Way back in 1971, the strangest thing started happening to me. Whenever I was tired or trying to sleep, it felt as though there were ants crawling in my legs. I told the doctor. He said it was all in my head. Believe me when I say that I was carrying around enough crazy as it was; it didn’t help for people to also think I was imagining bizarre symptoms. Over the years, I would mention the symptoms to doctors now and then but I always got the same “you must be a nutcase” reaction.
Finally, decades after it began, I went to the doctor when my mom was slowly killing herself on purpose. I told him I thought I could get through her whole protracted suicide thing, raise five children, take care of the dogs and the cats, keep my husband mollified, get dinner on the table at 5:30PM every night, if he could just stop the ants crawling in my legs. I didn’t really have much hope, but still I was hoping he’d give me some pill that might help me cope. Surprisingly, this doctor sent me to a sleep specialist and I got a small dose of medicine that is ordinarily given to Parkinson’s patients. The sleep doctor gave a name to what I had: Restless Legs Syndrome. It really was inside my head.
RLS is a sleep disorder. Whenever I was tired, or sitting in one place for a long time (such as an airplane or in bed trying to relax to go to sleep), I got the feeling that there were hundreds, even thousands, of ants crawling inside my legs. I could stop it. I had to get up and move around and it stopped. The problem was that I couldn’t go back and relax in bed because the ants returned as soon as I stopped walking or dancing or doing the treadmill. I barely got any sleep until I got my glorious medicine.
Another component of RLS is Periodic Limb Movement Disorder. Here is this wrinkle: even after I took the medicine to combat the RLS, my legs or arms started kicking or flailing about, usually while asleep, but it could also happen when I was awake. If PLMD didn’t wake me up, it still jiggered my sleep from a deeper stage to a shallower stage. For this reason I woke up tired, even if I thought I slept. I took more amazing medicine for this.
Once, I was on an airplane bouncing my legs up and down in my seat as usual. Suddenly my right arm flailed out and slapped the lady next to me right across the face. She didn’t speak English. It was awkward.
I just recently managed to cross into a whole new stage of the disease that I didn’t even know about before. I don’t even know what to call it yet. (I’d at least like an acronym.) For now I’m going to call it New Muscle-Cramping Thing, or NMCT. When I have taken enough medicine to help stop the ants and the flailing, there is now the muscle– cramping component. If I relax in front of the TV in the evening, for example, after a few minutes the muscles of my feet and toes and my hands and fingers will start going into painful spasm. Now I’m on an outstanding medicine for that.
You would think that all of this would be enough sleep disorder for one person.
But no. There’s Victor.
Victor is another of my sleep disorders.
Victor is buckets of fun when he is awake. Just look at how sweet he looks!
Victor is very bossy in his sleep. He’s been sleep-bossy for 41 years.
At least three times a week, Victor yells at me to do something while we are both asleep. I sleep lightly, but since I am asleep and not thinking straight, I always think he is telling me to do something for a good reason.
I sit up and ask why I have to sit up, but he’s asleep.
He pushes me right off the bed.
It’s a high bed.
I ask him what’s wrong, but he’s asleep.
“You don’t belong here!”
He shakes me angrily and hard.
I ask him what’s wrong, but he’s asleep.
I leap off the bed and grab the phone. I ask what I should tell the operator, but he’s asleep.
“Who do you think you are?”
He pokes his index finger in my chest repeatedly, seemingly furious.
I tell him I only think I’m me, but he’s asleep.
“Stop that right now!”
I ask stop what? but he’s asleep.
“You have no right to be here!”
I explain that I do, but he’s asleep.
“Where’s Irene? Irene should be here!”
He pulls my arm until I’m sitting up. I tell him I’m right here, but he’s asleep.
Last night it was:
“Get away from me!”
Victor shoved me right off the bed again.
Last night was a bit worse because I had thrown out my back several days before.
The landing wasn’t any fun.
Victor sleeps like a baby through it all. He never remembers any of it.
I never get back to sleep.
There is no medicine for Victor Sleep Disorder, or VSD.