As an anxious person, I tend to think a lot. Often to the point where I don’t actually do the things I need to do. This is known as overthinking or perfectionism and is a hallmark of anxiety. It can impact all areas of life, and for me in particular, I believe it’s a major cause of my recent burnout at work.
On this day, eight years ago, Christchurch, New Zealand was struck by a magnitude 7 earthquake. This disaster, along with the earthquake of February 2011, stand as defining moments in New Zealand’s recent history. Their effects are still being felt today.
I’ve noticed people around me seem a bit down this week. Work colleagues are visibly unhappy, even the usually bubbly ones. My flatmates tell me the situation is the same in their offices. I’ve been way off-colour myself.
This got me thinking: Is there something in the water that’s making the whole town upset? Am I generalising from myself with a heaping dose of confirmation bias? Have I just been unlucky with a small sample size? Or is Wellington just feeling flat right now?
I hit up r/Wellington to take the pulse of the community. The response was overwhelming.
I got 39 replies in 24 hours. Not quite r/AskReddit levels of “RIP my inbox”, but strong for a modest community like ours.
Many culprits were suggested for the citywide gloom. Many workplaces were complained about. We even considered calling in Wellington Paranormal. But several commenters pointed to another cause – one that runs wider than any workplace.
At 41° south, Wellington doesn’t get a whole lot of sun between May and August. This (somehow or other; reports vary) leads to the well-documented phenomenon known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. Not everyone experiences it – some of my colleagues are still delightful rays of sunshine! But it’s common enough that it could plausibly bring down a large proportion of the city’s office workers.
Whatever the cause, mid-to-late August is the worst time of year for it – we’ve suffered for a while, tempers are starting to fray, and the end isn’t quite in sight yet. And as it stands, there’s no public holidays for two months either side. What better time to give everyone a day off?
How does one celebrate National Mental Health Day? As the commenter above suggested, it’s simple: Just do whatever you’d do if you took a day off work! Relax, socialise, create – whatever (healthy) activity brings you joy and gets you ready to face the world again.
Note: It has come to my attention that bitters is actually alcoholic. Reports vary on whether lemon, lime and bitters contains alcohol. For the purposes of this post, I’m going to assume that it doesn’t, or that the amount is negligible.
It’s now August, which means Dry July is over. I’m pleased to report that I went the whole month without drinking. But I won’t be celebrating with alcohol – or really celebrating at all.
Because this was never about Dry July.
My soul-searching session turned up booze as one of my triggers. I’ve long had a love-hate relationship with it. With three beers in me I can shoot the breeze – or rant like an angry grandpa – with the best of them. It’s an incredible feeling. But lately, the pendulum has swung from somewhere in the middle to plain old hate. (That’s totally how pendulums work, yep.)
It’s not the hangover that gets me. It’s how it affects my sleep. I’m a light sleeper at the best of times – an ongoing challenge I’ve struggled with for a long time. Add alcohol in the mix and I’m reduced to a few hours of low-quality kip. Being on medication as well just exacerbates the effect.
I cut back severely after starting on meds, but continued with quiet drinks in the right social settings. Sadly, though, even this proved too much. So, one Friday night in the office with a half-finished beer in hand, I decided: “no more”. I put the beer down, packed my things, and snuck out through the stairwell.
This was on 15 June. I haven’t had a drop since.
Me and alcohol
It’s fair to say I don’t have a typical relationship with alcohol. I skipped the “drunken student” phase, and I barely touched booze before I moved to Wellington. After the move I developed a more “normal” pattern of drinking – Friday drinks at work, evening meetups, a beer or two with the football team, occasional quiet ones at home. And, yes, the occasional wild binge, one of which left me crouched in front of the loo at the George. (Not my proudest moment.)
There’s something else about my experience that’s not typical as far as I’m aware. I hate the taste of beer. And wine. And basically every alcoholic beverage but cider. There’s the odd lager or dessert wine that I find palatable, but I wouldn’t say I like them for their flavour. If I do go for a bitter beer, it’s usually late in the evening when my taste buds have checked out. But overall, my distaste for drinks puts a natural damper on my consumption.
I just don’t want to drink as much as my peers. Unfortunately, this can make socialising a little tricky. What to do?
Enter my new favourite beverage.
Lemon, lime & bitters (henceforth, LLB)
Like coffee, I didn’t like this when I first tried it at a young age. It’s in the name: “bitter” is your body trying to tell you that you’re consuming poison and you should stop. It really did taste bitter when I first tried it.
Fast-forward to last summer, when I tried one on a whim and loved it. I guess my tastes have matured – either that or my taste buds are shot. Whatever. It’s a sweet drink, most bars serve it, and – crucially – it’s a big step up, in terms of refinement, from the usual coke and lemonade. Just look how fancy these are:
Some places make it with the kind of flair you’d usually associate with a full-on cocktail. One bartender even asked me if I wanted more bitters, which was awkward but sweet! This stuff is every bit as sophisticated as beer. I felt like a 10-year-old kid drinking coke at a social gathering. Not so with LLB. It fills my need perfectly!
Where do I stand on alcohol?
Let me make one thing clear: I’m not a teetotaller. I won’t judge your drinking habits unless they’re obviously out of hand. But I am avoiding boozy situations, like after-work drinks, more than I used to. Even if that means distancing myself from certain social circles. (Sorry not sorry!)
I’m so much better off without alcohol, and I’m really glad I made this change. I’ve reclaimed my Saturday mornings. I’ve kept my friends (mostly). And I’ve made social occasions sweeter, healthier, and less awkward. So while I said I’m not celebrating, I did mark the end of July with a variant on my new favourite treat:
Here’s to sobriety. Care to raise a glass of LLB with me?
Did you do Dry July? Have you tried cutting back on alcohol long-term? How did it go? Let me know!
Coffee interferes with your medication. You knew that, right?
– My flatmate
Well dang. That explains a lot.
In the lead up to my mental health day, I thought the meds had stopped working. I felt like I did before I started on them – constant tension, fatigue, pounding heart. Oh, and difficulty getting to sleep.
I was having three cups of coffee a day. With a heaped teaspoon of powder in each – so effectively six “standard coffees” a day. (Side note: why is standard coffee not a thing?) And guess what? Caffeine basically does the opposite of what the meds are supposed to do.
I don’t know how this didn’t occur to me. Did the doctor not tell me this? Did I not find this in all the research I’ve done on anxiety? Did I know it but just forget?
I had a quick google and supposedly the two don’t “interact”. The drug info sheet doesn’t mention caffeine. But surely if it undoes the effect, it’s worth a mention? Whatever, I guess I don’t have to feel quite so bad about missing this.
Still, I was left with a couple of questions:
How did I get here?
How do I get away from here?
Time to search my overcaffeinated soul for some answers…
The coffee capital
When I moved to Wellington, aged 24, I’d never had coffee before. I couldn’t stand the smell when I was a kid. It didn’t occur to me that my tastes might have changed since then.
Enter my uncle. I crashed at his place while I looked for a flat, and being a long-time Wellingtonian he instinctively made me a cup of coffee – as he would for any guest, I guess. I drank it out of politeness, and something amazing happened – I didn’t hate it!
One thing you need to know about Wellington is there are cafés everywhere. Seriously. Our café density is off the charts. So of course we had a café in the building where I worked, and the team went there once a week. And so the habit was born. A habit which, as I alluded to above, eventually got out of hand.
That other hot beverage
I never got into tea either, much to the dismay of my English parents. I didn’t hate it either. It just seemed kinda meh.
I’ve had several work colleagues espouse the benefits of drinking tea instead. (You know it’s bad when people tell you to cut back!) Yes, there’s caffeine in tea too, but not as much. And, crucially, it still satisfies the craving for a hot drink. I’ve come to appreciate it, even if I don’t love it!
So here we have a viable alternative to coffee. But I wasn’t prepared to quit cold turkey, so I made a compromise: I’ll have one coffee a day, and I’ll make an event of it. Even if it’s just the instant powdered stuff I get free at work. Because it’s all tea from there on in. (I get that free at work too.)
It’s coffee time. This is all you’re gonna get today. Make the most of it.
How am I coping?
It’s been two months since I cut back and I feel so much better for it. The panicky heart-pounding sensation has faded, and I feel like I’m back in control, or at least a little more than I was. And I reckon I fall asleep quicker too. (Staying asleep is another matter, but this is a start!)
More importantly, I no longer find myself hanging out for the next coffee. It’s distracting to know that I’m due for another hit soon. I’ve been able to let go of this and concentrate on the task at hand instead. The tea breaks are worth looking forward to as well, of course, but they aren’t nearly as compelling.
Best of all, I still get to enjoy coffee every day – and because I have to make the most of it, I genuinely enjoy it. Even more than I used to enjoy three coffees!
How many coffees do you drink a day? Have you tried cutting back? How did it work out? Let me know!