I have always had a terrible stomach. In elementary school, the car ride every morning would leave me breathless and nauseated. I’d go first thing to the nurse’s office and need to lie down until class started. (The nurse suspected I was trying to ditch but I really was always sick!) In the third grade, I spent months in the hospital with an undiagnosed stomach flu that made it so I couldn’t keep anything down and scared the bejesus out of my family. I was set up in the “sick kids” ward, which was hella depressing and my parents still don’t like talking about that time, only briefly referring to it as “when you were sick.” It really bummed them out.
To this day, my stomach is queasy and unpredictable. I suffer from anxiety and a panic disorder. I’m generally a nervous, neurotic person. If I’m sick, I can easily throw up or poop for hours. It’s awful. One time, I was so sick at a restaurant with some friends that I sweat, shook, saw a flash of light and then passed out on the bathroom floor until one of them came and found me, all presumably because of something I ate. My stomach is as delicate as a Faberge Egg.
But tests have always come back negative. No Crohn’s. No allergies. No IBS. No Celiac’s. I couldn’t ever put my finger on what was wrong. The best guess was some form of lactose intolerance. I was also advised to give up caffeine.
In high school, I became a coffee fiend. When you can’t hit a bar with friends, the next likely place to meet up is at the local Starbucks. I was also really into reading and really into getting out of my parents’ house so I spent a lot of time in the couch areas with my head in a book. Both of my parents also LOVE coffee. It’s kind of a cliche among the addict and alcoholic community — they give up drinking and drugs but they consume coffee like it’s going out of style. My dad, who is active in AA, and his sober buddies drink enough coffee when they hang out to fill a swimming pool. And my mom, who has a sweet tooth, loves the sugar-y specialty drinks at Dunkins or ‘bux. We’re a coffee-consuming family.
In college, I worked a bunch of stressful internships and writing jobs and was almost perpetually hungover. My brain did not start unless I’d mainlined some black coffee. In the years since, coffee became a staple of every day. I loved it. The smell, the taste, the coffee shop culture. My boyfriend thought I was “bad ass” for drinking it black. My dad loved making espresso for me when I visited home. I texted a friend of mine that giving up caffeine would make me “some kind of well-behaved Mormon” like this is an insult. (I was on a coffee high horse.)
In April, a medical doctor told me to stop drinking coffee and I laughed in his face. But in November, I was getting more and more sick. My anxiety disorder was at its worst and only heading further downhill. I started doing yoga and taking vitamins and meds. And — for good — I quit caffeine. It’s been a whole two months and the results have been dramatic. My stomach feels way better. And it’s helped my anxiety too. Once I got over the initial EXHAUSTION and headaches, which were difficult but not impossible and lasted about a week or so, I felt immensely better.
That being said, I miss it. I miss it so much. I’ve had dreams about drinking coffee. Passing a coffee shop with the door open and catching a whiff makes me tear up. I don’t know what to drink when I “get coffee” with potential interviewees or editors. Blergh.
Getting over the hump of caffeine addiction sucks. I won’t pretend it doesn’t suck. But in the last few weeks, man, I’ve seen such a difference in my health. If you’ve got some unexplained stomach craziness or anxiety or heart palpitation problems, I’m gonna have to do something I never thought I’d ever do: I’m gonna recommend you try giving up caffeine.
PS: The next thing they want me to do is lose the dairy but you’ll have to pry my block of mozzarella from my cold, dead hands.