Two hands are pulling away from each other, there is a rubber band attached to each of their pointer fingers thats about to snap.

Trauma and RLS

There were many pieces of the puzzle that was my life before I realized I had restless legs syndrome (RLS).

I was taking SSRIs, which made me kick my legs all night. I didn’t take magnesium. I exercised too hard and injured myself frequently. Most dramatically, though, I was gaslit, both personally and by medical professionals. I thought RLS wasn’t real, let alone that I had it.

I started treating my RLS like something real

I had other stresses in my life, too, which don’t need to be expounded on here. But the important part is that I was tense. My life was tense, so my body was tense. The news that the body keeps the score is not new, but my trauma’s effect on my body was a secret to me until a few years ago, when I began going to therapy. Simultaneously, I started treating my RLS like something real, like something that deserved to be treated.

Trying to find answers for complex pain

Not only did I have RLS, which was worsened by the constant tensing of my muscles, but I had other chronic pain in my legs. My hip joints were tight. I went to 7 different medical professionals to find out that I had tight muscles around my hips. I thought I had broken my hip at age 30 at one point. I got an MRI with contrast, had an ultrasound, had steroids shot into it, and had it electrocuted to see if the nerves worked. We found that I had a congenital impingement, which did not require surgery, but it also didn’t explain the pain that started in my back, circled my hip joints, and shot down my IT band, engaging my shins and causing my feet to spasm.

The worse my pain was, the worse my restless legs were, and the more I told myself I was crazy for all of it. The doctors said I was fine. I needed to stretch and relax, they said. Do some breathing. Exercise more. Losing weight would probably help, they hinted. It didn’t get better until my life exploded around me, I had to face my trauma, and deal with it.

My body still remembers the trauma of times before

Years later, I still go to trauma therapy. What’s weird is that after certain sessions — ones where I relive the days of my old life — my body begins to tense up. My IT band begins to ache and my legs begin to dance. My body remembers the way it tried to keep me safe. It tried to arm itself against an invisible assailant. My body didn’t know I wasn’t going to be hit. It didn’t know I didn’t have to be ready to run at any moment. I ran all night in my sleep every night and, sometimes, my body still thinks it needs to.

After years of practice and coping strategies, I am doing better

When my body tries to go back to the years before I felt safe, I have to let it. If I fight, it gets worse. When my legs feel like they have to run away on their own and realize I’m not trying to hold them back, they usually relax. When my muscles are starting to tense up and feel that I’m not holding my breath anymore or fighting back tears, they relax as well.

It’s not a perfect system, and it doesn’t work every time I feel panicked or afraid, but after years of practice, coping strategies for my RLS and mental health, and distance, I am doing better and usually sleep through the night.

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