Category: Personal

My strange caffeine detox journey

Lifestyle Personal

My strange caffeine detox journey

If you know me at all, you know I’m a devoted coffee snob. I have an AeroPress at home and a second one at the office where I’ve been contracting for almost a year. I have not one, but two expensive burr grinders so I can always brew from fresh beans (one at home, one at the office). I temp the water before I brew. (Different beans extract ideally at different temps – I generally prefer anywhere from 85C to 95C depending on the bean, but 92C seems to be about my sweet spot.) And I buy rather expensive single-source beans from a local roaster.

So it came as a big surprise to my friends and family when, leading up to Memorial Day Weekend, I announced my intent to do a caffeine detox.

It started as my attempt to give up diet soda – I’d usually drink Coke Zero at lunch and dinner, and sometimes extra Coke Zero throughout the day. I know the chemicals in that stuff are going to kill me someday, so I decided I wanted to stop drinking it. Soda entirely, really – the diet stuff is full of chemical crap, and the non-diet stuff is jam-packed with unnecessary sugar, and I really don’t need any of that in my life. Plus, I lost a bunch of weight when I stopped drinking soda in 2005, so I thought it might be a good way to jump-start a healthier lifestyle again.

When I was thinking about it giving up soda, though, I realized I’d gotten entirely too accustomed to drinking a lot of caffeine, period. I’d start my workday with a latte. I’d have Coke Zero at lunch. I’d have a latte or a mocha mid-afternoon when I started feeling sleepy at the office. I’d have Coke Zero at dinner. Sometimes, when we’d eat out, I’d have a coffee with dessert. Basically, caffeine every few hours from morning ’til bedtime. I thought: “You know, while I’m trying to clean up my soda-drinking habits, maybe I should just stop drinking caffeine entirely. Just for a little while. Get through the withdrawal, and then drink less of it when I start drinking it again.”

So I did.

I planned to start over Memorial Day Weekend, because I’d have an extra day off and I knew I’d have massive headaches due to the caffeine withdrawal.

I was right.

The extra day off wasn’t really enough. I ended up working at home for a couple of days once the weekend was over. It wasn’t until an entire week had passed since I last drank caffeine that the headaches let up. And we’re talking migraine-level headaches for days 2-4, and then pretty bad headaches from 5-7. It was no walk in the park.

Week two was about feeling exhausted, all the time. I never really thought about what that must be doing to my body – how every time I started to get tired during the day, I’d just add some more caffeine. As a result, I had unconsciously programmed my body that whenever it sent me a sleepy signal, I’d just give it a chemical upper. I had completely messed with my body’s natural energy cycle, and it didn’t really know what to do once the caffeine wasn’t coming in again.

I’d wake up feeling relatively ok. But by the time an hour had passed – when I’d normally be drinking my morning latte or coffee – my eyelids didn’t want to stay up on their own. I had NO energy. I just wanted to go back to bed. Mid-morning, I’d be dragging. But mid-afternoon, when I always tend to get sleepy, was the worst. I’d literally be staring at my computer, and no matter how much effort I put into keeping my eyelids open, they would not stay open. I never fell asleep at my desk, but there were times when I’d sit there with my eyelids closed because I just literally couldn’t keep them open. I’d give them thirty seconds and force them open again, or go for a walk to try to get some blood flowing and give me some energy. But I think week two was even harder than the headaches – I could barely focus, and there’s something really debilitating about just being exhausted all the time.

By week three, I’d gotten a little apprehensive about what was going to come next. Was it going to be headaches again? Was the perpetual exhaustion about to descend on me again? When neither manifested, I thought: hey, maybe that’s it. Maybe the withdrawal is done. I started thinking about when I might start drinking caffeine again, and what form that might take.

One day, in the afternoon, I was feeling sleepy and also craving chocolate, so I thought about getting myself a hot chocolate. I know hot chocolate has caffeine in it. I did some spelunking to determine how much. Turns out, it depends. Generally, anywhere from 5mg to 20mg of caffeine in a hot cocoa, versus 80mg to 200mg in coffee, depending on the bean and the brewing method. I decided that was benign enough, so I treated myself to a hot cocoa around mid-week during week three.

MAN, I felt that caffeine!

That hot chocolate tasted effing amazing. And I felt SO GREAT after I drank it. I felt like I could do ALL THE THINGS. My mood lifted, I had so much more energy and focus, and I was super productive for the rest of the afternoon.

That’s when I realized two things:

  1. Wow, the body really adjusts quickly to not having caffeine. I thought I’d barely feel it, because I’d been drinking so much caffeine before, but let me tell you I felt the results and was very aware that the caffeine was affecting me.
  2. Oh shit. This might be worse than I realize. If even a little hot cocoa makes me feel this way, I’m going to have to be damn careful about how I re-introduce caffeine to my life. Maybe I shouldn’t drink caffeine again at all?

I wrestled with that for a few days. On Sunday, about five days after the hot cocoa and a little ways into week four, I decided to try a latte from one of my favorite local coffee shops. I was going to be deliberate about it – we sat there and had breakfast, and I savored the crap out of it. It was one of the most amazing coffee-drinking experiences I’ve ever had. And I realized: mindful coffee drinking is even more mind-blowing than habitual caffeine consumption. (This was the latte in the picture at the top of the post. Yes, I took a picture of it. It tasted even better than it looks.)

The rest of that day was amazing. I was SO PRODUCTIVE. I did a million chores, and got a bunch of writing stuff done, and didn’t feel like napping at 3 o clock or any of the normal stuff.

Then, when night rolled around, I was still feeling pretty energetic when it was time to go to bed. I forced myself to lie down, but my brain wouldn’t shut off – I laid there tossing and turning for a couple of hours, just thinking about everything and nothing, because my brain was too busy for sleep.

The next day was rough. And I knew it was because of the caffeine. I could still feel it in my system 24 hours after I drank it. But by the time mid-afternoon had rolled around – around 30-32 hours post caffeine – I was crashing. I think most of it had left my system, and combined with the lack of sleep the night before, I was exhausted. I barely made it through the rest of the day, and I canceled my evening plans because I just didn’t have brain.

Then I started to wonder if I should really be drinking caffeine anymore. If one latte, drank first thing in the morning, could have that effect – should I even be ingesting this stuff, period?

But I enjoyed it so much. And I had felt so productive and focused.

When Thursday of that week rolled around, I was absolutely dragging. I woke up feeling really cranky and grumpy. I could barely keep my eyes open. I made a decision: I’m going to get a mocha this morning. I want the chocolate and caffeine, for the mood elevation and to help me wake up. Otherwise, work is going to be very unpleasant, not just for me, but for anyone who encounters me.

It was a good call. That mocha was amazing. By the time I got to work, I was happy and chatty. (Mildly obnoxious, too – I announced to at least a half dozen people that I’d had a mocha that morning, and I even made it my Slack status. I had previously shared with people at work that I was caffeine detoxing, so I wanted to let them all know the good news when I started drinking it again. In retrospect, I may have been mildly caffeine-high.)

In the end, I didn’t regret drinking that mocha at all. I’d made a very intentional decision to have it, because I wanted it (and perhaps because I felt I needed it), and it had the desired effect.

Now here we are into week five. It’s Sunday, and I’ve just bought a mocha again. This is my third caffeine-based beverage in about four and a half weeks. (Well, really, my third in the last week, because that’s when I started drinking them again – last Sunday.)

I thought, when I walked up the street to pick it up, that I finally had it figured out.

I could have coffee-based drinks when I wanted them, and ONLY then. Not when I felt I needed them. Not when I was feeling sleepy, or tired, or cranky. Not out of any sort of craving or habitual need – I’d gotten used to lattes every morning, and again every afternoon/evening, and I don’t want to get back to that state. Only when I deliberately, mindfully, WANTED a coffee-based drink should I have one. I was pretty happy with that decision while I was sipping my mocha on the way home.

But now that I’m sitting here, typing this out and thinking about my reactions, I’m wondering if that’s really a good call. I made the decision to have a mocha on Thursday because I was cranky and tired and couldn’t keep my eyes open. Was it really that I WANTED it, or did I feel I needed it?

How much can I trust myself to judge the difference between want and need?

I don’t want to get back to a dependency state, because withdrawal was no good and it can’t be healthy for my body to be going through all that. The migraine-level headaches completely eliminated my ability to do anything substantive in days two through four. The exhaustion I felt during all of week two of my detox made me realize how I’d been putting my body through all kinds of crazy, unnatural swings with the sleepy/caffeine cycle. I feel like the caffeine was just masking the fact that my body was actually tired, and shouldn’t I be listening to my body? Isn’t that the whole point of mindfulness?

There’s also the fact that it feels wonderful to be so focused and productive when I drink caffeine. I feel like I get so much done. (I really do get so much done.) But it also just feels like a better mental state. And how is that different than any of the more serious, less socially-acceptable drugs? It feels like a slippery slope to me. Not that I ever have, or ever would, use “real” drugs – with my family history, that’s just not a thing that would happen. But in terms of how it affects the body, and wondering whether I can trust my mind when I’m making a decision about whether or not to have caffeine – all of the same psychology of addiction applies, I’m beginning to realize.

There’s the added complication that this coffee-consumption is tied into my identity as a writer. I love sitting at my desk, typing away and drinking coffee. It’s a really satisfying ritual. But how much of that is habitual?

And coffee helps me through those lagging cycles, where I want to stop and rest, instead letting me sit in front of my keyboard and just keep on working. But is that the healthiest thing? Shouldn’t I instead get up and talk a walk, or exercise, or nap?

Let’s not forget the fact that coffee and writers go hand-in-hand like peanut butter and jelly. It’s a huge part of the cultural identity of writers. If I stop drinking coffee entirely, does that mean I’m less a writer than other writers? It does feel alienating.

In short, this is a way more complicated question than I thought it would be when I stopped drinking caffeine on Memorial Day Weekend. The coffee detox was only supposed to be temporary – no more soda, but I’d go back to drinking coffee because I love coffee and I don’t have a medical reason not to.

But now, I have to wonder… is it really that simple? I’ve seen very clear signs of the physical effects, and I don’t think it’s such a straightforward question anymore. So I guess today, I’ll finish drinking this mocha, and savor it, and acknowledge that I have some thinking to do about whether caffeine has a place in my life long-term, and if so, how it will fit in.

Some days are harder than others

Personal

Some days are harder than others

Some days, being a writer is hard.

You sit in a room, by yourself, pouring words out onto a screen through a keyboard. (Or a typewriter/pen onto paper, if you’re old school.)

You create worlds. They could be beautiful, or horrible, depending on what’s going on in your life. Your heroes could have wonderful adventures, or face Sisyphean struggles – or both within the span of a single story.

You have entire conversations in your head. There could be whole days when you don’t interact with another human being – you’re just alone with the people who have sprung from your mind.

When you start putting your work out into the world, you have no idea whether it’s good or bad. You think it’s good – or good enough, anyway – or you wouldn’t put it out at all. But it’s rare that readers go out of their way to say anything to you – good or bad. For all you know, your work could be falling into a void.

When you don’t hear much, you don’t know whether it’s because it was ‘good enough’ that people don’t have anything bad to say, or whether it sucks but people are subscribing to the: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” school of thought. But if you’re like me, the little Demons of Doubt like to sit on your shoulder and whisper into your ears, and you’ve constantly got to work to push them away.

But, if you’re really a writer, you can’t help yourself. Even though the Demons of Doubt are whispering away, and you rarely hear much about your work, and make only a modest living – you can’t stop writing even if you feel like giving up. Because writing isn’t something you do to make money, or to gain followers, or to become famous.

It’s just something you do because it’s part of who you are. You could no more give up writing than you could breathing.

So even if you go away, for a bit – try to wander off because you just don’t know if you’re accomplishing anything – you always find yourself back there, typing away, staring into the void as it stares back at you.

If you’re like me, and you’re having a tough day, just remember: we delve deeply into the stuff of life so that other people don’t have to.

We write about sadness, and heartache, and loss, because we’ve experienced it. The reader who shares your experience will find comfort in the threads that bind humanity together. And the reader who doesn’t will learn empathy for people who bear these burdens.

We write about struggle, and triumph, and joy – because other people need it. We write for the reader who is struggling, so he can believe he will overcome. We write about joy to bring light in the darkness, when the reader is daunted and sad. We write about love, for the reader who feels her life is lacking it. We write about family, for the reader who feels alone.

It is through this storytelling tradition that we as a species learn about things we have never experienced, discover that other people feel as sad or happy or lonely as we do, that none of us are as different as some may seem. It is this storytelling tradition that inspires us to dream, and strive, and dare to improve our lives – because someone has. At the root of every dream, every Herculean struggle, is a story of someone who achieved something.

We are the storytellers.

So if you write, and you’re having a hard day, just remind yourself of the story that inspired you. And think about the people who need to read the stories you have yet to write.

We write – because we can’t help ourselves. And we write – to help whomever might read it.

Personal

Welcome to my new home

If you’re here, it’s because you’re looking for Dachary Carey.

(Or maybe you’re here because you found me through one of my projects, or one of my old articles.)

Welcome!

This is a long-overdue overhaul of my old site. When I decided to stop focusing on client work and work on my own writing, I took down my old website. It was really focused on ‘selling’ me as a writer to potential clients. I used it in job proposals, email signatures, on business cards, etc.

I don’t wanna do that anymore. I want to focus more on my own writing, and on my burgeoning publishing empire. So this page is all about me – the person, the writer, the publisher, the traveler, the adventurer. It’s basically a glorified blog, with a little background on some of my various projects.

Well, ok, it wasn’t quite that much of a straight line from there to here… I was having some deep thoughts on Saturday about writing, and wanted to blog them somewhere. But I don’t have a blog anymore. There was one attached to my old site, but I took that site down when I stopped focusing on client work – and it was mostly focused on topics that clients would find relevant.

So I embarked on what turned out to be a lengthy relaunch of my personal site just so I could jot down a few notes about writing.

And of course, here it is the following Wednesday, and I’ve gotten the fancy new site, and written hundreds of words about various things… but that post on writing? Nowhere to be found. (Yet.)

Hah. So this is me. Someone who will set up and populate an entire friggin’ website on a whim because I want to blog something.

Welcome to my little corner of the Internet. I hope you’ll find it… entertaining? Amusing? Thought-provoking? Relatable? Many things.

I promise to start filling it with content soon.

But not too much, because I’m also busy writing, and running a publishing empire, and podcasting, and (hopefully someday again) traveling, and, and…