This is reposted from my old blog from May 2015, it represents my thoughts and feelings at the time and is unedited. I have worked out that the sugar (at least) is only a problem during mixed episodes and avoiding it seriously reduced the intensity of that state (I didn’t know I was in one when I was writing this post), and that includes glucose, galactose, fructose, and other “non-sugar” (food lableing definition) sugars (scientific definition), but not sugar alcohols such as lactitol (a sweetner defined scientifically as a “sugar alcohol” because it has an O-H hydroxyl group on one of its carbons, but isn’t an alcohol like ethanol which is the one in everything called “alcohol” that we drink) but I still avoid the caffeine totally and I also generally avoid alcohol.
Trigger warning: Coffee, alcohol, sugar and cigarettes in a positive and negative light.
In 2013, I totally stopped drinking coffee. Like, altogether.
Why did I do that? Coffee and cigarettes had been my life for about 8 years. They defined my daily routine and decided what I would do. I spent a lot of money on both.
Coffee had been my drink of choice since I was 15. I liked it because I was largely not fussy about how it came, as long as there was some coffee in there. When you’re living on other people’s generosity a lot of the time, being fussy about what you drink is not a good trait, so I’d pretty much given up on anything other than the very occasional cup of tea. If there was the right milk, the right sugar, the right tea bags, and the right cups. And if I was allowed to make it myself, as I couldn’t get anyone else to make it properly.
Coffee was fine however it turned up. I liked strong coffee, weak coffee, expensive coffee, cheap coffee, espresso, latte, cappuccino (instant or slow). Didn’t care, I would drink it. Hot or cold, I would drink it.
It can be credited with getting me through my degree and, when I was stuck at McDonald’s for 2 years after graduating in a recession, the occasional after-work treat was a cup of coffee at the Costa upstairs. I can still remember how their iced lattes tasted, with the undissolved sugar crunching through the foam. Mmm….
So why did I stop?
In the summer of 2013, I was taking some exams (12, in fact) that I had to drive across the country for on different days. When I did this, I would have 24-48 hours at a time without coffee. When I got home, I would have coffee again. And I started noticing a very definite mood disturbance effect. At the time I had been drinking the Nescafe Azera for about a year. It got to the point where I stopped the coffee for three days, in the hope of clearing out my system. Next cup of coffee? I was strung out, agitated, restless, everything that happened was the biggest deal ever, and I was in tears on and off for hours. The effect of that one coffee lasted about 24 hours.
So I tried a week off coffee. Next coffee? Exactly the same effect.
A month. A month would surely be enough? Nope. Still doing the same thing to me. I tried decaffeinated coffee at intervals and that had the exact same effect on me. Even the same changes to my blood pressure. So it could well be a different substance in the coffee rather than the caffeine.
Scientifically, when an experiment is repeatable and shows the same results each time, those results are generally taken to be correct.
So I stopped drinking coffee altogether.
The first month was awful. I had to throw out all my coffee because I kept automatically making it for myself. I had headaches and excessive sweating and profoundly excessive tiredness (the tiredness lasted about a year, I think it basically shoved me into a low-level depressive phase) and I didn’t think I would be able to make it through life without coffee. I did, though. Mostly, I get over it these days.
Since then, my moods have been significantly improved, but I still get that same, very specific mood disturbance reaction to other things. In the past three months, I’ve noticed that alcohol does this (delayed to the next day), and sugar does this (about an hour or two later). About 2 months ago I cut out alcohol as for a long time I hadn’t drank an awful lot of alcohol but in the last month before I stopped, I’d become worried that I might be becoming an alcoholic because I was knocking back a beer every day after work (confused? This one explains why I might worry with such a small amount of alcohol). I had a drink at the weekend, same effect as before. It wasn’t as strong as with the coffee but the behaviour pattern was clearly there (particularly the “everything is upsetting me for good reasons” – like someone held a magnifying glass up to my usual reactions to things).
Recently, Tesco started doing these amazing dairy free ice cream cones. Now, I’ve never been the biggest fan of ice cream and can usually take it or leave it, but I go through phases where I’ll eat it until the cows come home. I bought loads of these, and was eating at least one cone almost every day. I noticed a definite mood disturbance, and it was the same as with the alcohol and caffeine. I’m super-reluctant to cut all sugar out of my diet, but I might have to. At the moment, I’ve cut down, but there’s only so many calories you can get from meals and I struggle to maintain a healthy weight due to unknown causes. If I start losing weight uncontrollably again or run out of energy again, I’m going to have to eat more refined sugar (how does sugar make you fat? It converts to storable fat in your pancreas if you eat excessive amounts, this is also the scientific theory that was exploited for the Atkins diet).
So I can drink tea (tea has an optical isomer of the caffeine in coffee, this means it’s actually inactive and doesn’t have the same physical effect as caffeine. That doesn’t mean some people aren’t prone to the placebo effect with it), I can have alcohol free alcohol (what a waste of money, I’ll have more tea please) and I can have diabetic dairy free ice cream.
While that’s a very miserable prognosis, especially when I think about all the medication I’m going to be on soon, there are two lights at the end of this tunnel – firstly, this article says the guy cut out the same three things for a year and “cured” his bipolar (whether he had bipolar in the first place is questionable – I can definitely distinguish between the caffeine/alcohol/sugar day-to-day mood instability and the underlying highs and lows from my actual bipolar, which affect longer periods of time in a different way completely). Secondly, though, I am going to be put on mood stabilisers. I am planning on trying the caffeine again after a suitable period of settling onto the medication. Regardless of whether it works out with caffeine, I’ll give the sugar another go at a separate time afterwards. I’ll probably not bother with alcohol until later.
It’s clear to me that these three substances can be responsible for day-to-day mood disturbances. Will managing them mean managing the greater mood arcs of bipolar? That remains to be seen.