Until two years ago I had spent nearly my entire adult life planning my day about around having enough time to get in line to “grab a cup of coffee”. I also planned my afternoons and evenings that way. Morning cup of coffee. Afternoon cup of coffee. Evening cup of coffee. I’d even perfected how to take a Power Nap after drinking a cup of coffee.
This behavior started long before coffee become an obsession in our society. For me, it started in 1987. I was living in Seattle and working for an advertising agency making $12,000 a year and working 90-hour weeks. I would get to work at 7am for a staff meeting and work straight through until midnight, sometimes 2am, before sleeping a couple hours and doing it again. I also did this while being sexually harassed, but that is another story. The point is, I was overworked, extremely stressed, and relying heavily on caffeine to muscle through a horrible situation making less than half the going minimum wage for my efforts.
At this point the caffeine in a cup of coffee was the only way I could endure the grueling nature of this situation, but it was also enabling me to continue down a path I should have stopped on. But even in hindsight, I don’t know what else I could have done besides get in a time machine and pick another career.
Quitting was not an option. Over 1,000 people applied for my job. I knew the minute I quit there would be a flood of people wanting to take my place and I’d be competing with those people for another job. I had no bargaining power. And I was young, straight out of college, ambitious, and willing to “pay my dues”. It was during this time I started afternoon and evening espresso drinks. I remember clearly the first time I wandered across the street to a coffee shop and bought an afternoon drink and how I was energized straight to midnight. It was eutrophic. And a revelation.
It’s not like I had never had a cup of coffee before. It was Seattle and Starbucks was already well known and coffee shops were everywhere. But it was the first time I realized that I could feel awesome being hyper energized and if I set up a schedule of getting a cup of coffee more often I could really get things done. And that coffee schedule just accelerated.
Warning Signs I'd Gone Too Far
Now honestly, over the years, there had been times I had let this schedule get out of control and my doctor would always be the one to tell me caffeine was a problem. The red flag was always fibrocystic breasts (lumps in my breasts). The doctors would say the same thing: “I’ve never seen so many lumps in breasts before”. They would ask about caffeine and determine I could have the lumps from caffeine but it might be something more serious. They would want to do a biopsy. That would scare me and I would plead for a few weeks to quit caffeine and see if lumps would go away. They would give about a month and schedule another follow-up. If the lumps were still there, it was time to schedule a biopsy. I would run home, and muscle through caffeine withdrawal and return a month later with breasts that were miraculously clear of ALL lumps. This process repeated half a dozen times over the last 20+ years and I never had the lumps there on the follow-up. But looking back that was not the only thing caffeine was doing to me.
Over the years I have been on and off several anti-depressants. Not because I’m depressed. My doctors have all said I am low on the depression scale but high on the anxiety index. I’ve always blamed my jobs which have remained high stress. And I say I’ve been on and off anti-depressants because I hated how they made me feel and I would invariably go on some extreme diet that cleanses something and coffee was usually dialed back in the process. Another miraculous healing and I’m feeling good. For a while. The caffeine would gradually creep back into my routine I’d feel bad again. But it is only in hindsight that I see too much caffeine as the nexus of so many of my issues.
I had many more symptoms that I had no idea had anything to do with caffeine. I would pound on keyboards when the computers froze up. I’d scream at stoplights that made me wait. I had random muscle twitches. I had trouble sleeping and took over the counter sleeping aides for YEARS. I’d even had Ambien prescribed (but I hated that too). I was angry and irritable at a lot of things that now seem trivial. I jumped when people would walk up behind me. I blamed stress, but it was really too much caffeine. I can say that with certainty because all those things that used to be so maddening, irritating, and inconvenient, are now just minor nuisances to me. Now, I fall asleep easily. I sleep soundly. I wake up feeling refreshed and I don’t need a cup of coffee in the morning to feel better.
Feeling Good Without Feeling Bad
My life is far from perfect. But I’m okay with that. It feels manageable. I do still drink an occasional cup of coffee. Because I want to, and not because I feel like I need to. And when I say occasional, I mean every few weeks instead of every day. I used to spend over $200 a month at the coffee drive through. I have not been to a coffee shop in almost 2 years and I don’t miss it. I sometimes think “should I stop and get a cup of coffee?” And the answer is always “nah, I’m fine.” I’m not depriving myself. I’m not trying to set an example. I honestly feel fine and feel like I don’t need it. That’s its not worth the cost of beverage and it’s not what I want. That in itself is hugely liberating but it just a small part of feeling better after finally getting my caffeine consumption under control.