Michael Jackson (and the price of sleep)

It’s six years since Michael Jackson died. He’s somebody I’ve been aware of all my life. I wasn’t obsessed, but I was very much a fan of his music and the then-young man himself, mainly back around the Thriller days. He seemed so likeable then. He looked like he was having fun – such charisma – and he made us want to have fun too. I was as thrilled as anybody to watch the Motown 25 special where he blew across our consciousness into a different stratosphere of entertainer. Before that he’d been great. But then he was brilliant. He’d become something else.

Before things really got strange – in the “elephant man bones” and “oxygen chamber” days and prior to child molestation charges – I distinctly remember reading in a book where the author suggested Michael might “slowly be going mad before our eyes.” That statement was so haunting. I’ve thought of it regularly in the decades since. It was awfully prescient. I don’t know if he went mad but he went something.

There’s a thought that has been percolating in my mind over the six years since Michael Jackson’s death. The way I understood it, he died primarily from a drug he took to help him sleep, one that was not traditionally used for that purpose, but was used to put people under for surgery. It was reported that he insisted on being prescribed the drug.

Exactly how badly must someone want sleep before opting to be administered a drug meant to render pre-op patients unconscious? One never intended as a sleep aid? How crazed and desperate would you have to be even to try it in the first place? This is all the more puzzling considering how incredibly common sleep problems are, resulting in an industry rife with sleep medications and aids. There’s quite a few steps between counting sheep and being rendered unconscious.

I don’t pretend to know what the life of a superstar celebrity is like, with its overbooked schedules and incessant pressures. But from a human angle, I very much know the importance of sleep. Personally, I find that sleep rules my personality and outlook. When I lack it, I’m prone to pessimism and joylessness. I feel like I can’t cope with things. Everything seems like an ordeal and effort. It is almost shocking the difference a decent night’s slumber has on my well-being. I’m perky and energetic and smiling at the world. My mind is clicking with ideas and I bound around getting things done. While surely some of us are more sensitively wired than others, I can’t be alone in this dualism.

So sometimes, when I can’t get to sleep, or more typically, wake up in the middle of the night only to toss around and stew, or when I drag around all day fatigued from a piss-poor right’s rest, I think of Michael Jackson and how desperately he must have wanted sleep. Enough to risk having it forever.

21 thoughts on “Michael Jackson (and the price of sleep)

  1. vanbytheriver

    The last line…very powerful, Colette. Having on again/off again sleep issues forever, I can hardly imagine the pressures he was under, mostly from being blessed/cursed with that kind of talent, and losing a childhood to parental expectations and success. Desperate ? No doubt.

    No matter what, I have avoided chemical intervention when it comes to sleep.( Unless you include a late night carb loading to induce drowsiness.) Popcorn works, as does anything a bit sweet with a side of milk or other dairy. Now…if I could just stay asleep past 4 a.m….I’d be right as rain. ( where that expression came from…have no idea ?) ☺

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      What a nuisance, Van. Thanks for sharing this. I SO understand your philosophy. Not using anything is admirable – I discovered the herb Valerian and take it occasionally. It’s non habit forming, no side effects (although personally I say it makes my dreams slightly more colorful than usual). You ever try Sleepytime Tea? That might be more your speed. Sadly, from what I’ve read, the older people get, the more broken-up their sleep is. I agree with you about Michael Jackson. I see somebody who couldn’t get off the treadmill, whose demons and talent drove him, ultimately right off the cliff. If your life is so out of joint that you’d ASK for or insist on, a drug like that to do something as pedestrian as sleep, something is seriously wrong – it’s unsustainable.

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      1. vanbytheriver

        Hey there, Colette. Yep…tried chamomile, other teas including Sleepytime. I usually fall asleep with no problem. I have a funny story about talking with a co-worker with a monotone voice …I fell asleep standing up. Valerian seemed to help keep me asleep…the real issue…but not worth it. I had horrible, disturbing dreams (way more than colorful) that actually woke me up…so not so fond of that one. I do manage 5 hours or so a night, uninterrupted…and I take an afternoon nap a few times a week…that seems to work best. ( I retired a few years ago…so, it’s doable). Sleep deprivation seems to be a chronic problem as one “matures”.

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        1. writerinsoul Post author

          I was thinking about you… do you think a different brand of Valerian would be worth trying? I find they’re not all the same. One thing I’ve read not long ago is that older people are actually getting as much sleep but that it’s broken up (ie., naps and such).

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  2. mariezhuikov

    I had foot surgery and was put under not long after MJ’s death. Upon waking, my first words were: I can totally understand why Michael Jackson wanted to use this stuff. It was blissful! I can see how his situation could happen. Not that I would ever try something like that. Snore.

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      I get what you’re saying, Marie; better not to even know what some of these things are like. Prescription painkillers are (another) great example. People who’d never use street drugs start on prescribed meds and like them just a bit too much. Evidently so easy to get hooked. I can see that for sure.

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  3. Miriam

    Very insightful- not something I’ve thought about regarding Michael Jackson but as a person with a tendency toward disordered sleep I can relate to how it can make a person feel desperate, crazy even. I’ve always struggled to sleep normally, even as a young child. I have such a hard time shutting my brain off, and if I read too long I get a second wind and will stop feeling sleepy. At some point I realized I had to take control of my sleep patterns, and that does help, but it’s an ongoing struggle to stay on top of it.

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      I totally get you. I do a number of things too, all shy of drugs. I don’t even want to take melatonin because of side effects. Your problem is mine: the over-busy mind. Even a couple days’ lousy sleep can make things seem so bleak; with Michael Jackson I have to think he probably totally screwed up his natural sleep patterns after no doubt years of taking stuff (both for sleep and not). The best thing he could have done would be sell a bunch of stuff and go work on a farm in the country for 6 months or a year. Thanks very much for commenting!

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  4. Andrew Davis

    what an interesting train of thought. he appeared to have difficulty with self-identification especially given his stunted childhood. Like so many others, their torture is our gain. He was a remarkable performer.

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  5. moylomenterprises

    Sad but a serious problem for many. Some struggle with needing medication for certain issues which in turn disrupts sleep. Then they need medication for sleep which disrupts something else. If one can avoid medication unless absolutely necessary and focus on eating a being healthy then some of the issues needing medication could be alleviated. It’s a terrible cycle…

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      I hadn’t considered the medications that affect sleep. But then Western culture is so quick to prescribe drugs ahead of other possible solutions (not to undermine those drugs which are essential to keeping people functioning/alive). So many people are stressed out and have sleep issues – I’ve read that insomnia didn’t exist 100 years ago which I find so interesting.

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      1. moylomenterprises

        Yes very interesting. My doctors are often surprised that the only thing I’m taking is vitamins. One, trigger happy to write before listening, recently prescribed something meant to help one thing and it caused mayhem in my system. After a month I stopped and my body is finally settling. We (new doctors) are now on a mission to find the root of my one problem and I hope medication isn’t needed to correct it.

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  6. longchaps2

    Yeah, insomnia is rough. I’ve had my issues too and just try to deal with it the best way I can. I’m leery of medications for it too. Seems like you do more harm that good. Exercise and trying to eat right and just one foot in front of the other. I hear you. This is a sensitive and insightful blog.

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    1. writerinsoul Post author

      Thank you so much. I am pretty sure women have more sleep issues than men do; we have more trouble “turning things off.” I knew a guy who took melatonin but once I looked into it, I thought no way. It can permanently screw up your sleep patterns. I’m with you. Some days I drag around but I just don’t want to go near medications.

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