Thursday, December 18, 2008

Caffeine is my friend

The week of Thanksgiving I stayed home with my family and, inadvertently, broke the routine I normally keep on days when I head into my office. Two days in I suddenly felt ill, but since I'd been traveling a lot I chalked it up to fighting off the flu or some bug I caught on an airplane. Then by day three the low-grade fever led to chills, which turned into fatigue, which morphed into lassitude, apathy and despair.

I started searching Google for symptoms, always a bad idea for a neurotic writer, only to discover that a search based on anything from a sore throat to a runny nose results in a list of possible diseases so deadly you'll be convinced you have dengue fever just from looking at the screen.

Then someone observed that I wasn't walking around with my usual cup of coffee or glass of iced tea, and it hit me. Without planning to I had stopped drinking caffeine, something I've been doing for more than two decades with a zeal normally associated with drunks or meth addicts. I looked into it, and apparently the crushing headache people associate with caffeine withdrawal is only the beginning. Caffeine, though mild in its effects relative to most stimulants, is considered one of the most addictive substances on earth, and if you've been consuming it in vast quantities for an extended period of time, it becomes so integral to your biochemistry that sudden withdrawal brings all the symptoms of the flu, right down to fever and body aches, followed by depression, apathy and a change in perspective that makes Eeyore look like an optimist.

Who knew?

Some people would have seized the moment and tried to free themselves from the shackles of this nefarious drug. But since I was about ready to jump into the bay, I decided to have a cup of java. I felt better, so I had another. Even better. After three cups my wife declared "Hey, you got your personality back!" The sun was up and so was I, life was good and tomorrow was full of possibilities. I drank so much coffee and tea that my teeth started to vibrate. I didn't sleep all that well that particular night, but for some reason I didn't care. I had the strength of ten men.

Now I should probably slowly and deliberately wean myself off the drug, switch to decaf before I find myself stranded in someplace where coffee, tea or Mountain Dew don't exist. Or calm my nerves before I start twitching like a politician taking a lie detector test. And maybe some day I will.

But for now caffeine is my friend. I'm secretly hoping to get the balance just right, so I can maintain maximum productivity until one day I spontaneously combust. (I could be the first documented case, and we'd finally know the cause.) My doctor said as long as it works for me, not to worry. There are worse vices to have, habits so obsessive they take you away from normal social discourse, your family and friends, until you find yourself alone in a room staring at a blank computer screen like a madman.

Oh wait, I have that habit, too. It's called writing...


Jess Lourey said...

Nice! A blog post that mentions Eeyore. Well done.

Joanna Campbell Slan said...

I had the opposite problem. I drank too much at various sittings, felt dizzy when I stood, and lost the feeling in the tips of my fingers. It's much more powerful than we give it credit for!

Mark Combes said...

Self medication is underrated in my opinion. There is a reason the drug store is full of over-the-counter drugs. I say try them all! Viva la caffeine!

Cricket McRae said...

My grandma used to make "cowboy coffee" -- boil the coffee in a pan on the stove, then throw in an eggshell to make the grounds sink to the bottom so you could pour it off the top. From that to living in Seattle, where coffee is as fancy as it comes, I've always loved the stuff.

Here's to the Almighty Caffeine!

Keith Raffel said...

Wow. That lack of coffee really made a difference. In that photo of you with the Dunkin Donuts cup, well, it doesn't look like you at all.

G.M. Malliet said...

How many books would not have been written if not for caffeine?

I resisted Starbucks for years; now I get it.

Anonymous said...

Caffeine Addiction - Caffeine Effects and Withdrawal part II

Caffeine addiction shows up when a person cannot stop consuming caffeine in high amounts, causing his/her body to demand the substance and react negatively if that no caffeine is intake. Caffeine may not be addictive in the traditional sense, but the body builds up a tolerance over time; some people find it very hard to function well without at least one cup of strong coffee or tea in the morning. The stimulating effects of caffeine are caused by a central nervous reaction, the heart rate increases, blood vessels expand and the brain receives more oxygen. These caffeine effects can last for up to 8 hours, and once they go off then the body feels extremely lazy and slow as a side effect.

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You need to be careful with caffeine withdrawal because it affects your overall health and therefore, you need to control your consumption of caffeinated products to prevent your body reactions to caffeine withdrawals. If you need more information about caffeine effects and caffeine addiction symptoms or prevention, please investigate a little further on this topics.

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