Insomnia: The Silent Killer

I am one of the roughly 70 million North Americans who suffer from insomnia. Not bad sleeps or broken sleeps or light sleeps – insomnia. There is no grey area with this condition, and let me tell you something: It sucks big rhino horn.

Recently, I overcame my latest bout of what the dictionary defines as “habitual sleeplessness; inability to sleep.” In truth, it is so much more – and worse than that.

Per an NPR article:

Scientists know relatively little about how chronic sleeplessness works or why it disproportionately affects women and people over the age of 65. Roughly 60 million Americans are affected by the sleep disorder each year, and scientists disagree on the best ways to treat it.

In Stephen King’s novel Insomnia, he has one of his characters experience insomnia, and per a Wiki summary, this is part of what it had to say:

As his insomnia develops, Ralph begins to see things that are invisible and intangible to others: colorful manifestations of life-force surrounding people (auras), and diminutive white-coated beings he calls “little bald doctors”, based on their appearance, and gradually comes to believe these are genuinely present on a different level of reality

Good for Mr. King on getting this right. Not sure if he suffers from insomnia (wouldn’t surprise me…how else do you write 20 books a year?), but he’s captured one important element which I’ll return to shortly.

For those lucky enough not to suffer from insomnia, I have gone through it so many times that I can pretty much give you a day-by-day breakdown should you ever fall prey to its viciousness.

After one night of sleeplessness (24 hrs.), you may feel groggy or even energized. Weird how that works.

After a second night (48 hrs.), you can most certainly function at a relatively high level, especially with lots of coffee.

After the third night (72 hrs.), this is where things start to get dicey. My advice is if you reach the 72-hour mark, see your GP at once and talk about proper sleep aids. In my experience, every OTC sleep aid is a piece of crap. This is where you ask your doctor for  zopiclone, a non-benzo sleep aid that works magic. (From what I’ve been told, zopiclone is safe to use without fear of addiction for up to 20 days, but my GP never gives me more than a week’s worth.)

By that 72-hour mark, you might begin to hear voices and sounds and music playing randomly in your head at all times of day and night, especially when you try to sleep.

If you reach the fourth night without sleep (96 hrs.) this is where things begin to get dangerous. Like Stephen King’s character above, you will likely see auras, apparitions and perhaps even ghosts. You will startle easily; loud, sudden noises will send a jolt of electricity through you. Your eyes may start swelling and you’ll have trouble focusing.

The U.S. Army defines 96 hours as the breaking point for sleep deprivation torture (coupled with loud music and flood lights of course), but even without the lights and music it’s torture. The first time I hit the 96-hour mark I found myself talking out loud a lot, both in public and when I was by myself. If it sounds frightening that’s because it is.

Now, up until this last bout, I’d only reached 96 hours, but last week I hit 125 hours and discovered something I’d never experienced: my body actually began to fall apart by that fifth night. My sense of balance was screwed up, I lost the ability to walk more than a few feet, and my whole upper body felt like it was shutting down.

That’s when I went straight to my GP without passing Go, got some zopiclone, and started sleeping that same night. Like I said, if you hit the 48-hour mark, be safe and proactive and get in to see your family doctor ASAP. I was an idiot this last time around and paid the price; even with the zopiclone, it took me three days of sleep to begin readjusting once again. Never again, says I.

During my first rodeo with insomnia, I got scared because I knew nothing about the condition and so headed straight to a hospital ER. Bad idea. You’ll have a psych team evaluate you for hours as they try and decide whether you have mental health problems or are simply suffering from insomnia.

To repeat, see your family doctor ASAP, before you hit the 72-hour mark, and let them guide you through this scary process in a safe, practical way.

On that note, happy sleeping!



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The Essential Fantine

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Not only is she one of the most sympathetic characters in literature, she is also the woman responsible for my favourite song, “I Dreamed a Dream,” in my favourite musical, Les Misérables.

Fantine is in some ways the archetype of the ultimate mother, a woman deserted by a callous man, only to raise her little Cosette all on her own. However, she has no money to support herself and soon turns to prostitution to raise her daughter, going so far as to sell her teeth and hair. Along the way, she loses her beauty, her health and, finally, her hope.

This is what she reflects upon while singing “I Dreamed a Dream,” a song most recently popularized by Susan Boyle. Yet it’s the video below, in which Anne Hathaway sings the same song, which I believe best captures the pain Victor Hugo was trying to infuse into Fantine. It’s a tragedy that has resonated with audiences for years, but this particular version is especially poignant. And for me, it sings with the magic of melding art and music, something so difficult to do for any performer in any age.


As an aside, if you missed this live performance at the 2013 Oscars of the entire Les Mis crew, watch it. It’s pretty spectacular.


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CAMH Receives $100 Million Anonymous Donation

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In case you’re like me and generally pretty cynical about the intentions of most people, we are both wrong on this day. Oh, so very, very wrong.

An anonymous donor has just done something staggering – He/She/They has just donated $100 million to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), Canada’s leading treatment and research centre for mental health and addiction.

And they don’t want to be named! Who the what the saints and angels!

Per the article in the Toronto Star, “A donor is giving a record $100 million to CAMH — and doesn’t want to be named“:

The donation was given to support research into mental illnesses, which affect some 6.7 million Canadians and are the leading cause of disability on earth.

The donation…will support the recruitment and retention of top scientists and encourage them to take chances with their research.

“In order to enable quantum leaps forward, this gift will also support high-risk, high-reward research,” the donor said.

Miracles really do happen and there are such things as real-life saints.


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How to Deal with Stupid

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ThunderPuff has written a very thoughtful yet humorous piece on a very serious subject: stupidity. Or, to be more specific, in his article titled “How to Deal with Stupid: Before It’s Too Late,” Mr. Puff writes,

“I wish I could tell you to just stay the hell away from Stupid, but realistically, that’s not feasible. One would have to completely sever oneself from all human interaction.”

He then goes on to delineate this even more when he writes:

“Stupid is what happens when ignorance is rewarded. Repeatedly.”

Hallelujah! Don’t I know it. In this great game/journey called life, I have scored way off the Stupid charts on so many occasions that it actually boggles my mind. Sometimes I think an axiomatic mantra should be: We live. We don’t really learn. We repeat said mistake many more times and then, instead of fixing it, we just move on and pretend it never happened.

But that’s just me.

As ThunderPuff goes on to write:

“As conspicuous as Stupid may seem, flaunting about with cheap, Cirque du Soleil-style mental contortions, it’s very tempting to think we’re impervious to its “charms.” Especially since the alternatives to Stupid, Doubt and Inquisitiveness, are real douche bags. They’re the asshole party poopers who question your buffet options (and life choices) and never know when to leave.”

And in the end, he concludes by saying,

“For instance, I could be a carrier of Stupid and be spreading stupidity like Typhoid Mary right now and, unless I ask myself, “Is this Stupid?” or you ask yourself “Is she drunk?” and then sincerely contemplate that possibility, we could do serious damage to each other with our stupidity.

Or maybe it’s ignorance. Either way, use a condom.”

Ha ha ha. Stupid is as stupid does.

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Hollywood, Move Over for CanLit

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In case you might have thought that Canadians and the Canadian publishing industry as a whole is immune from the same type of unacceptable behaviour currently rocking Hollywood, Mike Spry would have you think again. In a piece titled “No Names, Only Monsters: Toxic Masculinity, Concordia, and CanLit,” Mr. Spry offers a firsthand look into the darker, less-than-glamourous side of publishing and writing in Canada.

It’s a very well-written piece, but I think the following quote from the above link sums up much of the article:

The community of Canadian arts and letters has long preserved a culture of impropriety and abuse that would make Hollywood blush. Truth is, there’s no such thing as a CanLit “community”. It simply does not exist, not in any form that respects or understands the meaning of “community”. What there is instead is a network of heavily subsidized writers, professors, critics, and publishers who engage in campaigns of pamphleteering built on forced volunteerism and a false sense of self-importance. The root of the problem is predation, counterfeit agency, and a substantial sense of entitlement—teachers, mentors, publishers, editors, critics, and writers who manipulate, abuse, and ultimately destroy the aspirations, ambitions, and sometimes lives of young writers in perpetuating that system of entitlement.

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Canadians: The Bisexuals of Orthography


The title sounds a lot more salacious than it really is, mostly because many people have no idea what orthography means. To put it another way, Canadians swing both ways when it comes to spelling.

As someone who writes and edits for a living, I like to think I spell pretty goodly, but one thing that’s fascinated me for a while is our spelling here in the Great White North. Most Canadians (I think) – even most Americans – know that we have two official languages in Canada, English and French. What most Canadians – and about zero Americans – know is that we play for both teams when it comes to putting our words together good and proper.

How so, the reader asks? Even though we officially use British spelling in schools and in government/media, we’re all a bunch of swingers, constantly oscillating between British and American spelling without even realizing it.

(Interestingly, I can’t think of any common words we actually use from the Brits – flat for us is the opposite of round; lorry is a girl’s name; and lift is about pulling something/someone up.)

For example, we write grey, colour, and cheque, all of which are British spelling. However, we also write memorize, math (not maths), and categorize, all of which are American spelling. And somewhere in between those two areas we have grey/gray ones, like the word travel as a gerund. Some Canadians, not knowing the difference, will write “traveling” (American), while others will write “travelling” (British). And because so many people’s Word Spell Check function is set to American, we in Canada get pinched for our own damn spelling most of the time!

This really struck me this morning while reading the Star. A Canadian journalist was quoting a Canadian citizen who’d said he had to “memorise” something. After the word memorise (British spelling), the writer wrote “[sic],” as in the citizen made a spelling mistake.

The lesson I take out of this is that, aside from being wildly experimental in the spelling arena, Canada really does have its own spelling system, a mish-mash of the Brits and the Yanks. The funny part, however, is that we don’t even realize this trait as Canadians.

Ha ha ha….ha ha………..ha (Is this thing on?)

Orthography is funny. Blondes, as they, may have more fun, but Canadians have waaaaay more fun doing spelling bees because we can nail you on both ends. Wait. That didn’t come out right. We can go north or south with our words. Doh! One last attempt: We can spell both ways, seamlessly going back and forth with the grace of a dolphin cutting through water. Yeah, that’s a good analogy. Spot on the money!


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Oprah Takes Oration to New Heights

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Perhaps it was inevitable. It was, after all, the one and only Oprah Winfrey making a speech at the first and most highly politicized event of 2018.

I don’t usually write about entertainment news, but after Oprah’s acceptance speech last night at the Golden Globes for the Cecil B. DeMille Award, I feel compelled to link to the video for all those who haven’t seen it. Quite simply, Oprah has raised the bar impossibly high for anyone following in her footsteps in the #MeToo & #TimesUp movements to make such an eloquent, impassioned, and – quite frankly – beautiful execution of truly mellifluous oration.

For me the speech brought to mind everyone from Pericles to Martin Luther King Jr. to JFK to Barack Obama (can we slip Pierre and Justin Trudeau in there for some Can. rep.?), people who somehow transcend fear at the podium and instead channel that energy into conviction and inspiration.

Oprah 2020?

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Quote of the Day


“Ice burns, and it is hard to the warm-skinned to distinguish one
sensation, fire, from the other, frost.”

A.S. Byatt, Elementals: Stories of Fire and Ice

Yep, I had to write about the weather. For those of us living in Canada – the whole freaking country – and New England, this has been one of the most severe winter’s on record. How bad, you ask? It’s currently -23 with the wind chill in Toronto as I write this post, and it actually feels warm compared to the last three weeks.

We broke a record here yesterday for coldest temperature. In fact, the City of Toronto had to go to Ottawa to make an exceptional request yesterday: open up the federal armouries to house the homeless. Fortunately, Ottawa acquiesced.

On December 26, 1993 I experienced -70 degree weather, the coldest I’ve ever braved. (Interesting fact: If you stand outside naked at -70, your heart will stop in 60 seconds.) That being said, the last two days have felt colder than -70 here in the T Dot. After five minutes outside in full winter gear, I thought I’d developed frostbite in my fingers – and I had gloves on.

So, yeah, winter sucks.

But back to Dame Byatt! Not only is she an exceptional writer (Possession was a masterpiece), but she’s the heavyweight responsible for helping put a young go-getter named David Mitchell on the literary map; it was she who read an advanced reading copy (ARC) of his second novel, number9dream, and championed him before anyone (except me, of course) knew the limitless potential Mr. Mitchell possessed.

With respect to today’s QOTD, I like the imagery Dame Byatt evokes in this one sentence because, as I’ve felt these past few weeks, when it gets this cold it really is difficult to distinguish between the sting of being burned by fire and the acute pain that an Arctic wind can inflict on exposed (and sometimes covered) skin.

Please, all mountain gods, bring an end to this winter torment and usher in spring early this year. We deserve it!

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2017 Word of the Year

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Well, the votes are in, and the 2017 Word of the Year is complicit.


The word complicit sprung up in conversations in 2017 about those who spoke out against powerful figures and institutions and about those who stayed silent. It was a year of real awakening to complicity in various sectors of society, from politics to pop culture.


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The Dark Web

Let me preface this post by saying this is not only an extremely well written piece by Jason Smith, but one of the most important articles I’ve come across in recent memory. I strongly encourage you to read the link below.

I’m posting to this article about the dark web (aka Darknet) for a couple of reasons, one of which has to do with literature. I recently read a novel called Make Me about this very subject and was curious whether Lee Child was exaggerating for the sake of the “tension” of the plot, or whether this stuff was real.

Turns out Mr. Child was actually pussyfooting around the subject. Gulp.


Jason Smith has a more detailed answer to my question about whether this whole dark web thing is the real deal, and it’s not pretty. In an article titled “Journey Into the Dark” he actually tracks down someone who has operated extensively on the dark net, and the stories that follow have left a hollow feeling in my stomach.

To begin:

“There’s some awful shit on here,” he warned me. “In the old days, if someone was kidnapped, they asked for ransom. Now, these teams in South America abduct kids and women from areas that are poor, knowing the media won’t give a shit about them, and then hold them in dungeons with webcams. People then make requests using Bitcoin, as to what they want to see happen to the person. It’s fucking sick.”

Jim says he never ventured into that more insidious, disturbing side of the dark web because it scared him. But he has plenty of acquaintances who did, he says. He claims it changed them. He couldn’t say how, exactly. Or maybe he could but didn’t want to. Regardless, Jim said, they weren’t the same after.

The above is pretty much the plot of Make Me, and now I’m convinced there’s got to be some kind of solution we have to seek to the dark net – because if not, I’m pretty sure the Wild West is going to return like nothing we’ve seen in modern civilization.

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One case in point is the spread of drugs in Western society, which is facilitated in large part through the dark net. For those of us who live in Canada and the U.S., drugs like Fentanyl have taken over the streets in many cities. Both governments agree there is a national health crisis with respect to this. And the dark web is playing a significant role.

Per Mr. Smith’s article once again.

It’s a clusterfuck. People are dying, prisons are filling up, and nothing changes. More people died last year than at the height of the AIDS epidemic.

More Americans died from drug overdoses in 2016 than died during the entire duration of the Vietnam War.

And we’re not even close to getting a handle on this thing.

I don’t pretend to have any answers (I only learned what Tor, the onion router, and VPN were today), but I’m a little scared. I’m glad the feds are getting involved, though it seems to no real avail. A few high-profile minnow snags here and there in an ocean of corrupt whales.

For my own sanity, I think I’ll just stick to the surface web and continue to pretend the dark web doesn’t exist.

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