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One spring day in 1982, I was lying on the grass in the sun at Portland State University with the intention of giving myself over to half an hour's meditation, when I discovered that I couldn't hold still.

It was a new sensation: to that point, I had always been able to rely on my ability to focus my mind and relax my body--to settle down. To find that ability compromised was a serious setback, since a whole lot of my self-concept was centered around mind-over-matter self improvement.

I soon found that I could no longer consistently lie still for a full round of acupuncture (I remember a couple of tortured sessions where, covered with needles and unable to move, I was also unable to hold still--kind of a perfect metaphor for internal conflct); a bit later, air travel began to seem more of a threat than an adventure, and I could suddenly lose my ability to concentrate in sedentary, restricted situations like classrooms and meetings.

In the thirty years since then, I've learned that this problem has a name--Restless Leg Syndrome--and that it is fairly common, occurring in ten percent of the adult US population. There's no established cure, the cause is still poorly understood, and the accepted medical treatments involve drugs I'm uninterested in getting involved with.

I've also learned a lot about my particular case of it:
  • Red wine, sadly, is an instant trigger of the worst kind of bout, and I've had to give it up. (I can tolerate a glass of white wine, and that has forced me to get down off my French-red snobbery pole and learn something about chablis and chardonnay)
  • Bouncy leg in the evening means I'm tired and I need to go to bed
  • Lying face down, though uncomfortable, can often ease the symptoms enough for me to fall asleep
  • Massive doses of magnesium help, but even transdermally (i.e., Epsom salts soak or magnesium oil on the skin) magnesium takes a bit of time to work. It's a terrific sedative, in any case.
  • A low-carb, and particularly a low-sugar, diet seems to decrease the frequency of attacks
  • An herbal product called Night Time Leg Calm can be amazingly effective--sometimes. It's worth having on hand
  • Exercise helps, but only while I'm exercising and for a few minutes after I stop; RLS is unrelated to "too much energy" or "laziness" or any of those things, as far as I can tell.

I was having a bit of an attack this morning, madly bouncing my left leg while trying to get a grip on my very-hard-to-concentrate-on job. Just for the hell of it, I googled RLS to see if there was any new information.

I found a forum where people share their home remedies, and read through piles of suggestions ranging from off-label use of prescriptions to masturbation to putting a bar of soap between your bed sheets. Hot showers, Vick's Vap-O-Rub, fifty energetic squats before bed, iron supplementation...on and on it went. I clicked "next page" compulsively, all the while doing the RLS knee-bounce and undoubtedly looking silly and annoying Norm, my nearby coworker.

Then I came across this comment: I am wondering if it is all in the mind. Some strange neurological disorder going on, some kind of electricity wiring gone wrong, since brain games seem to do the trick every time. I take my sudoku book and start, and within minutes the RLS is gone and I fall asleep.

Well, I'm not big on the "all in the mind" approach to physical disorders, but "neurological"? That, I can get behind. A little cascade of things happened all at once: I remembered that sometimes just checking my email or reading a bit can interrupt a bout of RLS; I felt a sense of recognition, of "ah-ha!" and knew that this commenter was on to something all the others had missed; my visual focus narrowed and sharpened with interest.

And then the RLS just...stopped.

It has stayed at bay throughout the writing of this admittedly long post--about 45 minutes. Experience tells me that it won't be back anytime soon.

Could it be that the neurological act of sharpening visual and mental focus actually settles the nerves involved in Restless Leg Syndrome? Many of the relaxation techniques I know involve not focusing--closing the eyes, turning the vision inward, switching off the lights, not taxing the conscious mind, all of which are impossible if RLS is already going. Working a puzzle just never occurred to me as a possible solution.

But now that I think about it, I can't recall ever associating RLS with any activity, however sedentary, that involves hands, eyes, and concentration. Crafts, computer games, hand writing, keyboard use...

Wow, this gives knitting a whole new luster! Experimentation will now commence.

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