to bed. I don’t like the thought of taking a regular medication, but I have to sleep right? It works sometimes, but unfortunately, there are still some nights when it doesn’t seem to. Therefore, the struggle continues….
I am currently doing more research and am keeping a ‘leg diary’ of my symptoms, what I ate, drank and did that day to try and see if there is a pattern, so I can possibly find the cause!
I hope sharing my struggle may help people who have never experienced it understand, and help the other sufferers out there realise that they’re not alone.
If you have suffered from Restless Leg Syndrome, know someone who has, or would just like to ask me about it, I would love to hear from you.