While reports continue to roll in on the rise of anxiety disorders in our nation, I personally continue to be a firm believer that the rise of caffeine and energy drinks is closely related. Starbucks, Red Bull, 5 Hour Energy, Monster, and a myriad of other energy drinks are slammed into every supermarket, gas station, and convenience store and we all know people who drink them daily.
I would never have made the connection had I not experienced it myself. I was misdiagnosed for years with Bipolar Disorder. It didn’t really dawn on me that my drug and alcohol addiction was the main culprit of my instability and frequent visits to hospitals and rehabs. I could blame it on the doctors for pushing pills and psychiatric diagnoses, but the reality is I never really told them the whole truth. When I finally got sober, I was able to come off all of the medication except the lingering anxiety medication, which I still struggled with.
It wasn’t until I had a chance encounter with a psychiatrist who was more of a holistic healer than psychiatrist pill-pusher. He wasn’t my doctor and I can’t really remember why I ended up in his office on that breezy, chilly Florida winter day. We were discussing a referral to his colleague and I was complaining about my disappointment over not being able to break free from the crushing anxiety, despite my victory over addiction.
He put down his pen and looked at me over his wire-rimmed glasses.
“How much caffeine are you drinking?”
“What?” I said, somewhat in disbelief.
He repeated himself. I didn’t quite know, honestly, I said. Several diet sodas a day, maybe a 5 Hour Energy, etc.
His next words were life-changing for me.
“Those are going to be the death of you.”
[pullquote align=”left” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Sometimes we don’t know we’re in bondage until we are freed.[/pullquote]
I couldn’t believe it. So simple, so obvious, yet revolutionary. He explained how his wife was able to come off all medications through exercise and abstaining from caffeine. He refused to write me another script for the Vistaril I was taking (which was the only non-habit-forming anxiety med I felt comfortable taking), and ordered me to immediately go off the caffeine and to call him in two weeks if no improvement was made.
It took about a week for everything to filter out of my body and pores. The headaches, nightmares, and night sweats faded after a few days and by Day 8, I realized my life was drastically different. The feeling that a very large person was sitting on my chest evaporated. I was able to take a deep breath again…really able to fill my lungs with fresh air. The racing thoughts slowed and the sense of impending doom vanished. I no longer felt the urge to ram every car off the road in rush hour traffic and I’ve found that driving is now my place of serenity and prayer.
I was free at last.
It’s been years now since that day and I am not only completely free from psychiatric medications, I haven’t seen a head shrink in years. I still occasionally get a wild hair…a devilish temptation…to drink it again. A coffee. A Red Bull. The lie that “I can handle this.” It’s probably better that I don’t get those thoughts to use drugs or alcohol, but this is also such a deceptive lie that my entire serenity can go downhill in a matter of days. Sometimes I need the reminder.
This past week, I thought it would be a great idea to get some “decaffeinated” green tea extract to help with some energy and possibly kick start a few pound weight loss since my ability to exercise pain-free is a little compromised right now. The truth is decaffeinated does not mean caffeine-free. It’s just reduced. I am well aware of this, but thought I could handle it. Hah! Did you hear that? The crazy train just went by.
The Perfect Storm.
The crazies crept back in. Slowly at first. Speedy thoughts. Pressured speech. Slight shakiness. Agitation. I never quite realize how far down the rabbit hole I have gone until that sense of impending doom pops up again and then I’m in trouble. Thankfully, I have awareness. My little dabble with insanity has once again showed me that I’ll never be free of the caffeine sensitivity. So I took the green tea extract back and stopped drinking the Sparkling Ice yesterday. Today…I am a new woman. Again.
So. If you are taking medication for anxiety and/or struggle with anxiety and regularly drink caffeine…let me encourage you to try giving it up for a week or two and see if your life isn’t changed. It’s such a terrible combination, hyper-sensitive or not. Studies show that excessive caffeine ingestion leads to symptoms that overlap with those of many psychiatric disorders.
If you are drinking caffeine and any of the following sound familiar, please consider a caffeine-free trial. Sometimes we don’t know we’re in bondage until we are freed.
— Rapid or irregular heartbeat
— Flushed face
— Twitching or trembling
— Distracted thoughts and speech
— Physical agitation
— Mood swings