Coffee and Other Vices

While I was drafting the FAQ for this site, I started writing down the questions that have been on my mind for a while–not that anyone ever asked me, but they were things that I needed to sort out for myself, in terms of what has happened to my career and where I could go moving forward. One of the things that came up in that draft was this question about my coffee consumption:

But I thought you hated coffee! Why are you drinking it again?
In order to answer this, you may need to know a little bit about my life with bipolar disorder. (It’s still too difficult to talk about this, especially since I’m still wrestling with it ten years after my formal diagnosis.) Three years ago, my cocktail of meds changed when one of the drugs that I was taking was no longer available in the Philippine market. When I switched pills, I noticed that my mental flow flagged easily, so I started drinking the stuff again. That doesn’t mean I can drink as much caffeine as I want–I still suffer meltdowns whenever I take more than one cup–but my mood improves whenever I drink it, and it has saved me from a lot of existential crises.

This was my way of saying that my caffeine addiction has returned. At the time that I was writing my last two manuscripts (Ten Truths and #CrushFic) I was drinking a cup a day, no question, the stronger the better. The more I drank, the more I was convinced that I needed it for my creativity–otherwise I’d be a miserable head of cabbage without it.

This past month was a low point for me caffeine-wise: my break was hastened, in part, over worries that I’ve been shit-posting too much on Twitter about my addiction to coffee and how it has affected my writing. But even my writing hiatus hasn’t stopped me from drinking the dark stuff, just as it hasn’t stopped me from outlining the next steps to revising #CrushFic (sorry, oppa). Considering that I’ve been able to quit smoking and drinking cold turkey, caffeine is a different beast for me; take it away from me and I’ll still be posting nonsense on Twitter about my existential crises.

And yet.

It all goes back, again, to the cocktail of medicines that I’m taking for everything that ails me. I drink my coffee at lunchtime because that’s when my anti-anxiety meds have worn off. I still get unnaturally buzzed as soon as the caffeine hits my system, but I find that the buzz gives me a sense of clarity; because of this, I can make better choices about how I spend my time. I follow up on appointments, write shopping lists, wash my makeup brushes–anything to keep me away from my phone for at least two hours, before it all mellows out and I can strike more things out of my to-do list.

The clarity has also helped me deal with some of the sadness that I’ve been feeling in the last few years, too. Without going into detail, I realize that I’ve been a difficult person to my family, my friends, my writing community, because of the choices I made and the lack of foresight that I’d shown in making those decisions. In some cases, the damage has been done, but now that I do have time to reflect, it’s a matter of considering how I can make amends so that I don’t make things worse for everyone, including myself.

These things may take time, perhaps longer than the break I’ve taken this year. But it has to be worth it.

Maybe this ritual attachment that I have with coffee might be here for good. Maybe someday I’ll find a way to drink coffee (or tea) without feeling the need to procrastinate while waiting for the buzz to mellow out. But I welcome the clarity and the peace of mind that it brings me. Hopefully those last two side effects will stick around for the long-term, even after the buzz is gone.

Love, Stella

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Stella Torres

is the author of the adult contemporary romances Save the Cake, Crushingly Close, and Nine Years Away, as well as the short story “Be Creative” in the anthology Kids These Days: Stories from Luna East Vol. 1.

In her previous life, she has worked in public relations, taught English as a second language, and even attended graduate school (twice!). She has lived in Indonesia, Honolulu, and Quezon City before moving back to her hometown of Los Banos, a few hours’ drive (with traffic) from the heart of Manila.

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