Sunday, 23 February 2014

It's going 'Cold Turkey', stupid!

It was 10.30am on Friday, January 31st, 2014.  Adrian was driving us to a nearby town for a funeral. He wondered whether there would be enough time to have a cup of coffee somewhere, before going to the church.

That would be nice, I thought. Visualising the smell and taste of coffee was tempting. I wanted a coffee, but it was Friday. A weekday. I don't drink coffee on weekdays.

Crash! Bang! Clang! A penny dropped. Surely not? It couldn't be. I haven't been that stupid have I?

Three weeks later and it looks as if I may have been.

My liking for black coffee began back in 1966 at a vending machine. I pressed the wrong button and a black coffee was dispensed, instead of a white one. I didn't have enough time or money to change it. I drank it and have never drunk white coffee since. I also have a life long loathing of brown tea.

Thirty years ago, I realised that drinking coffee in the late afternoon or evening was giving me palpitations at night, so reduced my coffee drinking to morning only or had decaffinated coffee. As the years went by, so my liking for a strong coffee increased and preferably using freshly ground coffee. I never sweetened the drink, which, frustratingly, gave me nothing to give up in my coffee, when on a diet.

The years passed and the coffee got stronger, so much so, that I'd rather go without a coffee, than have a weaker one. I started to generally, only have coffee at breakfast. I enjoyed it so much that two mugs became normal.

In 2013, a mostly benign hiatus hernia started to cause more discomfort. I knew I should lose 20lbs or so, but on reading up on the complaint,  I guessed that two mugs of strong black coffee every morning may not be helping. I decided to reduce the amount to one mug and then keep it to weekends only, as a treat.

As I've said, I loathe brown tea, but purely for health reasons, had trained my palate to tolerate weak green tea, with a flavour.  I drink that on weekdays. What a contrast!

I am fortunate to generally keep in good health, with just a sign of arthritis in one finger joint.  During the summer last year, I became more aware of the aches and pains of ageing. Or was it? My father, had kept himself extremely fit by regular walking and climbing thirty stairs to his flat every day, until he was 89 years old. As the aches and pains increased, I started to hold on the the stair banister at home, when going upstairs. I would often think how appalled my father would be to see me. I rarely took any medication, as I wasn't in any pain, just stiff and achey, like the flu. This included every finger joint too.

I visited the GP and asked for a blood test. I needed to know if it was osteoarthritis.  If it was,  I would know what I was up against and deal with it accordingly. I had various tests done and they all came back negative.

Last Autumn, Adrian's illness and recovery took over in importance and 2014 started. I still felt the same and as I climbed the stairs, on occasion, I allowed myself to wonder how long it might be until a chair lift would be required. I'm not being melodramatic, just stating what seemed to me, to be the future.

As a therapist, one question that could often elicit a helpful response, was '"when doesn't this problem happen?" While there are some conditions, illnesses and problems that are constant 24/7, generally most people can identify a period of time when the problem is less or doesn't exist at all. Therein lie the clues for the therapist, doctor or practitioner.

What had been staring me in the face, but I had been blind to, was that the stiffness and aches were better at the weekends and at the beginning of the week. Sometimes I would have a small, weaker coffee at work on a Monday or Tuesday.

Why does the penny drop when it does, is a question I ask in the book? It fascinates me.

On Friday, January 31st, I had climbed into our old Land Rover awkwardly. The step up had begun to  feel too high and my previous agility was lacking. I was feeling below par.

So, why, when Adrian mentioned having a coffee, did my brain click into gear? Within seconds I was Googling, 'caffeine withdrawal, aches and pains'.

There it was. A connection.  Loads of connections. Of course, I knew about caffeine withdrawal headaches, but not the aches and pains. Could this be the answer? Had I been putting myself into 'cold turkey' every Monday or Tuesday? It would make so much sense.

I decided to take things slowly. The following week I kept to the same routine, so wasn't surprised when I felt increasingly stiff and achey, as the week passed. 

The last two weeks I have enjoyed one strong, black coffee every morning. No stiffness in my lower body and 90% less in my hands.  I can climb the stairs quickly and without holding on. I mentioned it to the GP, when asking about an appointment about the hernia. She looked embarrassed and covered a mug of coffee on the desk. "I know", she said, "I tried to give up coffee, but felt so terrible that I'm back on it."

Was I stupid? I think so. I spent all my years in practice, helping people discover the connection between the mind and body, including the importance of good nutrition and mental health.  Helping people understand the acute problems that withdrawing from any medication too quickly, can cause. I can't believe that I didn't see the blindingly obvious signs myself.

A client I saw a decade ago came to mind. Her nutrition was awful, because she cared more about her horse than eating healthily. She changed her diet immediately and made a dramatic recovery. She was elated and said, "I was feeding my horse and dog, better than me."

Where could it have ended? Like much else in my life, which I will be addressing in another blog.  Being offered medication, instead of sorting out a nutritional or stress related connection. That's why I'm cross with myself. I know the connections. I know about food and mood diaries. But I was blinded by my age and an acceptance that it was to be expected.

I have a choice too. Do I work through the withdrawal and have a caffeine-free life? I'm not ready for that yet, but if I have to, I will.  I'm losing weight again and I hope this will help the hernia. Perhaps I should stop lifting heavy bags of compost in the garden too?

I shall wait and see.

Two of my favourite text books on the subject are:

Optimum Nutrition for the Mind by Patrick Holford

The Antidepressant Solution by Joseph Glemullen, MD


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