I Love Coffee, But it Hates Me

A cup of hot coffee surrounded by coffee beans

The first coffee I ever had was a bottled Starbucks Frappucino. As something laden with milk and sugar, it was delicious to nine-year-old me. But beneath its candied presentation, I could tell that the foundation of its flavour — the distinctly dark, earthy taste of coffee — was something special.

Roughly a decade later, I began appreciating coffee’s robust flavour sans-additives, and it quickly became a treasured morning ritual. But while I loved coffee, my body didn’t. And although I would attempt to workaround the undesirable side effects that ensued, my body’s signals were clear: Drinking this black bean elixir would brew up nothing but trouble.

Early University and the Worst Anxiety of My Life

My first semester at a local university was an uncomfortable slog for a variety of reasons. As a six-three lanky 18-year-old, I felt overwhelmingly unconfident. I was uncertain about my future. And deep down, I knew I was only in school to placate my parents and society.

But the worst culprit by far was coffee.

I recall being nervous about a Public Speaking class presentation I had to give. For me, experiencing that sort of anticipatory performance anxiety was consistent with who I was at the time. But unfortunately — and unbeknownst to me — the unknown quantity of coffee I had consumed that morning exacerbated that anxiety tenfold.

That day, I sat in my classroom chair, anxiously awaiting my turn to present. As the caffeine elevated my cortisol and heart rate, I was practically wriggling in my seat with discomfort. Worse yet, the coffee’s biting acidity gnawed at my stomach and hastened my bowels. From a physiological perspective, it was as if my body believed it had been poisoned. And in minutes, I was racing to the bathroom to unleash an anus-melting payload of explosive diarrhea.

I don’t always have gastrointestinal issues when drinking coffee. But that day, the confluence of psychological stressors and the psychoactivity of coffee joined forces to make my life overwhelmingly dysphoric. It was a trend that would continue throughout that semester and years later until I had the good sense to ditch coffee altogether.

Downshift to Decaf

The most prominent psychoactive component of coffee is caffeine. And in that last paragraph, the symptoms described checked all the boxes for caffeine sensitivity. So by switching to decaffeinated coffee, I should be able to shed the unpleasant side effects and continue to enjoy coffee’s flavour, right?

I wish it was that simple.

I wanted to believe it was that simple. But after getting allergy symptoms minutes after drinking decaf coffee for the hundredth time — watery eyes, sinus pressure, headache, tight throat — I can no longer ignore the truth. I’ve tried different brands, blends, and brewing methods, but nothing seems to change the facts: My body hates coffee.

The Future

Just minutes before writing this post, I had finished a cup of delectable decaf coffee. But in anticipation of my body’s allergic response to the sacred black nectar, I had also popped 10mg of loratadine (an OTC allergy medication), 30mg of pseudoephedrine hydrochloride (an OTC decongestant), and 600mg ibuprofen (slightly more than my usual morning dose).

This ritual is completely unsustainable. And like a dairy-intolerant individual who continues to binge on Ben & Jerry’s, I need to face the facts. As long as I drink coffee, I’ll be disregarding my body’s boundaries and igniting a series of inflammatory micro-processes within.

It’s time to realize I’ll be better without the bean.

Photo by Mike Kenneally on Unsplash

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