a grasshopper with pills for restless legs syndrome in its eyes

Once Upon a Time: The Night I Forgot My Medications

Once upon a time, I forgot to take my medication. I will never forget that night.

I have lived with restless legs syndrome (RLS) since I was knee-high to a grasshopper. And like grasshoppers, my knees like to jump around. Spontaneously. A lot.

Here’s some interesting information about grasshoppers:

The grasshopper can jump as far as it does because its hind legs act like miniature catapults. It bends its legs at the knee, mechanism within the knee works like a spring, storing up energy. When the grasshopper is ready to jump, it relaxes the leg muscles, allowing the spring to release flinging it into the air.1

How cool is that?! My legs also feel like they have miniature catapults, just waiting for release by being flung into the air. And usually, this flinging is really well controlled with 2 prescription medications, a hefty dose of magnesium, and careful attention to lifestyle.

I had run out of medication

In the interest of full disclosure I should point out that I didn’t just forget them – I’d run out. And it was a weekend so the pharmacy was closed. I was also out late and had a glass of wine and a cup of tea.

Two no-no’s when it comes to lifestyle. I did take a couple of pain killers hoping they would make up for the missing meds, but alas, they did not. My only option was to ride it out. It was a bumpy ride.

Utterly exhausted but unable to sleep

I’d had little sleep the night before so I was already exhausted – something that makes absolutely no difference to restlessness or sleeplessness. By midnight the jumping legs were uncontrollable – and I still had at least seven hours until daylight.

It felt like my upper body was completely sedated while my lower half was in a state of constant epileptic seizure. The ache in my back was deep-rooted and there were intermittent shocks of nerve pain racing down my legs. I was exhausted. I could not keep my eyes open. I could not sleep.

Trying every trick to find relief

I was downstairs in our loungeroom, leaving my husband to sleep while I tried all the tricks of the trade. I stretched. I thumped my legs as hard as I could and rolled around on the floor. I massaged my butt and legs until my hands cramped then alternated hot and cold packs. I slumped backwards over a fitball, stretching my hands and feet to the floor elongating my jumpy legs to straighten that grasshopper spring so determined to leap. Nothing worked. By 3 AM my sanity was fleeing.

I wanted to walk out the front door and run up the street in my nightie. In the dark. And the rain. Freezing my butt off but stretching my legs. I didn’t go. The creepy-crawly feeling so often used to describe RLS had become Aragog and his horde of starving acromantula doing a merry dance in my lower back and gnawing through my skeleton.

It was around about this time I had a little brain snap and reverted to maladaptive coping mechanisms – culminating in 5 bowls of cereal. The RLS was still there, but I was distracted. And not proud of myself. I was so very, very tired.

From annoying to unbearable

The 2 prescription medications I take have saved my life – I have no doubt about that. There is only so much insanity a human being can take. Like most things in life, the march of the inevitable comes upon us.

My restless legs were present at 10. Annoying at 20. Troublesome at 30. Distressing at 40. And unbearable at 50. By the time I was in my 40s I spent months at a time snatching no more than 20 minutes of sleep here and there. I oscillated between too tired to function and completely manic. It was utterly miserable.

Finding blissful stillness

Eventually, I found a very understanding and well-informed doctor who put me onto medications. I am now capable of stilling my legs rather than stamping my feet and fidgeting like a toddler desperate for a toilet. I still have insomnia issues – that is a story for another day – but insomnia with restful legs is a completely different set of problems.

As my night of abominable restless came to an end, I whipped on my clothes, raced down to the pharmacy, and filled the scripts. Which I promptly took home, downed the two pills, and spent the rest of the day lazing in the bliss of stillness. I have learned those of us prone to the unerring spring of the grasshopper leg, cannot afford to run out of the very thing that stills the spring.

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