I have Restless Legs. Literally, this is categorized as a sleep disorder, neurological in origin. (Although it is also described as “idiopathic”, which means we don’t really know what causes it.) It feels, people tend to agree, like having ants crawling on you.
It’s worst at night. My feet cramp, my legs twitch. I place my foot on the wall above my head, roll from side to side in search of a position that might last longer than a few seconds before I need to move again. Eventually I leave the bed to avoid drawing my sleeping partner into the exhaustion. Those nights are rare these days, fortunately.
Some years ago, in the midst of a high-agitation period of my life, I was offered a Parkinson’s medication. It worked, but it tends to cause tremors. No, thanks, I said. I’ll live with being tired and fidgety.
When I was in high school, I used to have to ask to be excused from the classroom just so that I could move the itchy, writhing legs. In physics class, I experienced my worst symptoms. Agitated, drawn to a greater view of the world, I longed to run, to jump, to flap my hands, hop up and down, to accost strangers in the street ask them if they knew about quantum mechanics and black holes. Instead we sat and watched videos, slide shows, problem sets. I tried sneaking out and running in the halls to get some relief, breaking the rules if only to relieve the madness.
Last night (and today) I have more symptoms than I’ve had in months, possibly years. I moved to the couch at 1:30, did some downward dog, some calf stretches, went out and stood on the deck in the breeze. I’d just finished reading a novel about a doctor in the 16th century, and as I wandered, pacing the floor, trying to reconcile my desire to sleep with my desire to move, I found myself drawn to her romantic descriptions of diseases and their origins. Looking for a Latin version, I come across its official name: anxietas tibiarum. Google Translate offers me inquietum crura. My own desperate, poetic (non-Latin-speaking) self-diagnosis is Peregrinus Formicidae. Wanderer Ants. (Google Translate again. But word by word.)
On that deck in the middle of the night, I found myself wondering whether this agitation in the legs isn’t symptomatic of a deeper desire to move, to run, to climb, to be wild, free, feral, nomadic. To wander the fields caring for sheep, or climb the hills in search of plant medicines, to walk across deserts, plains, forests, rocks, drinking from wild streams, knowing deeply that the world flows through me as I flow through it, her and me interpenetrated. Instead here I find myself, tamed if not domesticated, living in a world of houses and cars, jobs and money, responsibilities and planning… lying in bed, knowing that when the alarm rings, I will curse not just the clock, but the very concept of time keeping.
In support of my unconventional (atavistic) explanation, I offer only this observation: I don’t remember ever having symptoms when I was travelling.