‘To sleep, perchance, to dream’

The Joker’s line “Why so serious“, spoken by the late Heath Ledger, is haunting. It speaks to anyone who’s put on a ‘happy face’ – in spite of a tormented soul. My last blog mentioned drug combos as dangerous, so when the actor died  in early 2008 from a medication cocktail it was presumed that there were dark secrets. But no, this was a catastrophic blue, not the blues. Forensic toxicology showed no alcohol, not one medication over safe limits, and all were ‘proven’ beneficial in addressing insomnia – the condition afflicting Heath (per his partner of the previous years). But the drug interactions stopped his heart. He now sleeps, just as Hamlet pondered in the title to this blog.

His family’s statement tells of a happy life taken away: “We remain humble as parents and a family, among millions of people worldwide who may have suffered the tragic loss of a child. Few can understand the hollow, wrenching, and enduring agony parents silently suffer when a child predeceases them. Today’s results put an end to speculation, but our son’s beautiful spirit and enduring memory will forever remain in our hearts. 

While no medications were taken in excess, we learned today the combination of doctor-prescribed drugs proved lethal for our boy. Heath’s accidental death serves as a caution to the hidden dangers of combining prescription medication, even at low dosage. Our family enjoyed an extremely happy two week visit with Heath just prior to the New Year. Those recent precious days will stay with us forever.”

Powderfinger’s emblematic soundtrack from Heath’s earliest dramatic work ‘Two Hands’ is covered by a Melb muso.

The childlike Heath played a 19 year-old entrapped in service, providing ‘two hands’, for Sydney’s underworld. In the final scene he bought his freedom but eventually Heath’s life was given over for our entertainment, because as a method actor he literally became the character. Living alone for a month prior to filming for Batman, he meditated on playing a psychopath. That didn’t break his mental health, but in an interview two months before that fatal poisoning he speaks of sleeplessness from giving his all to art.


The ruminations are worst at night. I wonder that there’s so many books on finding happiness, whereas elusive sleep can be fatal – much sooner than it would without water. The free 1st chapter of ‘Mindfulness for Health’, which is the course that changed Carole’s future, is recall of nightly anxiety due to incurable pain. Author Vidyamala’s lived experience from two accidents, that left her wheelchair-bound, has meant that the program was road-tested. Clinical studies from British and European universities confirm the therapies effectiveness. Not that meditation undid damage to anyone’s spine, but regaining sleep is restorative regardless of your health status. The Buddha’s story of the second arrow of anguish is appropriate here – obvious pain may not alert you to a greater harm being done to your body.

Mindfulness continues to evolve, there’s currently two dedicated peer-reviewed medical journals regularly published. Niemic’s 2014 book ‘Mindfulness & Character Strengths’ is an excellent followup to Dr Seligman’s work of the late 90s, but seminal work ‘Soar With Your Strengths’ by Clifton in ’92 (that spawned the Gallup Child Development Centre) is worth examining: “…the belief that strengths are the opposite of weaknesses, illness is the opposite of health, success is the opposite of failure They are not. Yet we are tricked into believing that if we find out what went wrong and fix it, everything will be right; if we identify our weaknesses, we can turn them into strengths.” They are not opposites – they are two sides of the same persona, the ying/yang. The bossy kid is demonstrating leadership potential.

Just as talents are innate, so are weaknesses. A bear can be taught to dance, but it shouldn’t. It’s a powerful beast, and rather than stop its being fearful, ways must be found for weaker persons to coexist with it that don’t involve shackles.

Heath’s strength of passion for his work proved to be his fallibility. It can only be speculated as to whether therapy for sleeplessness could have prevented this catastrophic accident, but I believe focus on honing the strength of acting skill would be helped by recognising the dark, obsessive side to his talent. But perhaps that’s like telling an Olympian that there’s risks involved in their sport.

What’re you popping?

For anybody concerned that medications from their doctor(s) create a risk, the local pharmacist can be a source of impartial information. They may also be aware of practitioner’s prescribing habits that may not be in your best interests, however they may then prefer that you switch to natural alternatives. In which case your GP should have access to databases giving contra-indications …. and on it goes in a loop! Geoff

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