November 11, 2021

Caffeine And Depression

I learned a thing yesterday.

For the last few weeks I’ve been weaning myself off of diet soda at home. I figure switching over to coffee was the smarter long-term play. I noticed immediately that, despite the lower net caffeine content (a cup of coffee against 4 or 5 cans of diet soda) the caffeine in coffee made me just vibrate with nerves. Hell, if I drank two cups I’d be oscillating at so high a rate that I was able to see colors and hear sounds.

BUT I never really got the energetic infusion or mental calming effect I’ve been used to getting through other methods of delivery. It’s the strangest fucking thing. With diet soda or caffeine pills (nodoz, vivarin or my favorite, the generic ones I get from amazon) I always had that “self-medicating for ADD” sense of calm that came through hitting the higher harmonic through amphetamine uptake. It’s a metaphor, but one that feels pretty close.

Plus I absolutely hate the fucking taste of coffee. It’s awful. No it’s not because of that, or that. Yes I’ve had it cold brewed, run through a french press, prepared in any of a thousand ways. I’ve had espresso and cappucino, turkish and cuban. I’ve had lattes with caramel and black with a dash of salt, coconut oil, whipped cream or whatever combination you can name.

Awful. It’s awful.

I could drink it medicinally if I had to. Just kinda hold my nose and down the stuff. (Unlike beer which I hate quite worse.)

But it’s just not doing the job. So…let’s see…it’s…Thursday so…yeah, Tuesday I hit my local Walmars and got two double-cases of Diet Dew in a case of the fuckits. It was late afternoon so I didn’t have any at the moment. Came home and put a dozen or so in the fridge.

Wednesday morning my eyes sprung open after hitting snooze a few times I hit the fridge and grabbed two cans. I drank one on the way back to the office, tossed it in the bin and popped the other one. Yeah, Diet Dew tastes like what it fucking is. It’s liquid cancer.

I dicked around online a bit then took a handful of supplements, including a caffeine tab (200mg) and took a shower.

As I was soaping up I felt it hit. It FELT like it hit all at once; that old familiar twinkle. The second gauge on the Krell Machine started to twitch a bit.

I find it almost impossible to put in to words the mechanics of how that all feels, partially because I forget.

But it is as though my mud of my mood for the last few weeks had been power sprayed away. I could see the weird descent into playing video games again, eating for a dopamine hit, ignoring the state of my house (being “strangely unable” to get on top of the dishes alone, boxes strewn throughout my kitchen, piles of laundry, etc.) I’d stopped writing entirely. Hell I’d been damn near proud of the fact. I’d locked up the brakes on being social.

It was the moment from Limitless when that first dose hits him and he walks into his apartment and says “Who lives like this?…I live like this.”

Suddenly the last few weeks had been laid bare. I’d thought that caffeine from the coffee was doing its job. But it really really wasn’t and that’s something I find kinda shocking. A cup or two of strong coffee about 5 days a week in the morning and it made me jittery but didn’t increase my mental clarity at all. Not the way I’m used to attributing to caffeine in the first place.

I knew what this was, but only suddenly, in that moment I was past it.

It was clinical levels of depression.

That made me angry as fuck. Not that it happened so much as the fact that it managed to sneak up on me like that, like going to bed on a cold night under a bunch of warm quilts…none of which had been washed in years.

So many moments of clarity are like this: Sudden instants that cause a tremendous amount of data to flash in front of your mind for reconsideration. I stood there in the shower, shampoo in my eyes, muttering “fuck fuck fuck of COURSE that’s what was going on.” And yeah, after a few minutes of tourette’s level swearing I gave myself a bit of a break. But holy crap did it piss me off. And of course I’m not quite over it. That’s some frustrating shit. The most obnoxious part of it all was that I was pretty supremely confident I was over it.

Within about ten minutes I had todo lists broken apart by context (yay contexts) and plans to make chalkboards for every room so I could keep appropriate ones visible whenever I entered a room.

A couple hours later someone “put out the call” to come to the cigar lounge and I was all over it. Came down here and hung out with a couple guys for a couple/few cigars.

I’d absolutely snapped the fuck out of it. It’s really strange. But it gives me a couple things to think about.

The idea of forcing things into the front of your head as flags, red OR green, is a tough one to implement.

So what I can do I’m already planning on doing. Taking the list of shit above that I noticed and codifying it someplace where I’ll see it when I don’t want to see it is important. I know the signs now because hindsight is 20/20. Well, I mean that’s not strictly true, but it’s close enough.

Snapping yourself back into the right track when you’ve gone off the rails is a tough prospect. You’re fighting against yourself. The self-destructive instinct, for people inflicted (afflicted?) with it is a tough beast. It’s a very clever enemy because it knows how you think. It knows what your triggers are and it knows what your tricks are. It will find a way around them if it can. The justifications you’ll come up with for your own inertia are absolutely wild.

You have to figure out a way to plant reminders around that will circumvent your mental state. You absolutely can NOT rely on your own mind to catch yourself. This shit is too insidious and clever for that to be a reliable tactic.

Interestingly this all has the intimations of contextual relevance of understanding to it. What you understand in one context may or may not be accessable to you in other mental/emotional states or contexts. So something like a chalkboard in your kitchen that you see dozens of times a day, along with one in your office, your library, the bathroom, etc. Little post-it type notes that ask the critical questions and jar your memory out of its state are, I suspect, critical.

I’m not sure there’s a better way to get yourself to “snap out of it.” Now, that said, I don’t think there’s any guarantee of reliability. I imagine that most of the time, if I was in a depressive state and I saw some reminder (I don’t know exactly what form that will take yet. I’m going to try a couple things) I’d see it and shrug past it.

But the thought would be seeded FROM another context. Maybe it’ll seem polyannic in that state. Who the fuck knows.

But it’s the best idea I’ve got and I’m pretty sure it’s one that’ll work.

The other idea that might work in parallel, but one that would take an awful lot more effort and sustained willpower (which I’m pretty sure I’d have to build up) is to ritualize productivity. Build towards a morning ritual of getting on top of the day. James Clear’s “Atomic Habits” along with the concept of “Habit Stacking” would help build towards a morning (and therefore day) well spent.

Habit Stacking is a nearly perfectly descriptive term. Associate tasks and habits with each other, I always brush my teeth in the morning right after I get out of the shower and right after I write my little daily log of what I’d eaten and done throughout the day before bed. There’s no thought required. It’s just a part of the day. Well there’s no reason I can’t add to those little lists of things that happen one after the other.

It’s not enough to try and break destructive habits by merely abstaining from them, as I’ve mentioned a dozen dozen times, no doubt. You have to actually play the Indiana Jones game of replacing one thing with another so as not to upset the balance in your life. That’s a much trickier proposition to be sure.

And maybe it’s a hedge to think the level of self-discipline required to achieve that is beyond me.

But we’ll see.