The World According to Renee

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What 5 years without caffeine has taught me

About ten years ago, I was diagnosed with PMDD: Pre-Menstrual Dysphoric Disorder. It means that every month before a period, I experience a full depressive episode, sometimes with suicidal thoughts. It was debilitating. As soon as my period started, the world became bright and sunny again.

Five years ago, I read several studies linking caffeine to depression and anxiety. My GP had also advised I shouldn’t have caffeine, so I gave it a try. I’ve never been a coffee drinker but I did drink a lot of Coke Zero and energy drinks. I already suspected I was affected by caffeine as I’d get shaky and jittery after an energy drink. Luckily, Pepsi has a delicious caffeine-free version with that same cola taste I loved, so the transition wasn’t too hard.

Where am I now? Mostly symptom free. There are still some months where I am a bit mental, but nothing compared to what I used to suffer. Sometimes I forget what I went through. I’ve got diaries and Facebook entries to remind me how bad I was.

What has caffeine taught me? I’ve learned it is a growing addiction. In the course of my job, I have met a lot of people who want extra shots of coffee to get that caffeine buzz. I met one man who was up to six shots per coffee because he was so used to caffeine that he needed that much to get the buzz.

I’ve learned caffeine is everywhere. I still eat some chocolate, but tend to avoid dark chocolate for the higher caffeine levels. Mountain Dew has added caffeine to its drinks. There are now lemonade brands with added caffeine. Some sauces/glazes have caffeine. “Superfruit” boosts in juices often contain caffeine.

People assume I’m weird. Well, maybe I am a bit weird… But usually they think I’m weird because I don’t have caffeine. I often work early mornings and during a yawn, I’ve been offered coffees and energy drinks to wake me up. No, thankyou. I’ve also learned people don’t want an explanation, so I just exaggerate and say caffeine makes me suicidal. No questions asked!

Caffeine causes a lot of problems. For nine months out of the last 5 years, I was pregnant. Caffeine is a no-no during pregnancy, but I actually researched why. It can cause miscarriage and bleeding problems. I wasn’t aware of any mood disorders directly attributed to caffeine during pregnancy though.

The most important thing is: I feel great. I’m not saying it’s a cure-all solution for everyone with depression, anxiety, PMDD or PMS, but it worked for me. And I’m a much happier person for it.


February 20, 2017 Posted by | Thoughts & Reflections | , , , , | 1 Comment

The World Without Caffeine

Technically it’s three years next week… but since it’s only just occurred to me (and baby is asleep, giving me a minute to write), I thought I’d write a bit about it. You can read the original blog post here.

I recently rediscovered my diary, which hadn’t been written in since August 2013. I was reading some old entries and January/February 2012 really sucked for me. I was desperately unhappy in my job and general life. I hated everything I did and everything I was. I doubted myself, I doubted my writing (even though I was scoring High Distinctions for me uni essays) and I was doubting my direction. Most entries were written during bouts of PMDD.

It’s been a whole three years since I gave up caffeine. In that time, I have not had a single episode of PMDD. I didn’t suffer any symptoms of depression during or after pregnancy (I was pregnant during most of 2014 and am now a first time mum to Cecily, 7 weeks old today). I’ve felt generally happy and well-balanced despite 2013 being a real shit of a year: my Opa, my aunt and a friend all died in 2013. What a massive difference to those entries written in Feb 2012! One entry dated Feb 7, 2012, reads “There is no greatness, only nothingness.” This ‘epiphany’ happened while I was watching a documentary about the Sun. Normally I am humbled and amazed by astronomy but that day, all I thought about was the futility of life.

Tough times.

Things are much brighter now, and have been for a while. I don’t have those thoughts of emptiness anymore. I don’t have days when I want to curl into a ball and cry. In short, I haven’t had a single depressive episode since February 17, 2012.

Giving up caffeine has saved my life.

Postscript: Last year I was enrolled in a unit for uni where I had to write a documentary. I chose the topic of the link between mental illness and caffeine. My tutor’s feedback was “(the topic) is scientifically highly unlikely” and “correlation does not equal causation”. Never mind the complete unprofessional and ignorant attitude, I presented her with a ton of research supporting this link. She backflipped, saying she never said those things (funnily enough, it was still clearly written on my proposal, right there in black and white and dutifully presented to the convener along with my complaint…). Since then, I have thoroughly researched this link and everything I’ve read supports a link between caffeine and symptoms of mental illness, particularly depression and anxiety. Anecdotally speaking, I have three friends diagnosed with depression and/or anxiety whose symptoms were also completely alleviated when they gave up caffeine. Unfortunately they all liked their morning coffees too much and couldn’t stick to being caffeine-free.

February 9, 2015 Posted by | Thoughts & Reflections | , , , , | Leave a comment