Tag Archives: caffeine withdrawal

Playing spoons

Are you a spoonie?

Photo © Holger Eileby | Flickr

Photo © Holger Eileby | Flickr

No, I didn’t mean Moonie. The word spoonie is a catchall term for people with chronic illnesses or disabilities. I first learned it from Rachel’s fantastic blog Do I Look Sick?and then I started seeing it all over: in other blogs, Tumblrs, Twitter bios and hashtags, even tattoos.

It’s a catchy name, in my opinion, because it’s a bit silly (and therefore a more pleasant self-descriptor than, say, patient or sufferer—ugh) and because it brings together people who share similar concerns but risk never realizing it because of the differences between their particular conditions.

The term comes from “The Spoon Theory” by Christine Miserandino, Christine’s story of explaining to a friend how it feels to live with lupus. Since they were at a diner, Christine used spoons as a visual aid. She collected a pile of them and said that these were her spoons for the day. Everything she needed to do for the day, simple or complex, would require one or more spoons. She then talked her friend through her daily routine to demonstrate the choices and sacrifices involved in living with a limited amount of spoons. There’s a sweet end to the story—click the link to read it in full. (You can also play a demo to get the idea.)

The spoons, of course, are simply a metaphor for energy. Not necessarily a perfect one: After all, sometimes energy just seems to disappear for no reason, which spoons do not, unless they’re being collected in someone’s bedroom awaiting a dishwashing session, or being snuck out from under your nose in a game of Spoons.

Photo © tsmall | Flickr

Photo © Tom Small | Flickr

Still, the story spoke to me in a way that stories in this genre generally don’t. It perfectly captured how I feel when my friends want me to, e.g., stay out later than I planned: If I do it, I’m choosing to throw away my entire next day because I’ll be too tired to do anything. And if I’m too tired on a Sunday to do my errands and laundry and cook for the week, those things most likely won’t happen at all that week because I’ll be too tired after work to do them. Not to mention that my body does at least a little better with routine, and I hesitate to lose that edge by messing too much with my sleep cycle. To say all that is so much more whiny and defensive than simply, “I’m out of spoons.”

Of course, everyone has their own energy level, and many healthy people—particularly mature people—do think about how best to parse out their energy to avoid burnout. But I, with my lack of nutrient absorption and all that, have fewer spoons than a lot of my healthy 20-something friends do, and more to lose by using them unwisely.

Lately, despite careful GFD adherence, I seem to have even fewer spoons. Avoiding cross-contamination in a shared kitchen adds extra little steps to my routine, all of which take spoons. Gluten fear probably snags a few more spoons. Plus, giving up caffeine has been like dumping an entire cutlery drawer into the trash. (Upside: I’m sleeping more. Downside: All that sleep is really cutting into my writing time.)

Pretty, and probably super gluteny, wooden spoons  © Alan Levine | Flickr

Pretty, and probably super gluteny, wooden spoons © Alan Levine | Flickr

Since learning that I have an actual disease with a real name, I’ve cut myself more slack when I don’t feel up to doing something, and my friends have, for the most part, borne it patiently—though it has been suggested that I use being sick as a crutch for laziness or antisociability. Probably in at least a few cases that’s true (and a tendency I need to work against), but overall it’s more that I see this as a time to be extra careful with my health. To use my energy well in hopes it gets me through this healing stage more quickly. To keep up with the things I most want and need to do now, and save some things for, say, six months from now. To be the best spoonie I can be.

Although I identify with the spoonie community (that’s a fun phrase to say out loud), I recognize I’m extra fortunate in that, with just diet changes and no medication, my energy should increase, eventually. Eventually, I should have more spoons. I’m also well aware that I have a whole lot more spoons than a whole lot of people, and that I’m very fortunate and privileged to have the ones I’ve got.

This is the last day of Celiac Awareness Month, and I started the month intending to be more aware, generally, not just celiac aware. Although I’ve had fewer blogging spoons available this month than I hoped (spent a few of them on giveaway-entering), I’m ending it on the same note, aware not just of celiac disease and gluten sensitivity but also the full spectrum of spooniedom. We’re not the same, but we’re similar. If you’re a spoonie, you’re welcome here. Use your spoons as you choose, and no, I won’t steal them from you while you’re focused on the other cards you’ve been dealt.

How do you feel about the word spoonie

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One step closer to a 100% fun-free diet

I’ve been a lazy, lazy blogger this week. I can’t blame the apartment search, because I found a short-term option for June and punted the hunt to next month. This week, there is one reason and one reason only for my lack of blog: caffeine withdrawal.

People who know me well know that I like my caffeine. When I told some people I was trying to go caffeine-free, responses included:

“You are?”
“Is anything else left?”
“So you’ll drink a 2-liter of caffeine-free Diet Coke every day now instead?”
and, simply, “…Why?”

My answers:

“Yes.”
“I hope so.”
“God no.”
and… “I don’t know.”

I don’t have a great answer to the last one. Caffeine isn’t bad for you—in appropriate quantities—and coffee in particular has been associated with lots of nice health bonuses. Diet soda has been associated with depression here, weight gain there, but the data is inconclusive. Both excessive coffee intake and excessive carbonated beverage intake can mess with digestion according to, oh, every list of tips for dealing with IBS ever; and the proteins in coffee have supposedly been found to be “cross-reactive” with gluten proteins in some people—not confirmed, but compelling.

Most importantly, I just don’t like being dependent on caffeine. I’ve spent the past several years playing a little game called “undiagnosed autoimmune disease vs. coffee” and, as of last week, was drinking 11 cups every morning (all at once, over the course of an hour), plus the aforementioned Diet Coke later on. I’m tied to the routine and it sucks up more of my time than it should. If most people are made up of 70% water, there’s a good chance I’m made up of 70% coffee. That doesn’t thrill me.

Photo © Amanda | Flickr

Photo © Amanda | Flickr

Caffeine is such a part of my routine that I nearly cried after reading Cheryl Strayed’s Wild because I knew I couldn’t possibly carry a large enough supply of coffee and water to sustain me if I ever wanted to hike the entire Pacific Coast Trail. Kindly ignore all of the other reasons I would find it difficult to imitate Strayed (e.g., I’ve never hiked or even particularly wanted to hike). The point of the anecdote is this: I’ve come to see caffeine as necessary. But what if it’s not? What if I could retrain my body to exist and, such as it does, function—without caffeine? What if it would even function a bit better?

As I (half) joked to one friend, “I hadn’t given up anything major for a few months, so it just felt right.” It was only a half joke because it’s true that I don’t feel right about just spinning my wheels waiting for my magical gluten-free diet to magically kick in; I want to keep trying things. This is another thing to try. It’s something that, back in February, I didn’t think I could do. So, progress! Sort of.

I decided to go caffeine-free rather suddenly, with no prior reflection, when I found myself at the end of Saturday not having indulged in my usual afternoon soda fix. At that point, I just thought, “Why not?” I went cold turkey, which is apparently the exact opposite of the right thing to do. Caffeine withdrawal is real, folks, and I’m proof.

By Sunday evening a headache had banded itself around my temples and behind my eyes, rendering me useless to do anything but fall asleep. I woke on Monday and my head still hurtI don’t think I’ve ever had a headache that lasted overnight that way. It’s most likely the closest I’ve ever come to a migraine. I felt so sick that I actually stayed home from work on Monday and slept all day. “Caffeine withdrawal” may sound like a sorry excuse for a sick day, but trust me, I was sick enough. That morning, I came so close to quitting: I even brewed my normal pot of coffee and poured myself a cup. I was saved by the fact that I felt too ill to drink it.

Now, I think I’m past the worst of it, beyond the initial “I’m in hideous pain” phase and into the “I can’t bring myself to do or care about anything because it turns out coffee was the only thing powering my thoughts and actions” phase of withdrawal, which according to reputable internet sources shouldn’t last much longer than a week.

Photo © Christian | Flickr

Photo © Christian | Flickr

Like many of the things I’ve given up (alcohol, lactose, oats, eating out, anything made “in a facility that processes…”), I may not be done with caffeine forever. Heck, I may not make it through the rest of the work week. But, though not necessarily permanent, it’s worth a try. In the meantime, know that although I’ve been posting more infrequently recently, I’m still here and still gluten-free. That, my friends, is permanent.

I stole the phrase “fun-free” from this post on Gluten Is My Bitch. Have you read her book yet? It’s funny!

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