Ethiopian Jumping Beans

Last week was a rough week for me, if you’re wondering why I haven’t written in a bit. It wasn’t rough because of school or volunteer work or anything tangible. It was rough because I thought I was losing my mind.


Seriously. I had been worried about a few things early in the week—minor things that more or less sorted themselves out by Wednesday afternoon. The worry about them, however, didn’t go away. I felt sick to my stomach at the thought of leaving the house. The bus made me anxious. Sitting in class made me feel like I was completely going to lose it. I kept feeling this little pain in my chest, like someone grabbing my insides and squeezing.


My rational mind said, “This is silly. Why are you so worked up? Just take a deep breath. Everything’s fine.” And everything is fine, and was fine, but I could not convince my racing heart or my falling elevator stomach that this was the truth.


I have always been something of a hypochondriac, as Mom will tell you. Or at least a drama queen. My mind had decided that if I was horribly anxious without any good reason, then I must be off my rocker. The onset of agoraphobia seemed, for a moment, quite likely. Fortunately, my rational brain kept smacking my drama-queen brain upside the head, and eventually came up with a question that got through: “Are there any weird diet things that can cause this sort of anxiety?”


To this, my drama queen could only say, “Eureka!” Every fall for the past few years, I’ve gone through a bit of a nasty cycle. As the weather turns colder, I start drinking more and more tea for the pleasant warmth of the thing. Then we have a warm day, I skip my tea, and find myself with a crippling headache that tells me I have once again accidentally stumbled into the ugly place of being caffeine-dependent. Stupid to repeat it, but I do, and I did this year again.


I have also, in the past two or three years, had a week or two of uncontrollable and recognizably irrational fear for the future, sometime in the fall. I never connected the two before, but the question of my rational brain suddenly aligned them in my memory and I realized that they quite possibly did happen around the same time.


The big difference between this year and years past is that, instead of tea, I have largely been drinking coffee, which contains more than twice the caffeine in a cup of tea.


A quick Google on “diet-related anxiety” confirmed my hypothesis: if you are prone to anxiety anyway (as Mom’s nickname of "Telly Monster" for me might confirm that I am), caffeine can unnaturally heighten your body’s reaction to stress, inducing irrational anxiety.


I quit the caffeine cold-turkey, and sure enough, within twenty-four hours I had a blistering headache and no more weird panicky feelings. But twice within the space of a month, I had to laugh at myself for ever imagining that caffeine doesn’t bother me…

4 thoughts on “Ethiopian Jumping Beans

  1. Know what you are feeling!!
    I was so glad when I got pregnant that I had a very compelling reason to quit caffeine! And I’ve tried not to go back. Now when I do have caffeine, i get a headache and I can really feel the effects of it. Switch to decaf tea and coffee and you’ll get the same thrill of a warm cuppa’ in your hands but not so many nasty side effects!!
    Glad you aren’t losing your mind, too!


  2. Being a good detective
    Wow, I spend hours trying to convince and train my clients to be ‘good detectives’ about their feelings and physical sensations. Wish I could mass produce what Melissa and Aymie seem to be able to do naturally.
    When stress has been high for a while some people will begin to have panic attacks which is what was happening to you, Melissa. Caffeine makes it much worse…or as you found out…be the biggest culprit. There is one symptom of panic attacks that makes you feel like you are losing your mind…sort of an ‘out of body’ feeling. It is really scary. All it is is a load of adrenalin flooding your body for no good reason.(same thing would happen if you saw a bear running at you in the woods…which would be a good reason for the reaction). It will all reabsorb after about 30 minutes if you can manage not to mentally re-trigger the reaction.
    Whew….guess you really didn’t need to know all of this…just can’t shut-up an old teacher or even older therapist. Love you, Melissa and Aymie.
    MOM (Brenda)


  3. I’m glad you’re feeling better and got that all figured out, Missy. This summer I started having weird attacks like that. I don’t know if it was caused by all the caffeine I was ingesting, too. But now I stay far away from caffeine and I still have way more anxiety than I’ve ever had to deal with before. My OCD has spiked again. I’m always counting, counting, counting. I was reading somewhere that hypoglycemics often have a lot of anxiety because of the whole adrenaline thing, too. For this and other reasons I wonder if that might be my problem. Though, probably my biggest problem is my hypochondria – like you! hahaha
    Love you!


  4. What a clever title for how you are feeling. I love it. Glad you figured out a good part of your problem. I don’t like the run of the mill decaf teas but Barry s Gold (Irish and a bit more money) works well as does a good decaf English tea. Grammy


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