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I’m Feeling Pretty Good

Quitting caffeine was hard, with the first week leaving me feeling ransacked and the second week leaving me bereft of motivation. But in the third and now fourth week, my motivation is back and my mood feels more upbeat and stable.

Quitting gluten seems to have contributed here to both mood and energy level.

It’s all theory. That’s the tricky thing. You must find what works for you, universals being so rare in human lives, but figuring out for certain what leads to what is almost impossible. There are no isolated variables, no control groups. Plus, a sample size of one will never be sufficient.

But I can say that … I’ve felt pretty good. Everyday tasks that previously felt like struggles, like situations where I was dragging myself through mud, now feel easy. My energy isn’t wildly high and I hit slumps at various points in each day, but I feel pretty lively and my sleep schedule has adjusted.

Whenever I reach a positive balance like this, I worry about trying to make extra improvements. Should I go vegan for a bit? Should I do another gallstone cleanse? Should I integrate swimming? These all seem like potentially valuable steps, but what if they throw things out of the positive balance where they’re at? It’s an odd anxiety, perhaps, but reaching this point has been a rarity in my life.

I’ve had a lot of good days lately. I don’t know how much or how long it will continue, but right now … I feel pretty good.

The Gluten-Free Month Reflections

My weight has been consistently below what I expected, with the month leading to a decrease of somewhere between 6 pounds (the difference between the averages in the first and last week) and 9 pounds (the difference between the high right at the end of September and the low right at the beginning of November). In either case, well more than anticipated, and fairly consistent to boot. Given that I’ve struggled to accomplish this with dietary changes alone, the whole gluten-free thing seems like it could be useful, at least as long as it continues as it has.

Now, of course, it’s important to be skeptical at this point. There could be water weight or a shift in how much I’m eating (and thus how much is in my digestion at any given point) and any number of other factors to consider. But it’s a very strong start.

How about energy? Well, this is a tricky one. I can say that when I’m eating mostly vegetable-type stuff, my energy at least seemed to be higher. But when I shifted to candy (more on that in a second), I felt that lag again. So it seems to be more about dietary composition than the specific lack of wheat. Though the wheat-type stuff did seem, by and large, to be closer to the “junky” end of things for me, at least in contrast to vegg alternatives.

So, candy is the tricky bit. Partially because of Halloween, there was lots of candy. But also, my stomach was upset from the high dosage of Advil prescribed by my doctor for my shoulder issues, and I found that Snickers bars did some good at settling it — or at least not upsetting it. But then I’d discovered that Snickers were fast, easy, and gluten-free, so it became a staple meal more than the less convenient — but healthier and more energy-inducing — vegg alternatives.

Read more.

The Second Week Off Caffeine

Here are my lump-sum observations:

When I have energy, it’s great. My sleep cycle is also more predictable and feels healthier. I feel more connected to my natural appetite, although the post-Halloween candy-fest and the self-fueled cravings associated with the same have disconnected me from that same appetite to some degree.

But when I crash, I crash hard. It’s interesting that one of the best solutions is something my body seems to actually want during that down-slide: To exercise. Why don’t I? When it fits so well with my goals? My favorite exercises are out because of my shoulder, it’s sub-40 outside on the regular, and it feels like few other options are open to me. But these are all excuses, of course. I can find other options and act on them, but I’m struggling to do so.

Which brings me to the other item. Energy is tricky, don’t get me wrong. But the real hard part is the lack of motivation. I have a stack of work to get to, but no drive to get it done. This is where resisting the desire for coffee gets hard.

I’ll update more soon.

Caffeine Withdrawal Notes: 4-6

Day Four: The day was plagued by fatigue, but otherwise there was nothing of great note. The tiredness I experienced was relentless, and frustrating above all for how it made me desperate for rest but somehow unable to actually fall asleep.

Day Five: My second day off started well, with my energy surprisingly high. It crashed after a few hours, unfortunately, and I was left desperate for sleep. Rather than being wise and forcing myself to stay up to at least some reasonable hour, I let myself fall asleep around one in the morning and I slept until eight. My body really does want to sleep at normal hours, but alas, it’s not to be (at least for a good while yet). As a result, my sleep schedule was skewered. I also faced a general headache throughout the day.

Day Six: Because of my skewered sleep schedule, my sixth day off of caffeine was chaotic. I felt lively and energetic at the time I should normally be asleep, dead tired by early afternoon, and exhausted by the time I should have been doing things to help out at home. I slept another two hours, a bit more, just before work, but it wasn’t enough to shake off the sense of exhaustion. Most notably, I struggled pretty hard to stay awake during the second half of my work shift. I did find, though, that splashing cold water on my face or even just running in place for a bit helped with this effort. Working in exercise may be important for keeping my energy levels up while off caffeine.

Caffeine Withdrawal Notes: 1-3

Day One Off of Caffeine:

Very much as anticipated, the day felt much like any other but with a sagging fatigue that began to trail me from roughly halfway through the day. I was drowsy during my work shift and ready to collapse the moment I got home, and I can’t claim to be as attentive during the day as I would have liked, but it was a mild discomfort.

Day Two Off of Caffeine:

The second day off caffeine is the one I anticipate with dread, as I’ve often had intense headaches. Some so bad the pain makes me vomit. While I had a lingering ache in the back of my skull through most of my waking hours, that headache was actually pretty mild. Of course, this may just be because I only spent about five hours awake before using my day off — as planned — for extra sleep. I got something like twelve hours of sleep total with that five hours of waking between. Then, when I woke on Monday morning, I took melatonin and managed to get to bed again after just six hours awake, sleeping until three thirty (about four hours of sleep).

Day Three Off of Caffeine:

I’d worried that the headache would simply appear today, but it didn’t. What did appear was an overpowering exhaustion. I felt barely capable of keeping up with the few household items that absolutely had to be done (e.g., getting dinner ready, getting the boys to bed, etc.). I spent most of the time between lying in bed hoping to get a nap that shook off some of this exhaustion. To my frustration, I spent many hours swimming in that fatigue but unable to dip into sleep. I did, finally, get a couple hours of rest that did improve both my mood and my energy substantially. However, I worry about my energy as I move into Day Four.

The Caffeine Cycle: Quitting Again

Here’s what the cycle looks like. I become, as I am now, frustrated with the dependence on caffeine. It has long since stopped benefiting me, giving me more energy than I would have by default. There is, perhaps, an increase in focus, though it is outweighed by the persistent exhaustion and the need to chug 20, even 30, ounces of coffee to feel human. Then you add in the way it messes with my digestion, disconnects me from my appetite, and leaves me irritable when I crash.

So I decide I will go through the detox process for it. Let it work its way out of my system. What is actually happening, I understand, is that adenosene receptors are dying off. The caffeine has blocked these receptors — which, un-blocked, would lead to general daily tiredness — but has done so for so long that my body realized something was off. It was supposed to be getting adenosene, but it wasn’t. So it grew more receptors trying to get the amount it expected. As a result, when no caffeine was blocking the receptors, I was getting far more adenosene — and thus fatigue — than I would be default.

I don’t pretend to be an expert on how this brain chemistry stuff works. I have a rudimentary understanding at best. But I do know that, when I choose to quit, I’m hellishly exhausted for the first few days. The worst day is the second, which usually accompanies the exhaustion with a killer migraine, sometimes so intense that I vomit. By the end of the first three days or so, the really shitty part is over. But it’s not until five days, seven days, ten days pass that I start to feel like I am on the upswing.

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Binge Eating, Wheat, and Days of Depletion

Admittedly, it had been a shit day. One of those days that dragged on and on, and little went right, and most of what didn’t go right went very wrong. The stress reaching past the thresh-hold and hammering at the door behind it, requiring that the defenses raise up, that I hold onto the cold fury of protective anger, the need to march on until the situation was resolved. Depleted, calling on whatever resources I could muster from my reserves, hoping that this wouldn’t set me too far back or incapacitate me for too long.

I drink some gin and juice hoping to calm down more effectively. I try to sleep it off. I wake up feeling just as burnt, just as depleted. I go back to bad for another hour, another three, and then opt out of all contributions for the hours that followed. “Enjoy your cocoon,” my wife tells me, understanding as well as I could ever hope someone would. But the cocoon doesn’t help either.

So I decide to go to the store twenty minutes before work and find something that I think might make me feel better. Normally, in this state of mind, I would opt for something absurd from the bakery. An entire container of brookies. Or, on another day, fudge brownies. Or an entire package of cookies. Or a lava cake. Or — and it brings me no pride to say it — half a dozen donuts that will all be eaten in a sitting.

I do not do this because I am crazy. I do this because it helps. Legitimately helps. It soothes the anxiety, re-invigorates me, gives me a sense that everything — no matter how sharp-edged it is in the moment — will be smoothed out in time. It replenishes emotional resources, gives me a safe space to huddle in. And yes, it triggers shame. And yes, it makes me feel sick. And yes, it has led to much — okay, most — of my weight gain.

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