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Akathisia = Restlessness

acrylic/mixed media on canvas
Self-Portrait: Afraid of the Dark© - J.A. Carter-Winward

I was asked to define "akathisia" for someone today.

We were being interviewed for the Black Box Warning Initiative and I began to talk about my experiences with drug-induced, withdrawal, and now chronic akathisia, and my husband stopped me. See, my husband and I live in a world where the term "akathisia" is part of our everyday vernacular. From his expression, the interviewer wasn't as familiar with the term and all its permutations.

So my husband told me to describe it, define it for the audience and the interviewer. I was hesitant for a moment.

I've tried to define, describe, convey akathisia in metaphor, in ways that are visceral, emotive, universal, and as succinctly as possible for a long time, now, and it never quite hits the mark for people who haven't experienced it.

So today, I was once again faced with defining and describing something that's so subjective, yet so across-the-board horrific, and I didn't want to use the same tack as I've used in the past, and others have used before me.

I decided to try a different approach. Instead of describing my own, personal experience with akathisia, I thought about the terminology used by drug companies.

"Feelings of restlessness. An inability to sit down. Trouble holding still."

An inability to rest. Rest-Less. Unable to rest. Without rest.

I looked at the young man and I asked him to imagine what it would be like to be unable to rest. Literally UN-ABLE. An inability to rest his mind, body, emotions, spirit all—without rest. I watched his eyes go back and forth.

Then I spoke of the ways we, as a society, process death. We have words of comfort for the living and they are all a variation of these themes.

We say that after a long battle with _____, our loved ones are finally… finally what? That's right.

They are finally at rest. Laid to rest. God rest his soul. Rest in peace. Look how peaceful. At peace. Heavenly peace. Peace-full. Filled with peace.

So, what is the opposite of peace?

They say, "There's no rest for the wicked, and the righteous don't need it."

Why don't the righteous need rest? I assume it isn't because the righteous are hopped up on espresso. It's because the wicked will know no rest—which is the promise of hell.

The opposite of peace is without rest. "Restlessness."

Akathisia is restlessness, x 1000, and its subjective component—meaning how it feels to you, personally—is the polar opposite of peace to you, in your world. So, imagine what the opposite of peace feels like to you and imagine it—unrelenting.

So the next time someone asks me what akathisia means, or what it feels like, my answer will be to ask them to imagine being unable to rest. Being unable to find, feel, access, or even conceive of peace. And I'd put my money on their answer.

"That sounds like the definition of hell."

Yes. In a very real way, it is.


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