The Plague of Elders

I don’t mean that we Elders are the plague; I mean an awful lot of us Elders are afflicted with the same “plague.” It’s called There are lots of kinds of insomnia and there’s no cure for any of them.   There are a host of “remedies”, however, and I have tried all of them (see the end of this post), to no avail.  So had the author of a book I read several years ago, Insomniac, by Gayle Greene.  The book was published in 2008, and you would think there would have been some progress made since then with a treatment that works.  I contacted Greene last year to see if she ever found a way rid herself of insomnia  Basically, she said no; all she could do is schedule her life around it when she can, take sleep meds when she has no other choice, and keep looking for a solution.

Here’s a review from The Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine Insomniac, by Gayle Greene, provides an interesting perspective and offers support to those with treatment resistant insomnia. It also offers a fresh perspective to readers who are also medical providers. The author defines insomnia in a way that sets the stage for the discussions that follow, as “Insomnia is when you can’t get the sleep you need to feel good, for no reason other than that you can’t.” By the end of the third chapter, the reader has a very clear understanding of the problems faced by insomniacs.

Greene’s book is both a memoir and a research paper. If you don’t read the book, read the whole review.  Here are some of the facts she shares in her book

A third of the American population suffers from insomnia enough to complain about it; in people over 65, estimates are as high as 60 percent.

⇒  Sleep has little part in medical curricula today, when doctors get an average of one or two hours’ instruction in sleep and sleep disorders.  The patient with a chronic complaint of insomnia will usually be referred to a psychiatrist.

  With all due respect, this is so ass-backwards, Greene states. The reason I want more sleep is so that I won’t feel depressed.  I need sleep not to avoid my life, but so that I can live it.

  This is what she learned from interviewing a range of sleep researchers and experts (all given citations in her book).  We do not know….the nature of the basic neural mechanisms underlying primary insomnia.  Nor do we know the identity of specific neurotransmitters that might be involved, or even whether specific neurotransmitter systems are involved.  The genetics of the disorder are also not known.

 The behavioral model (change your attitude, change your ways) has had, perhaps the unfortunate consequence of discouraging research into the neurobiology of the disorder.

 Insomnia is a subjective state..  There’s no blood test that it shows up on, no biopsy or x-ray that picks it up, and it doesn’t even show up on the EEG….. How much easier it is to tell us, as many clinics do, that we have “sleep disordered breathing,” or apnea.

  Exercise helps some people, but not all. “In order to make a difference, it has to intensive, enough to raise the core temperature (inside body temperature) to two degrees Fahrenheit for about twenty minutes, which happens with twenty to thirty minutes of aerobic exercise….. Since only people who are in shape can sustain vigorous exercise for twenty minutes or more, they’re the ones whose sleep is likely to be improved.

  Some billionaire who has a relative with terrible trouble sleeping…should endow a private foundation. There should be patient advocacy groups for insomnia, but they’ll need to stay independent of the pharmaceutical companies.

I wish every sleep doctor would read Greene’s book, which explores the various and complex reasons why folks have insomnia, including the gut-brain connections and the individual ways that insomnia manifests itself.  For example, I have the kind that prevents me from even falling asleep, from having my brain trigger what Greene calls the “sleep switch.”  I get relaxed and tired, but that last step evades me.

At the end of this month, I will have a sleep study.  I am going to give the doctors there a copy of this post.

Of all of the remedies I have tried for my insomnia,  I have to admit that I like the effect of medical marijuana (and I like the buzz I get before I fall asleep).  But trial and error has proven that I need sometimes 4 times the recommended dose to have any effect on my sleep.  That would cost me several hundred dollars a month, and I can’t afford that.  CBD helps with my daytime energy and mood, but has done nothing for my sleep issues.  And it’s not cheap, either.

I even bought some EMF fabric shield to cover my electronics at night. At my age (80), doctors will not give me prescription sleep meds.  Hell, I’m 80.  What’s it going to do, kill me?  Not sleeping is killing me and is depriving me of having any kind of satisfying life.

I no order of chronology or non-effectiveness, here is a list of what I have tried.
  Soto Bio-tuner; hypnosis; environmental changes; behavioral modification; yoga breathing; every pain and sleep-associated OTC on the market; a range of herbal, amino acids, and other supplements (sometimes combined); oxycodone (I’m running out of my old dental RX; I only take it when I can’t take the sleeplessness any more); binaural beats; relaxation, meditation, and music tapes; hot showers; massage (when I can afford it); decades of depression meds; tapping……..

Badly arthritic knees and a troublesome torn rotator cuff preclude me from doing the kinds of exercises that might tire me out enough to crash into sleep.

“Set your alarm and make sure you get up every morning even if you are tired,” they tell me.  Yeah, sure.  After finally falling asleep at 3 a.m. or so every night, I’m not about to get up at 9.  Maybe 11.  Sometimes noon or later.  When I finally sleep, I often sleep deeply and have great dreams.  But I miss half of the day.

There are still no advocacy groups for and by insomniacs to help spread the word and urge researcher and doctors to keep digging to discover the biological insomnia triggers and causes. There are plenty of support/forums for patients, but all those do is give us more places to complain.

More on “Awe”

The solace of amazement is the highest solace to which the free can aspire. While others experience solace in salvation, the free discover it in astonishment, mystery, and unfolding.

I am trying to reconnect myself to the feelings of “awe” that have always provided a context for my creativity, and from which I seem to have strayed. Irreverent and irreligious, I come at “awe” from a perspective that is pretty much examined in this book. Here’s a another quote:

Whereas the conventionally religious tend to resist inquiry about their faith, the internally (relatively) free tend to question their faith consistently; and whereas the conventionally religious tend to experience their faith as clear and specific, the internally (relatively) free tend to experience theirs as enigmatic and evolving. To put it more concretely, the conventionally religious tend to invest in divinities that are near at hand, that give them firm directions, and that divide the world into comforting categories (such as good and bad,Christian and non-Christian, sinful and moral, and so on). The result of this purview is that, ostensibly at last, life becomes orderly investments containable, and difficulties minimized. The internally (relatively) free, on the other hand, tend to invest in spirits/forces that lie far beyond conventional parameters, that yield minimal directions, and that apprehend the world in its diversity, complexity, and immensity. The result is that life becomes adventurous, investments daring, and difficulties animating.

Where’s the Awe?

I have forgotten how to feel “awe” — the Carl Sagan kind of awe. ““Once we overcome our fear of being tiny, we find ourselves on the threshold of a vast and awesome Universe that utterly dwarfs — in time, in space, and in potential — the tidy anthropocentric proscenium of our ancestors.”

Reading “The Rediscovery of Awe,” which inspires me with the following:

Awe is not a very comfortable standpoint for many people….hence, all about us today, we see avoidance of awe — by burying ourselves in materialist science, for example, or in absolutist religious positions, or by locking ourselves into systems whether corporate, familial, or consumerist; or by stupefying ourselves with drugs More than ever before, it seems to me, we are in need of the wisdom that awe inspires We are in need of paradoxical wisdom. We need to see the complexity of things,he wholeness of hings, which means the incompleteness and simplicity of things at the same time.

I would love to be part of a discussion group that explores how to become filled with an awe that has nothing to do with a deity or religion, but rather blooms from feeling a mythic connection to the marvels of life on this planet.

Shifting Gears: Medical Marijuana Mystery Tour #1

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything here. Whatever I might rant about (corruption in politics, corporate mortal sins, our malfunctioning Gestapo) is being satisfactorily covered by my Facebook friends. My goal here has always been to deal with my own interests from, what I hoped was, unique perspectives. Whether explaining how to fix t-shirts so that you don’t have to wear a bra, or chronicling my mother’s five last days, I tried to share an authentic experience, told from my gut and my heart.

The challenge, lately, has been to find something I want to share with authenticity and guts and heart.

I will be 76 in another month or so, and my life as an older person is nothing like I imagined, in both good and bad ways.

One of the bad ways is that I have had really bad insomnia since the fall of 2014. I’ve tried just about everything available — prescriptions, OTC, herbal concoctions, TENS stimulation, exercise, meditation, visual imagery. Some worked for a while then stopped and some never worked at all.

When the state I live in, Massachusetts, legalized medical marijuana, I decided to give it a try. And also to blog, from my unique perspective as a “gray lady,” about this new adventure.

Soon I will begin “Gray Lady’s Medical Marijuana Mystery Tour.” As the Beatles sang, “The magical mystery tour is hoping to take you away. Hoping to take you away.”

I don’t know where it will take me. Will take us. Keep in mind that I’m not a very private person; I tend to put it all out there, and, as usual, you will probably learn more about me than you really want to know. Or not. What I hope is that my experiences will shed some light on how medical marijuana might enhance the lives of the elderly, whether to help us deal with insomnia, or pain and inflammation, or simply to help us just feel all-round better.

I will try to link to specific and factual information where appropriate. But mostly this is about me. Because, you know, it’s always about me.

Street-smart Feminism — wary vigilance and personal responsibility

I have been an admirer of controversial Camille Paglia ever since I read her books back in the “olden days,” and this interview with her has some elemental points about women and their sexuality that I think are, unfortunately, ignored by most. She says:

Too many of today’s young feminists seem to want hovering, paternalistic authority figures to protect and soothe them, an attitude I regard as servile, reactionary and glaringly bourgeois. The world can never be made totally safe for anyone, male or female: there will always be sociopaths and psychotics impervious to social controls. I call my system ‘street-smart feminism’; there is no substitute for wary vigilance and personal responsibility.


Wary vigilance and personal responsibility as fundamental to street smart feminism
. Yes.

What I find missing from the preparation of girls/young women to deal with unwanted male attention is the absence of an understanding that sexuality is a powerful, (to use Paglia’s word) chthonic force — a primal power that they need to get to appreciate and control. Yes, males need to understand this concept as well, and while they “get it” on a subconscious level, they need to understand it intellectually as well. But that’s a whole other discussion.

For the moment, I’m focused on young women, especially teenagers, who are not guided to reach any fundamental appreciation and understanding of the power of their sexuality (over themselves and others) and so are seduced by the advertising industry to flaunt it, while staying totally unaware of the psychology of sexuality and its complex, subconscious, Dionysian impulses. Instead, they are taught to INTERNALLY deny and repress them WHILE AT THE SAME TIME EXTERNALLY ANNOUNCING THEM.

It becomes confusing to them, as well as to the males who only see the external signals.

There is a lot of education that has has to be done before what has been termed this “rape culture” can be brought under control. Because it is a matter of awareness and control — SELF AWARENESS AND SELF CONTROL on the part of each individual.

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Low Empathy: the root of all evil

LOW EMPATHY

I am obsessed with the conviction that our human race is devolving because we are losing our capacity for empathy. And I am not alone in believing that is the root of all of the evil in this world.

On the other hand, there is increasing research that is proving how other mammalian species are actually evolving in their capacity to feel and demonstrate empathy. All you have to do is do an online search for “animal empathy,” and you can spend the rest of the day being amazed and gratified at the increasingly widespread “humane” behaviors of our non-human brothers and sisters. (Do an online search for any of the areas of human violence in the world today – shootings, rapes, war zones…. — and you will spend the rest of the day, perhaps, starting to believe as I do.)

The tendency for humans seems to be violent. An online search for “human violence” will provide support for that assertion.

But it’s really more complicated – and overwhelming – than most folks are willing to admit.

Individual research projects are showing that there are complex connections among the healthy functioning of the brain’s “empathy spot,” the levels of the aggression hormone testosterone, the harmful psychological (and, perhaps neural) effects of violent sports/games/language, and this crisis of morality that is plaguing our species.

After spending the past few days searching online for perspectives on this issue, the best piece I have been able to find (although there are others) is “Why a Lack of Empathy is the Root of All Evil,” by psychologist Simon Baron Cohen, who offers this general definition:

Empathy is our ability to identify what someone else is thinking or feeling, and to respond to their thoughts and feelings with an appropriate emotion,” writes Baron-Cohen. People who lack empathy see others as mere objects.

And so we have rampant misogyny, bigotry, border disputes, extreme nationalism, racism,war, violence of all kinds.

What is fascinating to me is that the home of “empathy” seems to be in the brain itself. Scientific research has identified an area of the brain associated with empathy – the anterior insular cortex.

In other words, patients with anterior insular lesions had a hard time evaluating the emotional state of people in pain and feeling empathy for them, compared to the controls and the patients with anterior cingulate cortex lesions,” said the researchers.

This area of the brain that has been proven to be affected by a variety of variables, including testosterone levels and exposure to violent media.

One of Baron-Cohen’s longitudinal studies – which began 10 years ago – found that the more testosterone a foetus generates in the womb, the less empathy the child will have post- natally. In other words, there is a negative correlation between testosterone and empathy. It would appear the sex hormone is somehow involved in shaping the “empathy circuits” of the developing brain.
Given that testosterone is found in higher quantities in men than women, it may come as no surprise that men score lower on empathy than women. So there is a clear hormonal link to empathy. Another biological factor is genetics. Recent research by Baron-Cohen and colleagues found four genes associated with empathy – one sex steroid gene, one gene related to social-emotional behaviour and two associated with neural growth.

Contrary to what gamer developers would like us to believe, ongoing research is tending to prove that areas of the brain associated with empathy are being affected by constant exposure to violent video and other games.

New preliminary findings suggest that brain activation is altered in normal youths with significant past violent media exposure while viewing violent video games.

The reasons for our devolution are obviously complicated and involve some combination of nature and nurture and the opposite of nurture. As a culture and society, we seem to be intent on denying how we actually are encouraging a diminishment of empathy in favor of greed, selfish amorality, and vested interests — whether they be political, religious, economic, or national.

Of course, it’s easier to deny – from climate change to chemical food contamination, to promoting and glorifying violence – than it is to tackle the daunting job of trying to undo what we have done. But if we don’t, we will be a dead species before long. We will destroy ourselves from the simple lack of empathy.

I am hoping that some less corporate-manipulated and more holistic researchers will be able to bring together all of the factors that are pushing our species over the precipice of widespread violence and come up with a convincing argument for the necessity to put the brakes on across the board. Coming up with a plan after that is maybe more than government is capable of now. But if we don’t….

Having been a fan of speculative fiction my whole life and witnessing the manifestations of many of those “fictional” speculations, I don’t hold much hope.

outing the skeletons in our closet

I posted this eight and a half years ago. As conversations rage these days about the role of women, about rape, and about what still seems to be the perceived powerlessness of too many young women, we need to rattle the buried bones of our history as warrior women.

(The television program to which I refer is one of those that was too good not to be cancelled.)

They found her buried in the Steppes of Russia, a tall woman, leg bones bowed, probably from spending a lot a time on a horse. She was buried with her earrings and other gold adornments. And a mass of arrowheads. A Warrior Princess who lived 2500 years ago.

They had found other skeletons too, in other places. Tall women, with bowed legs, some positioned in the historically ancient pose of the warrior — one leg bent at the knee. Buried with arrowheads and swords. The DNA from one of these skeletons has been found in a young teenager currently living in a nomadic tribe in Mongolia.

The most famous Amazon warrior Penthesilia, Herodotus wrote, died at the hands of the greatest warrior of Greece, Achilles. Many think that the Amazons were a myth, but evidence is showing that such women probably did exist in various parts of Europe and Asia.

Archeologists are finding that there were others of these strong warrior women who, for generations, taught themselves and their daughters to hold their own in a world controlled by male aggression.

These women were as ruthless as the multitudes of men they fought and killed or enslaved.

There is something empowering to know that we can be as ruthless as the most ruthless men. There is something even more empowering to believe that we have the moral courage to choose not to.

I watch the new television series Commander-in-Chief and am reminded that there are many ways to be a strong leader — some more ruthless than others.

Bush is a failure as a leader. (Type in “failure” in a Google search and then click on “I’m Feeling Lucky.” Heh.)

A woman wouldn’t necessarily be a better leader. After all, there was the woman who is now Skeleton 227.

But there have to be individuals who could lead this nation with true commitment to all of its people, to the spirit of its Constitution, and to its responsibility to demonstrate how to make decisions based on ethics as well as necessity. I hope they’re watching Commander-in-Chief for some tips

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this old Pole soul

Like every human on this planet, my heritage traces back to the heart of Africa, from where the original homo sapiens emerged around 100,000 years ago.

Somewhere around 40,000 years ago, their descendants descended on what eventually would be the nation we now know as Poland. Since the time of these early forbears, the land that was considered “Poland” shrank and expanded depending on the whims of glaciers and governments. Pretty much land-locked except for its limited access to the Baltic Sea, Polish land has been traipsed over, lived on, and fought over by tribes and nations from the Turks to the Celts. The 19th and 20th centuries, alone, saw Poland’s boundaries recede and expand drastically as various histories and wars played themselves out.

While I know that America has claim to the title of “melting pot,” pre-historic Poland has to come close because of the hundreds of different peoples who settled there at one time or another, coming upon its central location accidentally or on purpose. So, even though I can trace my bloodline back through several generations of “pure” Poles, the truth is that I have in me genetic traces of countless races, leading back to that elusive “Mitochondrial Eve.”

Why I’m thinking about all of this is that I’m taking a class in Polish language and culture to help me remember how to converse in Polish. I have no immediate reason for doing that, except that it’s free at the Senior Center, and relearning the language is helping me to exercise my brain.

I have never been very good at just sitting in a class and listening. I like to participate. So, I offered to do a session next week on the traditions still alive in Polish culture today that have their roots in that land’s pre-history. (Of course, that means “pagan,” but I didn’t use that word in my offer to do the session. All of the other students seem to be Catholic, and I didn’t want to use language that would turn them off.)

For anyone who is interested, there are a very few websites that deal with Polish/Slavic pre-history. This is the best of them.

More than a dozen years ago, I stumbled upon a wonderful site explaining the pagan origins of various Polish folk customs and chronicling the Polish pagan pantheon and magical symbols. I printed out all 80-something pages of information from that now-defunct website, and I am so glad I did because I would have to track down a ton of books to compile it myself at this point. I’m thinking that I probably saved it on my old computer but somehow lost track of that document.

Growing up Polish in America (as did the other students in my class), what I was told about Polish history made it seem as though it all started with the the conversion of Poland to Christianity back somewhere around 990 A.D.

However,

In the course of the Christianisation of Europe in the Early Middle Ages, the Christian churches adopted many elements of national cult and folk religion, resulting in national churches like Latin, Germanic, Russian, Armenian, Greek and so on. Some Pagan ceremonies became modern holidays as pagans joined the early church.

It just goes to show you — children are told the history that their “responsible adults” want them to believe. But there’s always more. Always more.

Do zobaczienia.