“Give it a try. Start slow at first and see how it effects you. It might really help.” she says.
I balk. I don’t want to take more drugs. Every day, I already take drugs to make me functional. I don’t want to take any more. In my heart, I am still a straight edge kid from the 80s.
I express my concerns, and she counters. She has some good points, reasonable points. Some of her words flash me back to Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” anti-drug campaign. Some of what she is saying sounds suspiciously like “everyone is doing it” and “it isn’t a big deal”. Many a classroom discussion and poster taught me what that sort of talk is called – peer pressure.
But she is not my peer, she is my doctor. And she isn’t asking me to use drugs recreationally. Well, actually, I guess she is. But it’s legal drugs. So that’s okay, right?
I’ve always considered caffeine addictive and a bit dangerous. And – really – just because everyone else finds it normal and acceptable, that doesn’t mean I need to do it, too. It wasn’t so many decades ago that benzedrine (benny) – an amphetamine – was considered a nice, casual pick-me-up.
I do use caffeine occasionally, and I have for years. I use it for a specific purpose, not as a daily crutch. When I did roller derby, I used it to boost my energy for practice after an 8 hour work day. It’d just be 30 mg or so, equivalent to about a 1/3 of a cup of coffee. Nothing drastic. Now, I use it for social events, about a quarter tab of excedrin, 15 mg. That little bit of up helps me drive safely to and from an activity, and leaves me enough pep to have a conversation or two. Occasional use for a specific purpose makes sense to me – it is a tool. Daily use, though? I don’t want that. I don’t want to be beholden to a drug to make my world go ’round.
Of course, that’s the funny thing. Because I do need that, every day. I’m on two, daily, life-altering medications. One, from before my mTBI, is for depression (Wellbutrin). It works damn well for me, took away the gray, didn’t dim my sex life, and gave me an extra push of energy to go live my life. The second, which became necessary since my injury, I’ve already written about. Armour thyroid. A life changer. I’d say in the last four months, my energy has doubled. That doesn’t mean I’m able to start working even a few hours a week, but it has made a world of difference for my daily functioning and life quality. Thank you armour thyroid.
But caffeine has always felt much more dangerous than either of those drugs, to me. Funny, cuz both of those are regulated – the wellbutrin so regulated my naturopath can’t prescribe it for me – and caffeine is not. But all this time, I’ve been afraid of caffeine.
To be fair, I have had negative effects from caffeine since my injury. I’d use it, and then be down for the count for anywhere from a day to a week. Hours and days in a dull, energy-less cloud is no fun at all.
Since my energy has improved from the thyroid supplement, I’ve tried caffeine a few times. Something has shifted for me. I haven’t noticed a nosedive after using, at least in the same way. I mean, I’m tired the next day, but nothing like I was earlier in my recovery. I now theorize that it wasn’t caffeine, per se, that was causing me to crash. Rather, caffeine allowed me to do more than my depleted body and mind could handle, and then I had to pay the piper. There is an unpleasant price to scraping the very bottom of one’s cisterns of energy.
Since caffeine seems to offer some potential benefits to me now, I did some research. Before I allow myself to ride the caffeine roller coaster of sin, I want to know more. How does it work? What does it do to the body? How addictive is it? I found out some interesting stuff.
First, it is considered only minorly addictive. Withdrawal symptoms last for 7-12 days, then you are free to go. Not back, right?
Second, caffeine isn’t a stimulant. Surprise! I always thought it was. In reality, it is considered a stimulant enabler – a substance that allows the natural stimulants your body produces to run unchecked.
How does it work? Caffeine is both water and fat soluble, so it passes through the blood/brain barrier and enters the brain. Structurally, it closely resembles adenosine, a product of cellular respiration. It is so similar that it fills the brain cell’s receptor sites for adenosine, effectively blocking them. Normally, as adenosine locks into those receptors over time, it produces a feeling of tiredness. Since those receptors are blocked, you get a few extra hours without feeling tired.
As a bonus, some of the brain’s own natural stimulants – including dopamine – work more effectively when adenosine receptors are blocked. Plus, having all that adenosine floating around in the brain cues the adrenal glands to start producing adrenoline, another stimulant. Kind of a neat effect. Not adding any stimulants to the body, but simply deregulating our body’s ability to manage our natural stimulants.
Just because I have been cautious of caffeine doesn’t mean I don’t like it’s effects. Caffeine is a delicious drug which I very much enjoy, especially since my mTBI. It doesn’t make me feel like a God. No, even better – it makes me feel normal. Like I’m a normal person, who can do normal things, and function at a normal level. At least for a while.
It doesn’t make me smarter, but it makes me more able to follow a conversation in a crowded room. It doesn’t help my memory, but it makes me more tolerant of noise and light. It doesn’t solve my stuttering or word loss, but it lets me show up at social events feeling amicable, friendly and outgoing. It’s like visiting heaven, briefly. Daily worries and pain drops away, and I just get to experience the world. Beautiful.
My research also shows that caffeine offers some healthy benefits. Over the past decade, studies have shown caffeine helps seniors improve muscle strength, delays the onset of Alzheimer’s, and reduces the risk of skin cancer .
So. Caffeine, my frienemy. How about we explore friendship?
I’m starting slowly, with green tea. Not even particularly powerful green tea. I sometimes remember to drink it in the afternoon, when I feel the physical and mental weight of fatigue settling over me. Effects so far? I haven’t noticed much of anything. I think one afternoon it might have improved my mood, but otherwise crickets.
Caffeine. So pleasant, it seems almost inappropriate for everyday use. Perhaps that is my straight edge past, or my puritanical roots, or simply my unwillingness to change. I’m not sure. But what I do know is I’m going to slowly, slooowly, ease into making this not-so-scary drug a part of my life. How much a part of my life? I don’t know. I’m going to dabble for a bit, and then I’ll let you know.