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How I Gave Up Coffee Without Meaning To

Note: The word coffee will be referenced many times in this post. 

For one third of my adult life (ten years), I have relied on coffee as a pick-me-up, a concentration-enhancer, and mood booster. I had this idea that coffee ‘pulled me together’, assembling the working parts of my brain into a super slick mechanical instrument that would efficiently enable me to power through all the tasks I was required to perform on a given day. Every morning, I feverishly anticipated holding that hot little cup in my hand and breathing in the rich aroma of a fresh brew. I drank a coffee in the morning, and a coffee in the afternoon, but these were not your standard coffees. I heaped many tablespoons (teaspoons are for wimps) of the stuff into my cup, and the resulting coffee was very, very, strong indeed. So much so, that I could only take small sips at a time, because the taste was so bitter. But I kept heaping that stuff into the cup. If I didn’t have time to step away from my desk and make a fresh one, I would happily drink it cold. I won’t deny that coffee was helpful in increasing my ability to concentrate. When I had work to do, coffee assisted me in pouncing on top of the task at hand. And having a coffee is very much intertwined with the working world; we drink coffee to look busy, we drink coffee as we bond with our colleagues, we drink coffee as a welcome relief from a task that is mentally strenuous. Those are all good things. And coffee meant even more than that to me. Coffee time was a ritual escape from the flurry of daily activity that is so much a part of modern life. Plus, I’m not much of a drinker, so my idea of good old-fashioned bonding time with a friend was to meet for a coffee.

So, why have I stopped drinking it?

On a handful of occasions, I’ve made myself quite ill as a result of drinking too much coffee. Recently, it happened again. I organised a hen party for my best friend, well-known Galway milliner Mary White, and we went for a delicious Afternoon Tea. I’d just arrived after a lengthy journey in a hot car, and was feeling pretty groggy, so I ordered a large cappuccino with an extra shot. It revved me right up, and I promptly ordered the same again. That, combined with platefuls of sugar-doused treats, ushered me into a semi-transcendent state during which I felt like I was having an out of body experience. I also had trouble feeling my own arms. (This was after I’d polished off two scones, several macarons, and multiple slivers of tasty sandwiches). Later that night, as I lay in my bed, I experienced a heightened anxiety, the likes of which I have never experienced before. I was wired and miserable, my heart was thumping erratically in my chest, and the horridness lasted for about forty-five minutes.

I like to pride myself on taking reasonably good care of my health, but this was unjustifiable. I told myself that it was really unhealthy and unnatural to feel this way. After that night, I felt a physical reaction every time I passed a coffee shop, or smelled coffee, or saw someone enjoying a coffee. My body said nope, nope, nope. My stomach seized up, and said nope, nope, nope. Even when my mind said, “Oh, wouldn’t it be nice to go and take a break now and have a coffee?” my entire system said nope, nope, nope. The days passed, and then the weeks passed, and now there’s a powerful bodily aversion to the bean that is just not letting go. When people told me they’d given up coffee, I was semi-envious, as I assumed I would be unable to do the same thing. Sometimes you have to have a really bad experience with your substance of choice before you are ready to walk away from it, and before your body intervenes and says nope, nope, nope.

What’s different now? I definitely feel different. This sounds very alternative, but I believe my energy is different now. Instead of experiencing peaks and lulls of energy, my energy level is more stable throughout the day. I feel that life is moving more slowly, though of course that’s not the case. Instead of the pointed ability to concentrate that you gain with coffee, I feel a more ‘rounded consideration’ of matters at hand, if that makes sense. And my day is not punctuated with the urgency of needing to run for coffee. I’m chilled out. Surprisingly, I had no physical symptoms of caffeine withdrawal. I hope this is a permanent change, and I feel that it is. At the very least, I have experienced an extended phase without coffee, something that hasn’t happened since I was a teenager. If I’m honest, however, I’d still be heaping that tablespoon if I hadn’t overdosed on caffeine that day in May.

I’m feeling rather sociable. Let’s connect on Goodreads!

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‘Spirit Safari’ A short story I read at a ‘Lonely Voices’ night at the Irish Writer’s Centre in 2011

I honestly don’t know where my imagination will take me next. It truly spooks me sometimes. I wrote this story over the course of two months. I was thinking about the experience of being a squatter in a house where a person had died, their body undiscovered. I thought about the kinds of people who might wish to live in a squat. And then my mind started tripping and I had a heck of a good time creating this character Luke. As I wrote his story, I laughed out loud. And when I re-read this story, I still laugh. I was lucky enough to be able to read this story aloud in 2011, during an Irish Writer’s Centre evening called The Lonely Voice which allows budding short story writers to share their stories with an audience. It brought about a few chuckles. I blushed. I suppose you’ll want to read it now. HINT: My favourite bits are the jumper with a knitted golden eagle on it and the line “I’m certainly not perfect, I have bitten my own toenails since I was a small child.”

Spirit Safari

When we broke in, we found hundreds of pieces of junk mail and this poor dead old guy lying in bed upstairs. Brutus played Gymnopédie on an electronic keyboard during the funeral in the back garden and I made some sticky G & T’s. Nobody came looking for him or to visit him so we started to relax. We kept the hedges and grass trimmed and didn’t sell anything. There were a couple of letters but there’s the old unwritten rules about never denying anyone the use of a toilet or glass of water and then the one which says never to read post addressed to you. Being honest we did use the Tesco Value Club vouchers. We didn’t have any poltergeist activity whatsoever, no unexplained toilet flushing or mystery messages likeGETOUT OF MY HOUSE in alphabet magnets on the fridge. Old people don’t have alphabet magnets. But this really happened, right… a small boy walked by out the front of the house, holding his mother’s hand and just blurted out ‘My shirt’s a bit loose on you.’ Weird as f***.  Made me wonder. I had to use the old man’s balding toothbrush once, I’ve also worn his suits a couple of times for job interviews but I’m done with that kind of thing now.

My name is Luke. My personal style could be described as Raggle Taggle Gypsy-o. People always look at me twice – first in mild disdain, second time I think is that they’re picking up on my bodacious vibe and they’re scanning my face to see if their instinct matches what they’re seeing. It doesn’t so they just walk by feeling slightly more awake. If you don’t like me I am not bothered. I don’t mind feeling a bit mentally untidy –  it supports my creative bohemian mentality. I often acquaint the feeling of not being understood. We’d have to switch off our neuroses and prejudices to properly listen to each other, isn’t that right? A lot of people are like that, their worries are like tiny maggots squirming about in their head but they’ve gotten used to the regular wriggling and feel out of sorts if there’s nothing tugging and gnawing on their neurons. Perhaps my worms are glow worms and they chomp down onto the good bits of my brain and when they do they release a certain kind of chemical which causes those parts of my brain to glow and for me to think marvellous thoughts. Looks beautiful with the lights turned off.

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