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Once upon a time my life revolved around coffee. That may seem like a bold statement, but it’s true. Not only did I need a coffee in order to get myself going for the day, I’d plan my day around when I could have coffee, I worked in cafes, I was really good at making coffee, and I was a coffee snob.

I lived in Wellington, New Zealand, which has to be the coffee snob capital of the world. Being a barista, especially a good one, is highly respected. I wasn’t just a good barista, I was a fantastic barista. I knew how to adjust the grind of the coffee depending on the humidity, which would not only change from day to day but throughout the day. I knew the exact speed at which the coffee needed to flow to make it taste sweet (if coffee can taste sweet) and how to get the perfect crema on top. I even won awards for my skills, which in a place like Wellington was a big status: I knew customers not by their name, but by what coffee they drank.

During this time, I’m not even sure how many cups of coffee a day I would drink. If I was bored behind the coffee machine I would just make myself a coffee for something to do. I simply saw it as a beverage.

Despite this apparent love of coffee, something in me knew it wasn’t quite right – I knew the human body was not designed to rely on something external for its get up and go. Without a morning coffee I was grumpy and found it hard to get going. If I didn’t have one in the afternoon I was snappy. I treated coffee like a drug and over the years there were various attempts at quitting.

When I tried to give up, I would have to endure intense headaches for a few days while the caffeine got out of my system, as well as struggling through the mornings when I felt sluggish and lethargic. I had decent bursts of not drinking coffee but eventually I always came back to it – it just seemed easier to rely on coffee and have something to perk me up. I resigned myself to always being a coffee drinker.

One morning when I went to make one, my then 3-year-old son got upset and was pleading with me not to have a coffee. I asked him why and in not so many words he said that if I had a coffee he knew that by the afternoon he’d be getting yelled at. He’d noticed that my mood changed so much and he’d end up with a seriously grumpy Mum by 3pm.

I then began to question the impact of coffee on my life a little more and I made it to the point where I had nearly cut coffee out, but I could still easily be seduced by coffee if I was offered one. The idea of an instant energy hit was always appealing and willpower was never going to work for me when it came to giving up coffee – the cycle of fatigue and exhaustion coffee keeps you in is a hard one to break.

My last coffee

I remember my last coffee, not because of the coffee but what came after it. At a house I was cleaning, the owner offered me a coffee. We chatted in the sun while we had our coffees; I finished the job and off I went to my next cleaning job. By this time I realised how fast I was moving. It was as though my body was on fast forward and I couldn’t stop. I kept telling myself to slow down but I felt like I had no control of my body and it was as if there was nothing I could do. It was quite an intense feeling and next thing I knew, as I jerked my body vacuuming, I smashed an expensive ceramic moose head in the hallway. I was devastated, not only because I’d broken something I knew I didn’t have the money to replace, but because of how out of control and powerless I felt in my body.

I haven’t touched coffee since, nor have I ever had a desire to. That day I felt the effect of coffee completely through my body and I didn’t want to feel that way anymore –It was an energy that was not my own that could take over my body. Once the caffeine was in my system and circulating in my body it seemed to have the majority say over what went on. It no longer felt like me moving my body and I felt as if I was being moved by something else.

The seduction of coffee

Looking back, I’ve pondered on the seduction of coffee. I don’t know anyone who has ever had their first sip of coffee and said “yum”. I certainly didn’t – it was bitter and I wondered why anyone would want to drink it! Yet, I pushed through the bitter taste to end up being addicted and I’m sure I’m not the only one. It has to be the most common drug in the world.

How is it that it’s perfectly acceptable to need a coffee to get you going for the day? How can healthy people not have the energy to simply wake up and begin their day using their own energy and not require an external boost? This is crazy, yet perfectly acceptable. Everyone does it, you can buy it everywhere and we don’t look at what is really going on beneath a coffee-run society.

Are we all really that tired that we need a constant and daily pick-me-up?

Is that something we can stomach when we consider ourselves to be healthy and smart?

After my experience and feeling what it did to my body, I wonder how many of us are moving about in the world not as ourselves, and not as our bodies would choose to move. Perhaps we are tired and need to take a moment for ourselves, but instead we go for a coffee. Perhaps we need to go to bed a little earlier but we stay up, knowing we can just have a coffee in the morning to perk us up and everything will be fine.

Do we ever consider what it may be that is draining us and making us tired? Or does coffee and its perks take away the need to delve deeper? If our body is tired, perhaps we are doing more than we can handle, perhaps we have been emotional and reacting to life, have we been taking on other people’s problems? All these questions get washed away and coffee takes away the need to look deeper… for a moment, anyway.

If your body is tired and you keep topping it up from a source of energy that is not its own, what happens next? For me the maths just doesn’t add up. The body can only become more tired if it is not truly restoring itself.

Coffee masked my exhaustion

Coffee for me only ever masked my very real exhaustion and it was a quick fix so I could keep going. Looking truthfully at my exhaustion came hand in hand with questioning my use of coffee. At the time I would not have called it exhaustion, it was my normal. When I took a look at the push and drive I was in, it became quite clear that I was asking my body to do things in a way it really didn’t want to.

Looking back, even when the caffeine was running me I could still feel how tired my body was and the dryness behind my eyes was unmistakeable. If you have a coffee daily, the coffee-run body is your normal; the drastic changes in energy levels and moods become your normal. But it is a skewed normal and not really your true normal.

Years on from having given up not only coffee, but any desire to have a coffee, I can confidently say there is nothing in me that wants to have a coffee nor could anything tempt me to. I now prefer to feel the real me without being artificially stimulated. The ups and downs of energy levels throughout the day that I used to experience have lessened hugely and I now live a more balanced natural rhythm. My moods are more consistent as I’m not pushing my body beyond where it’s at. I still get tired at times and I have moments where I can be sleepy: when that happens I acknowledge what I feel and I make adjustments to what I am doing to support myself. A rejuvenating 10 minute rest does wonders, is a very loving thing to do and takes less time than going and getting a coffee!

Coffee is an accepted drug that society not only turns a blind eye to, but openly celebrates. It not only depletes you, contributing to fatigue, it keeps you from feeling what is really going on in your body. You may not be as aware of the fatigue and you then move your body in a way that it otherwise may not want to, or necessarily be able to. A coffee fuelled body is far different to the truth of a body that runs based on its own energy.

No longer does my life revolve around coffee and the former coffee snob has well and truly departed. These days I choose far more supportive sources of energy to fuel my body. The spring in my step is my own and is a joy to feel.

Filed under

ExhaustionCaffeineFatigueEnergyJoy

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    By Nikki McKee

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    Photography: Dean Whitling, Brisbane based photographer and film maker of 13 years.

    Dean shoots photos and videos for corporate portraits, architecture, products, events, marketing material, advertising & website content. Dean's philosophy - create photos and videos that have magic about them.