I’m Not Saying They’re Evil But…
It started as a gnawing feeling. It didn’t seem like anything wrong, really, but it was constant. Worrying. I started yelling. The people closest to me didn’t deserve that, and I didn’t deserve to feel like I had to. Something was seriously wrong.
I tried counselling, I tried journaling, meditation, you name it. I didn’t want to be the constant stress case that I was. Minor things would set me off, and I truly had no idea how to control it. It was chaos. It was chaos in my mind. It was chaos in my soul.
Then came the palpitations. Great, I’m an angry middle-aged guy who’s going to have a heart attack. Absolutely splendid, right? I checked with my doctor, and due to some family history and my own history of eating too damn much, she did her due diligence and ordered some tests. Great news, my heart is absolutely fine. The palpitations, and the stress that they themselves brought on, however, disagreed.
My doctor would reassure me. My wife would reassure me. Still, I’d have this constant stress level. My migraines started happening more and more frequently. Lastly, the palpitations kept happening and brought with them the stress that I couldn’t shake. What if my doctor was wrong?
A Word of Caution
If you’re struggling with any of these symptoms, you might not be in the same boat as me. Do yourself a favour and get checked out as well. However, if you have something’s still wrong, you may be stuck in the same nasty hole I was, and still, find myself climbing out of.
According to Cedars-Sinai, a heart attack and a panic attack share a lot of the same characteristics. Having never had a heart attack, I have to assume that if I ever did, I would be able to tell, however just “self-diagnosing” on the internet, of course, every little bit of my stress feels like the most vital organ in my body is about to pop.
Further complicating things, there is another condition that causes pain in your chest that is usually not a big deal and very treatable. That condition is heartburn. You only hear people complaining about their heart attacks. To be completely fair, I get it. They are significantly more life-affecting than either anxiety or heartburn, but that doesn’t mean that anxiety and heartburn won’t have a profound impact on your life.
In the end, though, it seems that I have three habits, each of which are feeding into one another that makes me feel this way. Breaking one of the habits gives me a little bit of relief. Even for a couple of days, breaking all three makes me feel something I haven’t in a really long time. Normal.
The Quick Wake Me Up
This is where I’m probably going to lose a lot of you, and to be honest, this is the one that, as a father of two, I fail to maintain long-term. It’s a daily struggle, but when I manage to not partake of the gilded carafe of the gods, I am better able to control my heartburn.
You see, heartburn is actually exasperated by caffeine, and that is exactly the reason that you’re reaching for your cup in the morning. If you’re anything like me, and you have two little monsters who are going to do everything they can to drag you out of bed at ungodly hours, the coffee maker is both demon and saviour.
Without that cup, I feel sluggish. I feel like I can’t get anything done. I feel defeated. With that cup, I get some energy, and I can get a few things done. Oh yeah, and my throat feels like it’s on fire, but that’s okay, right?
What else does coffee do, though? Well, more specifically, it’s caffeine, and you could be getting yours from tea or Pepsi or Coke, but for convenience, I’ll blame coffee. Look at this list of symptoms that may occur when drinking coffee that I’ve taken from the Alcohol and Drug Foundation:
- You might feel like you have more energy and that you can be more active. (YAY!)
- You might become restless. You might get dizzy. (Wait, what?)
- You might have trouble keeping hydrated. (But I just drank?!)
- You might have a higher body temperature. (Uh…)
- You may be breathing faster, and your heart rate will increase. (But I don’t even have the rona!)
- Inability to concentrate and headaches. (I drink coffee to prevent the withdrawal headache!)
- Lastly, and most important to my tale, stomach pain.
You see, coffee was itself causing me to develop many of the problems that I was trying to fix. I was tired and cranky, so I drank coffee and instead became excitable (read angry) and restless. My stomach gave me all kinds of problems, so I started thinking something was wrong with my heart. I get migraines all the time, even when I’m not drinking coffee, but sure, as the pope is catholic, as soon as I get back on that bandwagon, the migraines bring friends.
The Social Dragon
Yep, I’m blaming social media too. Let me paint you a picture. I’m anxious, excitable, and irritable. You know, on account of drinking coffee because I was tired and couldn’t wake up. You know, as we do. So what do I do while my kids are running around screaming and I’m drinking that second energy granting beverage? I scroll through social medial.
I’m not going to take sides. If you really want to know more about my views or scientific beliefs (ha! Scientific “beliefs”), check my Twitter. What I will do is point out that Twitter is a cesspool. The rest of social media is too. I can think of plenty of reasons to love it, keeping up with old friends, finding neat local activities and events, and sharing pictures of your loved ones. (read dogs) Of course, I can finally see it for what it truly does to me.
In my excitable state, Twitter, Facebook, and Reddit feed me information to further my irritability. Why do they do that? They do it because I’ve literally told them to. I’ve told them that this is the content that gets me engaged. This is how you get me back to your platform day after day.
And I do. I return day after day to have my minute of hate. Except, it may have started as a minute, but it grew to be much, much more.
Remember the heartburn? Yeah, it LOVES stress.
Timing my Trip into my Subconscious
The last thing is the number of timing factors that go into when I let my noggin hit the pillow. I’m mid-thirties, I’ve got two kids, a full-time job, a house to manage (though my wife does more than her fair share, bless her), and a mind racing with drug-induced stupor. Yes, I’m calling caffeine a drug. It is.
When ten o’clock rolls around, I don’t have time to sleep. I’m still doing stuff. What do I do? I grab another cup of joe. Right? Isn’t that what we do now? Otherwise, how else am I going to lay in bed with anxiety about the world and rebuff idiotic theories online? (Read stress accelerating to maximum velocity)
Also, since I’m making my nectar in the kitchen, maybe I’ll grab some oatmeal, or maybe a granola bar. That’s not going to hurt. Well, it does—a lot.
A Positive Feedback Loop
If the caffeine isn’t keeping me up, then the heartburn is. Once my vices have kept me up to unruly times of the night, I need coffee to get going, and I begin yet another vicious cycle. Want off the roller coaster?
Well, you can’t because caffeine, being the real drug that I said it is, has significant withdrawal symptoms if you try. You may be lucky. Maybe they don’t affect you, good for you. They do affect me. They make the heartburn worse. They make confusion and anxiety worse. Worse yet, they bring a migraine to end all migraines, and there isn’t a damn thing that I can do about it.
Getting Over the Mountain
You know, maybe you haven’t identified with anything I’ve said up above. I would venture that I’m happy for you, and I hope it continues to go that way for you. Until about three years ago, my body happily chugged along, no matter how many Red Bull I wanted to pound back.
Unfortunately, I think there will be quite a few of you who do see something of themselves here. If you google any of your symptoms or talk to your doctor about them, they’re going to leave you a bit worried. This story is merely to present another alternative possibility of what could be troubling you, and if you haven’t spoken to your doctor yet, you need to.
For me, my heart is fine, and when I pull myself off of social media, sleep properly, and I stop drinking coffee, tea, and heaven forbid, Redbull, I’m okay. No, I’m better than okay. It’s at that point that I’m actually able to feel part of the world, and I’m not constantly focused inwards at the problems I’m personally experiencing. The problems are real, but they’re of my own doing and evaporate quickly if I work to eliminate their causes. I’m able to write, program, and socialize without being reserved, hesitant, and simply feeling that it’s impossible. I’m able to be present for my kids, and my wife wants to beat me with a Wiffle Bat… less anyhow. I’m literally a new me.
If even one person reads this and realizes the damage these vices are doing to them, it’s worth it. Know that everyone is different, and your situation may be too, but the modern world is unforgiving, and these “conveniences” force us into a corner.
Get all your anger in one place! — Social Media
Stay awake even when you shouldn’t! — Coffee
Sleep? Who needs that. Meet my friends Social Media and Coffee. — Sleep Irregularities
If you hear these things, you may need to do what I did. Sure, some days, I fail and absolutely need a cup of coffee to keep going. Others though, I do all right. Do your best to calm your anxiety, and if you have an underlying condition that causes it may be even more important for you to do so.
We’re all in this together. Let’s stop making it harder for each other.
This piece is a bit off-topic for me. However, if you’re interested in Tech, Science, and Programming stories, check out Patrick Fluke on Medium.