Whence Comes the Energy?

23 Mar

I got to sleep in today. Until a glorious 7:30AM! Two whole hours beyond what has become my normal waking time. And without being roused from slumber by a screaming caffeine-withdrawal induced headache! My sleep was hard and heavy. Also long. I went to bed last night around ten. Nine and half hours of actual, sound sleep.

Then why oh why have I been so tired today? Luckily, it’s Friday, which means I have no training obligations. But I did have some work obligations and in the middle of them I really thought I was going to fall over and go back to sleep. So, what then? I trade headaches for overwhelming sleepiness? This seems like a raw deal.

Before I decided to give up the coffee, the sleep-in headaches were a regular occurrence. My body got used to having caffeine at X time. If I slept five minutes passed X time, my brain would start crying like a new-born babe in the night. As soon as I gave my brain what it needed, the screaming would cease. This is obviously no way to live.

And I didn’t live this way for the first, oh, 19 years of my life. I lived coffee-free, despite growing up in a serious coffee-drinking household. I recall my elementary school principle once telling a room full of people that my mother, who’d been active on the PTA, brewed the strongest pot of coffee on the Upper West side. This remains truth. She brews Zabars’ or Oren’s darkest roast in a vintage glass percolator. The coffee is panther-colored, oil-slick and tastes like the inside of a dark tunnel. She makes enough every day for at least five people. What isn’t consumed in the morning, is reheated after dinner. My father needs a cup to go to sleep at night. This is the coffee-drinking ritual that I was born (again) into.

Before I go any further, I think it’s important to distinguish coffee from caffeine. I’ve been tossing the two words around like synonyms recently and they are obviously not the same thing. Coffee has caffeine in it; caffeine is a chemical that exists, according to a great article I found on Lifehacker:

…in all kinds of plants, and chemical relatives of caffeine are found in your own body.

In high school, I drank a lot of Snapple peach iced tea. The taste of it still brings back memories of wandering through the Meadow at the tail end of freshman year with my best friend, Allyn. We drank some soda too and my other best friend, Carrie, and I ate a lot of fancy chocolate borrowed from a certain specialty grocer that shall remain nameless. I also remember popping No-Doz every once in a while, more out of sheer stupidity than a need for extra energy.

The energy issue is kind of moot anyway since caffeine doesn’t technically give you any. As the article on Lifehacker articulates, when you’re awake, your brain is shooting neurons all over the place. Adenosine, a by-product of neuron activity, is what tells your brain it’s time for a rest. Caffeine is apparently very similar to adenosine. Similar enough so that it can fool the body into accepting it as a stand-in.

It heads right for the adenosine receptors in your system…With those receptors blocked, the brain’s own stimulants, dopamine and glutamate, can do their work more freely.

In the book [Buzz], he [author Stephen Braun] ultimately likens caffeine’s powers to “putting a block of wood under one of the brain’s primary brake pedals.”

So the idea of a caffeine “boost” is totally wrong. Caffeine just deadens your body’s natural response to adenosine. It doesn’t make you more energized; it fools your body into thinking it is less sleepy.

So that’s why I’ve been feeling so sleepy all day, despite a full night’s sleep. It isn’t that my body is lacking the caffeine it needs to function, but rather the caffeine it needs to fool itself into actually feeling energized after years of feeling exhausted.

Exhaustion has been my standard, nebulous gripe during every interaction with any healthcare professional for at least the last five years. The griping always results in a battery of medical tests that reveal there is nothing wrong with me other than, surprise, I might need to take it easy, or take a vacation or stop “overdoing” it. Since none of those were actual options before I got a big-girl job and moved to Miami, my old solution was simply to pump myself full of coffee. Now without the coffee, I am finally feeling how I feel.

And feeling how I feel has never been my strong suit. This is why I write whereas normal, happy people feel how they feel, accept their feelings, process them and move on. Writers–Stop…I will attempt not to generalize. This writer has historically refused to take any kind of sensible approach to processing bad experiences. I have, on occasion, denied my feelings and used writing as a means of understanding them–thinking that I’d somehow outfoxed my own emotions by analyzing them in this weird, falsely objective way.

In instances of say, flat-out rejection or harsh criticism or betrayal, I have historically kept my chin up, faked resilience and nonchalance and then run home to scribble. Looking at the person who has hurt me and admitting to them that I feel bad or sad means admitting that they have gotten to me, which is akin to admitting weakness or defeat.

Giving up coffee is, in and of itself, an admission of weakness and defeat. Even worse, it is defeat suffered at the hands of my own biology. I declared not four weeks ago that I would never give up my morning brew. Had I opted to pop the pill on offer instead of making dietary changes, I might not have had to. But to pop the pill is also an admission of weakness and defeat. And further down the rabbit hole we go.

I gave up coffee because change has been the name of the game for the last 18 months anyway. Why not add one more major change to the mix? It’s been rough but change is. Four years of Bikram has taught me that.

Just struggle and try to kill yourself. The more you suffer, you must be happy, you are getting more benefit from my class.

So says the guru.

Giving up coffee is only one of numerous changes I’ve made in recent months. It has been uncomfortable, I have been sad and I have felt nauseous. Also, I’ve have moments of hyper sensitivity.

So is this really me? An uncomfortable, sad, nauseous, pansy? Have I always been this way and just, I don’t know, numb to the truth; my senses dulled by excess caffeine? Or is this all a part of the detox? Will I snap out of it? Go “back to normal” in a couple of weeks?

I don’t even know that I know what “normal” means. But I do know that the positive changes (or beginnings of change) I’ve experienced recently significantly outweigh the uncomfortable moments. I’ve been less irritable, more patient, cheerier, quicker to help people, less annoyed by people asking for help, nicer to myself and more receptive to my body when it needs rest, nutrition, sunshine or yoga. I’ve also been able to let shit go easier and more easily recognize when someone or something is just total bad news.

Most importantly, and maybe ironically, as tired as I’ve been, my training has improved. Yesterday, I got up at 5AM, got in an hour of swimming, taught all day and still got my happy ass to the Rickenbacker for bridge repeats at 7PM. Running into the setting sun, on a cool March night in Miami, knowing that these would be the last three bridge repeats I’d have to run before next week’s race, just felt like the thing to do. My energy came from the knowledge that all was right and all was well.

Is this a result of giving up coffee? Going back into the hot room with regularity? Getting older? Who the hell knows? Maybe it’s all placebo. What am I, a scientist? Does it even matter whence the energy comes? So long as it comes when we call; when we need it the most?

4 Responses to “Whence Comes the Energy?”

  1. sexyflexi March 23, 2012 at 10:45 pm #

    Part of it is probably detox, but part of it might be an internal imbalance.
    I suffered from fatigue, chronic migraines and terrible mood swings for most of my life. My doctors usually told me I just wasn’t sleeping enough, was drinking too much coffee, or should talk to a shrink.
    I was finally was tested by a natural practitioner and found out I had an electrolyte deficiency. When I first went off all my meds and coffee my body HATED me, but once I started re-balancing everything, I’m starting to feel more like what “normal” people must feel like. I’ve found it’s hard listening to your body after doing so many things to shut it up for so many years, but I’m learning.
    Crazy stuff.
    And definitely try those Quest Bars; they’re the shiz.

    • mymultipersonality March 23, 2012 at 10:57 pm #

      Yeah, i must get myself to a naturopath or osteopath or something. All the standard western medical tests always have me coming in “within the normal limits.” Electrolyte imbalance, eh? I wonder. I do sweat a lot. Quest bars. Got it.

  2. Roberts March 24, 2012 at 1:06 am #

    Great post. I have “quit” coffee many times, and I always come back to her sweet embrace. You have seriously inspired me to do it again. It is one of the few vices I have left. Keep it up and good luck!

    • mymultipersonality March 24, 2012 at 1:13 am #

      it was my only vice until two weeks ago. I can’t say I’ll never have another cup but I can say I think this was a necessary change. Go for it!

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