Hi, I’m Deidre. I’m an addict.
The mug holds about 16 ounces of coffee that I make from finely ground beans. Caffeine content: about 100 milligrams of lovely trimethylxanthine per mug. Add two teaspoons of sugar and a dollop of non-fat creamer, and I’m ready to write. It’s 5:15 a.m.
I sip the coffee absently, staring at the screen. Caffeine works much like meth or cocaine. It binds to my brain’s adenosine receptors, confuses my nerve cells and forces cellular activity to speed up. Blood vessels constrict. Neurons fire like crackers. Dopamine levels soar. My pituitary gland reads these goings-on as an emergency. It releases hormones that kick off adrenalin production.
My pupils dilate.
My breathing valves open up.
My heart beats faster. Blood pressure rises. My liver rushes sugar into my bloodstream. My muscles tense.
This is what morning should feel like.
I’ve been a caffeine addict for thousands of years, probably since I downed my first Mountain Dew at age 8 or so. I drank Lipton tea during a decade of pregnancy and breast-feeding. Then I discovered coffee and didn’t turn back until a recent accidental addiction breaker—a bag of coffee that was covertly marked with a green “decaf” circle.
I didn’t see the green. I’m generally half asleep when I waddle down to the kitchen to make coffee. In my post-slumber brain, adenosine is binding to its appropriate receptors just fine, thank you, and that’s why it’s so hard to get out of bed.
While I read the morning paper and get kids off to school, I usually drink about half a pot—about 300 to 400 milligrams of caffeine.
When I started with the decaf, I was still working in the RN&R office. So I ingested a few hundred milligrams of caffeine after arriving at work, which calmed the withdrawal storm. On the wall over the RN&R’s coffee pot, a co-worker posted a sign warning of the dangers of caffeine.
Turns out it’s not healthy for your body to be in a constant state of emergency. Also, caffeine stays in your body for six hours. Adenosine reception is key to a good night’s sleep. Got insomnia? There you go.
Caffeine is especially bad for women, says the author of Caffeine Blues, a scary book that outlines the connection between caffeine and reduced bone mass, fracture risk, heart disease, anxiety, panic attacks, menopause, anemia, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, depression, fertility disorders and pregnancy complications.
My last day at the RN&R was Jan. 30. My first week at home was fraught with headaches—deep, prickly, throbbing headaches that didn’t go away with a couple of aspirin. I felt exhausted, depressed but decided it was merely psychological.
I was dragging. Taking mid-day naps. Yawning.
Then the headaches went away, and I felt OK. Unknowingly, I’d gone through caffeine withdrawal.
One day last week, I poured the last of the decaf into Mr. Coffee. That’s when I noticed the green circle. The fog cleared and my future was crystal. I could live without caffeine. I could inhabit an unpolluted mental state.
I bought more decaf beans. I eschewed Diet Cokes. I started sleeping better, going to bed earlier. By 9 p.m., I was ready to hit the sack.
The mornings were the hardest. Now that I knew the coffee wasn’t going to perk me up, it seemed pointless to drink it. I’d lost a friend.
So yeah. The new me didn’t last long. But I’m still trying to cut back on caffeine.
It’s almost 7 a.m., and I’m still on my first cup of java.
I’m just not ready to dump the monkey. Not yet.