Think it’s possible to overdose on caffeine? It is. Especially when you’re slipped it, unknowingly.
Most serious coffee drinkers, like myself back in the day, scoffed at the decaf crowd. A bunch of wimps and health freaks that were missing the whole point of drinking coffee in the first place. In fact, I was such a caffeine fiend, I not only would do morning coffee, but also pop a couple guaraná pills and head to the gym to work out to burn off the effect—and more calories.
Then something happened last year. Coffee began to make me anxious. Antsy. Nervous. Accelerated. I knew I had to ditch it. Fully aware of the pending migraine that stood between me and freedom from caffeine dependency, I decided to quit cold turkey over a weekend. I confronted, head on, the dreaded coffee “crash” and horrendous headache, the reason most coffee drinkers cite for never kicking the habit.
My withdrawal weekend lingers in my memory like a smoky haze in a milonga. Besides the sensation of my brain colliding abruptly against my skull, as if it could explode with any slight movement, my energy was zapped. Yes, an invisible Mac truck had run me over and left me strewn on the bed. Under the dense brain fog, I went into survival mode, napping on and off for nearly two days straight. I woke to eat and ingest undisclosed amounts of ibuprofen. Monday morning, something funny happened. I woke up on my own. No iPhone alarm. No coffee to get the gears moving. The brain fog had lifted. I felt light, almost reborn. Woohoo, I was officially caffeine free.
And so that was the end of caffeine for me. Until yesterday morning.
After a week on the road in Mendoza and Uruguay with our Southern Cone Sampler tour, I decompressed in Buenos Aires at the palacial Alvear Palace. I awoke early Sunday morning to their succulent buffet breakfast after a comforting night’s sleep. I settled into a quiet corner of the luminous, plant-covered L’Orangerie to write. I asked the hostess for a double decaf espresso. After several days of instant decaf coffee hell, I basked in the delight of a good decaf espresso. I ordered a second.
Halfway through the cup, I felt unusually awake. Jittery. Weird. A couple more sips and I made a joke to my mozo, Diego, as he refreshed my OJ about the sugar in the dulce de leche giving me a rush. He laughed and said, “More likely is all that espresso.” Say what?! Upon further investigation, there was effectively a mix up at the espresso bar and I had been served the high-test stuff, not decaf. That’s right, four shots of espresso. I had been “caffed”. This was going to get interesting.
If there was any shadow of a doubt about the mood-altering effects of caffeine, this unexpected experiment proved it. I, literally, was bouncing off the walls of my suite at the Alvear. Instead of getting anxious, I had to figure out how to “dump” this excess energy and get the drug out of my system as quickly as possible.
I jammed to Phoenix in my room for a while until breakfast had settled. I had to move to physically burn up this energy. I contemplated cartwheels or doing burpees. Nah, my neighbors would not love me for that at 9:30am Sunday morning. I opted for the fitness center. I pushed myself hard for 45 minutes of intense cardio while watching TV Monde. I was still revved. The trainer intervened and asked me to down a liter of water, and sent me to sweat it out in the Turkish Steam bath for 45 minutes in intervals.
Three hours later, after the sauna, I started to come down. As I boarded the plane home from Aeroparque, I felt almost normal. While the whole situation now seems comical, it has recommitted me to staying decaffeinated on a permanent basis. I really don’t need the drug (coffee for flavor is another story).
Oh, and note to self–always triple check that the coffee’s decaf with the waiter. Live and learn.