When Coffee Became My Poison

Photo by Marianne Krohn on Unsplash

Around September 12th, 2109 I stopped drinking coffee. I can’t remember when exactly. My efforts to quit anything don’t last long, so why record the date? Whatever the day, a few days later, a bleakness I had been feeling for a couple of years, lifted.

Anger that would often consume me, faded away.

I drink tea instead; plenty of it.

I wanted to write my exciting discovery on Medium, because the bleakness has been no small thing, but decided to give it time. Perhaps the departure of this bleakness was a coincidence? After recently going through experiences (social events) that would usually increase the bleakness I am even more convinced that there was something in coffee that was affecting my state of mind.

Before I continue, I am NOT arguing that anyone should give up coffee. Far from it, if it didn’t have this new effect on me I’d still be drinking it! I don’t attribute my former bleakness as being caused by coffee. More like coffee amplifies it. At 58 years-old, I believe my nervous system can no longer tolerate coffee’s strange mix of psychoactive chemicals. If it was specifically caffeine I would probably feel the same adverse effects from tea.

This is not the first time I’ve tried to limit coffee consumption. I have always drank too much of it, or so I suspect. In my early 30s I had heart palpitations for a month or so. Better to believe it was the coffee than a heart attack. The palpitations left, the coffee stayed.

A few years ago I read a book on the dangers of coffee. Sorry, I can’t remember the title. My takeaways were that all studies on coffee are based on 8 ounces, which won’t draw good conclusions based on real-world consumption. Would those studies find such positive effects on my 30+ ounces of coffee lifestyle? Second, coffee contains many psychoactive chemicals beyond caffeine, of which little is known, especially in large doses.

I remember reading that if coffee wasn’t a drug people wouldn’t have withdrawal symptoms if they went off it. Really?

To test that, a few years ago, I went off coffee cold turkey. After three days I had flu like symptoms. Wow! I was convinced. Coffee is a drug. But so what! Time to drink coffee again. (Oddly, I didn’t have flu like symptoms when I gave up coffee this last time).

The next time I went off coffee began when I suspected that coffee no longer had those positive mood-boosting effects on me. The experiment ended with me going back to drinking it again — which was always a few large cups a day.

Yet, still the bleakness.

I attribute the origins of my bleakness to my father, uncle and good friend dying in the past few years. I have always been a happy-go-lucky person. Bleakness isn’t natural for me (though no limits on cynicism). Was bleakness really another name for depression? Was I in denial? I couldn’t buy into classical depression because, as bleak as I might feel, I never wanted to stay in bed all day.

Whatever was affecting my mood, it wasn’t good. Should I go on some drug? That as difficult. Despite my wife calling me a “Christian Scientist” I believe most drugs are not worth their side-effects and only cover up a problem that can be fixed through diet or lifestyle.

My father and I were partially estranged. So it’s not like his death ended phone calls we had every week. Could his death really lead to a permanent sadness, one that was growing?

All the above set the stage for when I tried to go off coffee a few months ago. I was not trying to gauge its properties of addiction. I was not trying to determine if all the fun had gone out of it. It hadn’t. I was looking to see how it was affecting my lows, what I’m calling my bleakness.

All scientists learn that an experiment must be very limited in what it attempts to determine. Otherwise, we can read in effects we want to see. I didn’t see the negative effects of coffee when I went off it previously because I wasn’t looking for them. As an addict, naturally, I didn’t want to see anything that got between me and my drug.

If was only when I focused my attention on the negative effects of coffee, on my bleakness, that I noticed it. More than noticed it. It was as if once my brain was directed towards the connection between coffee and the bleakness it triggered an avoidance mechanism. In the past, every other time I quit coffee I always had the desire for it.

For the past few months, I have never wanted it, not even for a second. That alone is shocking to me.

Maybe I’ll go back on coffee one day. Again, I have always loved coffee, especially iced coffees! Whatever happens, I was beginning to lose hope of ever escaping my bleak moods. Whether it was the coffee, or something else, I’m happy to be here!