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.

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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

Happy PMDD Awareness Month!

Well… sort of. April 2013 was PMDD Awareness Month in the UK; I think it should be an annual, international thing.

First things first: What is PMDD?
It’s PMS’ bigger, badder, sadder sister. It’s the sister that beats you up and leaves you crying in the corner because you want pizza for dinner and someone’s making roast lamb instead (yes, that’s worth crying over). It’s the nasty bitch that makes you want to slash your wrists because you can’t deal with the world. And it happens every month.

PMDD is Pre-Menstrual Dysphoria, which means that before every period, the sufferer has full-blown depression and may have suicidal thoughts. Symptoms ease as soon as bleeding starts. Sound fun?

It’s estimated that 3-9% (or, 1 in 20) menstruating women suffer PMDD, while up to 90% of women suffer PMS. PMS symptoms may include irritability, crankiness and general mood swings. PMDD isn’t just a case of severe PMS- it’s a recognised psychological disorder.

My Tale of Woe

You knew it was coming! I was diagnosed in my late 20s after crying to my doctor to control my PMS. It was bad every month, but one night I was trying to write up a CV for a job application but the words wouldn’t sit right. In frustration, I held up my laptop to hurl it across the room. Luckily I stopped myself, but the utter despair I felt because nothing was going right… well, it wasn’t normal.

After telling the doctor all my symptoms, she said, “I don’t think you have PMS.” I told her she was crazy. She replied, “I think you have PMDD.” At the time, there wasn’t a lot of information out there besides ‘it isn’t PMS’. So, I suffered.

But then, I did something crazy. I read a study about the effects of caffeine on depression and anxiety and decided to give up caffeine, cold turkey. I’m very pleased to report that in the two years since I did so, I have not had a single symptom of PMDD. Hooray! I can still feel a bit down, but nothing like what I used to go through. It was getting debilitating. It had to stop. Maybe one day, in my post-menopausal life, I can go back to caffeine… but I don’t miss it. Kudos to Pepsi and Coca Cola for making caffeine-free cola because I couldn’t give that up (and oh how I’ve tried!). Sometimes, when I’ve overindulged and had some dark chocolate, I can feel the caffeine surging through my veins and I know it’s going to be a bad month. Regular, milk chocolate is OK as long as it’s in moderation, especially in the 2 weeks leading up to a period.

It’s not a solution for everyone, but it’s worked for me. I’ve never been happier. And now you are aware of PMDD, so my job here is done.

April 2, 2014 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

You did what?!? Day 1

I gave up caffeine yesterday after reading this article. The article talks about how a high caffeine intake can mimic the symptoms of anxiety and depression. In the name of science, I’ve given up caffeine in the hopes it has an effect on my own moods.

Most of my friends know that I suffer a condition called PMDD which basically means I have a full bout of depression before every period. It sucks, but I know it will go away. I am not on any medication for it (that’s a whole other story) but the first advice the doctor gave after diagnosis was to give up sugar and caffeine. I did… for the first month but decided I was even more mental without them. This week, I’m not suffering any PMDD or other mood disorders but I do want to see if the moods improve next month without the caffeine.

So, what was Day 1 like? I don’t drink coffee but I do drink a lot of cola (sugar-free, which apparently has more caffeine than sugared cola). I normally have at least one glass of cola a day but on a day off, I can drink a whole 2L of the stuff. First of all, when I told people I was stopping caffeine intake, the number one response was, “Why would you want to do that?!?” Ah- addiction! Filling people with fear just thinking about taking it away! Everyone was supportive though, and interested in my results.

The hardest part was dinner last night. There’s a full bottle of cola sitting in my fridge. I was on my own for dinner last night and I had a Lebanese bread pizza. I always have cola with pizza! Water just isn’t the same… but I stayed strong and drank the water.

Today is Day 2. You’ll hear about that tomorrow… if I survive.

February 17, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , | 1 Comment