Women with restless leg syndrome sits far away from others, she is trying to stay calm and not move for fear of annoying them.

Restless Relationships

I have restless legs syndrome (RLS). It is very irritating. But my irritated legs don’t just affect me – they affect everyone around me at times.

Many of the people I know and love can sit quietly and peacefully. Just gently resting their body on a comfy chair and taking in the ambiance. At least that’s what it looks like to me. My legs jiggle away and when I’m in my relaxed mode it’s just easier to shake them continuously than it is to try and keep still before succumbing to the irrepressible need to move. This impacts anyone sitting next to me.

Evenings with my husband

Of an evening, when my husband and I enjoy a good binge-watching Netflix session, we always ensure there’s a lovely big gap between us on the couch. He can sit there quietly with his legs up, enjoying the next British crime drama that comes our way while I’m tucked in my corner looking like a mini-earthquake. I find the shaking strangely comforting. I barely notice it most of the time – I’ve done it for so many years it is part of the way I relax.

When my medications don’t work for some reason, we have to sleep in different beds. There’s no point in both of us being awake all night.

Surrounded by strangers in the cinema

But I’m not always with my husband. Sometimes (only occasionally these days) I go to the cinema. I can’t shake continuously there so I have to keep as still as possible which means my body is continuously tensed. Then when the need to move comes upon me, I practice my silent stretching and gently rearrange myself in the chair.

I notice many people can sit at the cinema and barely move for 2 hours. I don’t get it. I cross my legs one way then the next, lean to the left then lean to the right. Stretch my legs out one at a time or curl them under my chair. Push my butt back in my seat or lean forward as far as I can. I never ask my companions, but I hope it’s not too irritating. I always sit at the end of the row so I have more legroom and one less person to worry about.

Struggling to be still in public

I have sat in a row of chairs at conferences or rehearsals and quietly jiggled my feet away, only to be told by my neighbour – or someone far, far down the row – that I’m shaking the whole row of chairs and could I please sit still. That always feels pretty embarrassing. I’ve learned not to do it.

When I travel, I always let my companions know that I’m going to be moving – a lot. Aeroplanes are always the most cramped space so I try and beg for the aisle or window seats which give me more opportunity to move without disrupting people. I need to stretch my legs more often than most people so we break up long drives just to help my restlessness.

Basically, any time or place where there is a requirement to sit still, I have to ask my neighbouring companions to forgive me for not being restful.

The impact of insomnia

But I think one of the hardest things for my dearly beloved is the accompanying insomnia. It has had a massive effect on my life. While I have complex insomnia caused by numerous issues, restless legs have been a big part of my sleeplessness. And insomnia has a big flow-on effect in my relationships.

Fatigue affects all of us differently, but I can’t imagine it’s a positive experience for anyone. For me, it affects mood, energy, productivity, creativity, eating patterns, and mental health. And all that impacts those around me. I particularly notice my lack of productivity and creativity when I’m tired, which also brings about a level of guilt as I’m not doing the things I feel I should be doing.

Accepting the way I am

Sometimes I just read a book when I could be pegging out washing because the thought of walking to the washing line is too exhausting. Sometimes reading a book is too much and I just sit there hoping to nap while my legs silently create a tsunami in my chair.

Having RLS and insomnia is part of who I am and those who love me the most just accept I’m the one who wanders and stretches a lot. Who sits as far away from other people as possible so I can move without disruption. When I’m restless I have become aware of those around me and their need for peace and quiet. I am secretly jealous of their peace but I am also grateful for their patience.

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