I love coffee. So much. Like so, so much. I know how basic that sounds but I really do love it. I prefer iced coffee, even during the winter, though sometimes I crave a cup of hot coffee with breakfast. This love, however, is unrequited. I’ve deemed this love to be unrequited because coffee betrays my mind and my body, especially my mind, and betrayal is not a component of love.

Coffee often makes me jittery. It sometimes induces that special kind of nausea you get from drinking too much coffee or consuming too much sugar. Then there’s the way it messes with my mind. Coffee frequently exacerbates my anxiety and a couple of ticks associated with my anxiety, like the compulsion to take deep breaths and being unable to. I also do this thing where I make a weird noise in my throat, which I am dealing with right now.

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Me being basic.

Coffee can also open the door to my mania. I feel euphoric and energized, and sometimes I am even productive. But there is also a particularly dark and ugly undertone to this brand of mania. The outside of my body feels in conflict with the inside of my body, like something inside of me is trying to get out and it is using a battering ram to attain its freedom. I hate using the word crazy, I even wrote an entire blog post about it, but the only way I can describe this sensation is as feeling absolutely crazy. I also fall into the trap of self-loathing because I did this to myself. I made myself feel crazy by drinking coffee. I try to rid myself of the caffeine in my body the same way I used to try to sober up when I was college—a lot of carbs and a lot of water. Sometimes it works, but most of the time it doesn’t.

I want to be clear. I do not drink coffee on an empty stomach, I don’t drink it too late into the day, nor do I drink a lot of coffee throughout the day. The most I will have is a mug of hot coffee or a medium-sized mason jar (a mason jar, I told you I was basic) of iced coffee. I will get a large/venti iced coffee or iced latte out, but that really isn’t as much caffeine as it may seem. I worked at a Starbucks not long after I graduated from college (typical career path for someone with a BA in English). Iced coffee is 50% coffee and 50% iced, there is even less coffee in there if you prefer to add milk or a milk substitute. So, a venti iced coffee from Starbucks has approximately 235 mg of caffeine. A venti iced latte has approximately 225 mg of caffeine. My point is, I don’t consume that much caffeine and I consider myself to drink it responsibly.

Yesterday afternoon, however, I had one of my worst experiences with coffee in a very long time. Let me backtrack a bit first. I stopped drinking coffee for the entire month of June. My breathing anxiety tick was getting worse, which surprised me because I thought it would go away after I graduated from my MA program in Women’s and Gender Studies. I don’t take medicine for my anxiety, so it was up to me to figure out how to stop these persistent anxiety attacks. I knew coffee often made my anxiety worse, but I wasn’t ready to give it up, so I did some Googling to see if there was a trick to consuming coffee so it wouldn’t trigger my anxiety. There is a fair amount of research on the pros and cons of the caffeine found in coffee. Apparently, coffee is one of the most researched food components.

I learned that the caffeine in coffee increases cortisol production in your body. Cortisol is a stress hormone. Drinking coffee literally stresses you out. Caffeine in coffee also inhibits the production of GABA, which is a neurotransmitter that calms brain activity. Apparently, GABA is known as nature’s Valium. When conducting research experiments on anxiety and auditory hallucinations, scientists will give participants doses of caffeine. Caffeine also depletes magnesium and B complex vitamins, which help fight against anxiety, stress, and other psychiatric illnesses.

The DSM-5 actually contains four caffeine-related psychiatric disorders:

  • caffeine intoxication
  • caffeine-induced anxiety disorder
  • caffeine-induced sleep disorder
  • caffeine withdrawal

Here is a link to a TED-Ed video entitled “How Stress Affects Your Brain”:

When I stopped drinking coffee in June, my anxiety breathing tick went away within a week. I was sleeping better and I felt significantly less anxious. I did not completely forgo caffeine, though. I am convinced I need caffeine to function, so I replaced coffee with caffeinated tea. The amount of caffeine in tea is obviously much lower than the amount of caffeine in coffee, but tea also has stress-reducing components like epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which increases the production of GABA thus improving your mood and your ability to withstand stress. Tea also contains l-theanine, which is an amino acid that relaxes the brain by increasing alpha brainwave activity.

After my coffee-free June, I started drinking coffee again in July. I started small and slow, but I soon started experiencing an anxiety tick I haven’t endured in a really long time, which is the one where I make a little noise in my throat. I don’t know how to explain it, it’s not a throat-clearing sound, just a weird little blippy noise that everyone can hear and that I find horrifically embarrassing. Despite this anxiety tick, I still continued to drink coffee.

Now, back to yesterday afternoon’s terrible, no good coffee-drinking experience. After spending the majority of the day with my mother and my sister, I decided to grab an iced coffee so that I could go home and write my post for this blog. I sat on my couch, scrolled through the news app on my phone, and admired the books I had checked out from the library while I drank my coffee and waited for the caffeine to hit me. All of a sudden, I found myself calling my mother and speaking rapidly, like manic-level rapidly. She was understandably concerned because she thought I was entering a manic episode. I told her it was just caffeine and hung up so I could gather myself. But I couldn’t gather myself. I didn’t feel anxious, but I did start feeling sick. I also started feeling crazy. Again, I don’t like that word but I don’t know how else to describe the physical sensation pulsing through my mind and my body. Then I also started to feel really down and agitated. It felt like a mixed episode. I went to my mom’s house and ate a lot of fettuccini alfredo and drank a lot of water in the hopes of being able to absorb and flush the caffeine out my system. I also text my sister about what I was feeling and she half-jokingly reminded me that I can’t fly. You see, I don’t think I can fly exactly when I am manic but I do like to be high, not high on drugs but up high. I like walking on furniture and across bridges, I like going on swings and getting so high up the chains buckle.

When I got home, I started thinking about the impact of caffeine on people with mental illnesses like bipolar disorder, depression, borderline personality disorder, and schizophrenia. Caffeine has been associated with an elevation in mood, a decrease in depressive symptoms, and lower risk of suicide, as caffeine can increase dopamine and serotonin. When it came to adverse side effects, I specifically researched caffeine’s impact on people with bipolar disorder and, honestly, as someone with bipolar I disorder, I am kind of pissed none of my therapists and nurses told me I should stop drinking coffee as I waltzed into sessions with iced coffees dripping with condensation. I’m especially miffed because the last place I went to for counseling and meds was really big on supplementing pharmaceuticals with natural remedies.

According to my research, people with bipolar disorder should not consume caffeine because it disrupts sleep patterns, which can induce manic or hypomanic episodes. Caffeine consumed by people with bipolar disorder also exacerbates anxiety, and it also makes them more prone to suicide attempts. This is because people with bipolar disorder are more sensitive to substances that mimic amphetamines.

I am feeling better now, though I do still feel the remnants of some manic energy. I plan on using those powers for good. I also plan on quitting coffee. I will keep y’all updated on my coffee-free journey.

I hope this information was helpful. Please keep in mind that I am not any sort of medical professional. I’m just a girl with access to academic resources. Many of the articles I linked in this post are not said academic sources but that’s because the ivory towers of academia choose to privatize knowledge that should be accessible to everyone; instead, I provided links to accessible sources that contain the same information.

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