It started with a simple cup of coffee that ballooned into a pot. I sat before my computer screen, shaking, not only because I feared I didn’t have anything to write, but also because of the caffeine. When I pressed my fingers to the keyboard, they shook so much I couldn’t keep them on the keys for which they were responsible. I’d done it–I’d over-caffeinated.
Can you over-fuel a car? Usually not because the gas pump stops, indicating that it’s time to hang it up and drive on. Do we have such indicators in our lives and brains? Maybe. After all, a good coffee maker doesn’t just keep spouting coffee unless you give it permission. Most coffee makers run out of water at some point, at least, and it’s your choice to reach for that next cup.
Our bodies give us indications when it’s been too much, too, such as with that shaking I mentioned. And then, of course, if it’s all too much too fast, and you’ve sat at your computer long enough, there comes the crash.
And we all know the crash sucks, to put it bluntly.
Our boyfriends and girlfriends and just regular friends hate us during the crash. We’re irritable, even yelling at the poor cats for stinking up the writing room, when, really, they’re just being cats. But I digress.
Over-caffeinating is a real problem. My thesis director first spotted it in me when I was in grad school and went to her, complaining about writer’s block. “How many cups of coffee or soda do you drink a day?” she asked. I’d honestly never thought about it before. I just mounded a couple spoonfuls in my tiny coffee maker and let the machine do the rest. This, of course, didn’t account for the countless fountain sodas I’d drunk at school (all balanced out by healthy water, of course. Yeah, sure.)
With this new awakening, I didn’t quit caffeine altogether, but I was made more aware and reduced my consumption. Then, when the ideas came to me, I could actually sit down and write about them. This wasn’t a cure-all for writer’s block, but it got me typing, which is the first step to breaking out of the block.
As a teacher, I have passed this lesson onto students as I am onto you. I’ve had students come to me crying because they’d stayed up all night studying with coffee as their companions only to not be able to make it through that day’s final exam. I’ve had students, similarly, stay up on ADHD medications for the same effect only to reach a similar crash and sense of despair.
I’ve told these students two things: first, to try to relax. It’s one test, one essay, one final exam, and in order to write well and think well we need not only to be prepared, but to relax as well. Second, I tell them what my instructor told me: cool it on the caffeine and like products (such as those ADHD meds when used against the physician’s instructions). Do what’s best for your body and for you, and then muck through the swamp like everyone else. Caffeine will not make you able to rise above it all. You have not discovered some secret for survival that no one else has tried. You have to look inward, of course, as Yoda would probably say in a different syntax, and you’ve got to realize that, even without caffeine, you can get your work done.
Now, allow your fingers to find their keys and write, write away!