o-two attempts: Kicking Caffeine


Inveterate caffeine addict Paul Fennessy chronicles his failed period of rehabilitation from the cursed drug

A certain colleague at The University Observer, let’s just call her ‘Mom’, has been expressing concerns about my health lately. Being involved in student journalism requires far more energy and late-night work than people would imagine and thus, a prodigious consumption of caffeine is practically mandatory. It came to the point where, last weekend, it was recommended that I reduce my intake of all-things-caffeine-related.

Being the sadist that I am, I figured I might as well go the whole hog and renounce my unsavoury habit entirely. Unfortunately, this proved to be more difficult than was initially expected. Getting me to give up caffeine is a bit like telling Jesus to ditch the whole religious shtick. It’s nigh on unfathomable.

Aside from causing me to perpetually compare myself to the Lord Almighty, caffeine induces a plethora of other idiosyncratic mannerisms in yours truly. From listening to Animal Collective on a regular basis (the band’s unyielding hyperactivity could appeal only to a chronic coffee addict) to rendering myself girly by acquiring a taste for vodka and coke (purely for the caffeine hit as opposed to any homoerotic reasons), my life has been laced with numerous shenanigans ever since this influence permeated my being.

And so, it was with a heavy heart that I readily allayed my caffeine proclivities temporarily. Indeed, I have frequently claimed that I am willing to die for the sake of journalism. Yet I never anticipated coming so close to reaching this fate in the form of my enhancement-deprived body sprawled across the office desk, clutching an empty mug in vain whilst mumbling “KILL URSELF” over and over.

Going cold turkey on the first day was not too bad – assuming you interpret ‘not too bad’ as code for extremely hellacious to the point that it made every bodily movement seem so laborious that the simple act of getting out of bed became a struggle of epic proportions, replete (in my increasing feverish imagination) with a sensationalistic Hollywood blockbuster-style soundtrack. Of course, getting out of bed would turn out to be the least of my concerns.

Sod’s law determined that my week of caffeine abstinence would coincide with the onset of the worst kind of cold. You know the sort; it meticulously goes through all the various stages day by ever-more-excruciating day – the sore throat, the perpetually snotty nose, the infernal cough in which you spend what seems like hours glumly undergoing the hopeless pursuit of extracting the palpable but evasive phlegm from the vast reaches of your innards. And yet the situation simply required a nice (though depressingly unattainable) warm cup of tea, so I could drink my traumas away.

In addition to significantly impeding my convalescence, I felt slightly stoned and incredibly weary; such was the dramatic extent of my docile state following the enforced absence of caffeine from my bloodstream. Having trudged out of bed and walked meekly to college with breakfast-in-hand (I got up late you see), I sat slumped at my desk drifting in and out of consciousness while reading what seemed like a more pointless and boring Fintan O’Toole article than usual.

What’s more, my abstruse music tastes began to dissipate and new, unsettling insights arose. Glee didn’t seem so bad after all and I even felt inclined to sing along to X Factor songs. But it wasn’t until I developed a sudden fondness for the music of Tom Petty when I acknowledged that my worst nightmare had been realised – I was, like, so mainstream.

However, aside from the many aforementioned distressing occurrences which it entailed, giving up caffeine also proved beneficial in some ways. Time seemingly moved at a more gradual pace in a manner that felt refreshing and enabled me to exude a calmer countenance. Urgent problems which required immediate attention turned into minor pains in the ass that could be dealt with in the not-too-distant future (whenever that might be).

Furthermore, the urge to respond to that gargantuan array of unanswered emails was replaced by a hankering to grant my over-worked posterior some much-needed couch time. Perhaps Two and a Half Men was watchable after all. Calmness descended over me thereafter and I felt like The Dude in The Big Lebowski.

Luckily or sadly depending on your perspective, my caffeine-free spell from hell has now elapsed. I would hardly have been able to muster up the willpower to write this piece otherwise. But I have learned a few home truths for my troubles.

The obvious realisation was never to give up caffeine amidst a busy period. My biological psychology lecturer used to warn me of the danger of going off coffee in the lead up to exams. And now I know she wasn’t telling porkies.

I have also learned the importance of avoiding extremes. While completely eliminating caffeine from my diet is a senseless act, it is equally idiotic to guzzle in excess of three or four cups a day. Therefore, I am now a more rounded human being who is possessing of a depth of knowledge that is richer than the taste of those sumptuous Nine One One-produced Americanos. Thanks Mom!  [You’re very welcome, Paul! – ed].