Coffee and Me: An Evolution in Tolerance

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One day when I was seven, I went to eat lunch at Carrabba’s with my dad – my parents had been divorced for a little while, so I was used to eating out with my dad by this point. I’m not sure why my little sister wasn’t with us, though.
We had just finished eating. I know exactly what I had, because I got the same meal every time I went to Carrabba’s until I turned eight or nine: chicken fingers with a side of penne. The penne was buttery and salty, and I doused my chicken fingers in ketchup: it was a really good course for a 7-year-old.
I remember being tired. I was never keen on sleeping when I was little, so this bothered me. I think I must have been tired for an extended period of time, because I was actually worried about it.
My dad recommended that I order a coffee. I’m not really sure why a 37-year-old man would recommend that his 7-year-old daughter order a coffee. He must have known that I wasn’t going to drink the whole thing. I ordered a cappuccino, because “cappuccino” was a big, grown-up coffee word and I wanted the waiter to think I was intelligent and mature.
I don’t exactly remember what happened after my cappuccino was set on the table. I only know two things. The first thing I knew was that I did not like the way coffee tasted; the second was that my light-up pikachu keychain that my mom bought me somehow fell in the cappuccino, and after that incident, it never lit up again. The pikachu incident probably had a bigger influence on my dislike of coffee than the actual taste. Remember, I was seven. I pledged to hate coffee from that day on – before I tried the cappuccino, I’m sure I said I didn’t like coffee, but it didn’t really count because I had never tried it. But that cappuccino was associated with a sense of disgust and loss I never wanted to bring upon myself again.

Although I disliked the taste of coffee and didn’t really want to set any of my belongings near a cup of it again following the Cappuccino Incident, I could not deny that I loved the way it smelled. I remember getting hungry 30 minutes before lunch in 3rd grade and getting as close as I could to my teacher’s coffee cup – for some reason, the smell satiated my hunger a little. I also remember discovering the saltshaker full of coffee beans that lived at every perfume counter. I would smell as many samples as I could, and then take solace in the scent of the coffee beans. I still do it, too. I will make myself look like an idiot just so I can smell coffee beans: I’ll stick my nose into the dispensers at grocery stores and linger around any full coffee cups in my home.

When I was in high school, I realized that people thought drinking coffee was cool – I’m sure this belief was associated with Starbucks’ huge boom in popularity at the time. 2007, right? I was in high school then.
Whenever I think of Starbucks now, I think of dishwater, but back then, I only thought of Frappucinnos and those tacky ice-cream-like coffee drinks with whipped cream on top. Preppy, 13-year-old girl drinks and sugar bombs (and fat bombs too, since they were all doused in whipped cream).
I didn’t want to jump on the Starbucks bandwagon because I didn’t want to drink such unhealthy beverages (the whipped cream on top has 12 grams of fat, and that’s just the whipped cream – let’s not forget the rest of the drink) and I thought Frappuccinos were really tacky. Plus I still had a grudge over the pikachu. I think that’s a respectable opinion.
One night when I was 15, I was hanging out with a group of friends who wanted to go to Starbucks (a new one had just opened down the street). I didn’t want my friends to know I was a pompous, coffee-hating asshole, and I definitely didn’t want to be left alone at the house or anything, so I went with them. One of my friends ordered a chai latte.
Being half-Iranian, I have drunk a lot of tea in my lifetime. I could drink it hot. I could drink it without sugar. My grandmother didn’t filter all the leaves out of the tea my relatives and I drank. I could handle hardcore tea.
When I heard my friend say his drink was a chai latte, I became intrigued because chai is what my family called the tea we drank after dinners at my grandparents’ house. It’s pronounced differently, though. It’s cha-yee, not chye.
I figured I could toughen up a little and drink something that had such a familiar name.
I ordered one. I liked it. I got super hyper off it. I guess it was a sugar rush.

Gradually, I warmed up to coffee, starting with the girly drinks I hated thinking about drinking. For some reason, my mother is hooked on mocha Frappuccinos. Oh, I know the reason, because it’s the same reason I started tolerating other forms of coffee: chocolate.
Not surprisingly, college was what brewed my tolerance – and need – for coffee (like my bad pun there?). I found myself having a hard time concentrating while studying for midterms or finishing a paper unless I was jacked up on caffeine and sugar. I took classes that met at 9:00 or 8:00 in the morning. I had to drink coffee so I wouldn’t fall asleep while my Milton professor read passages from Paradise Lost and didn’t allow anybody in the class to start a discussion.
The stigma I developed that day in Carraba’s has evolved into a dependency. I drink the stuff regularly – I drink it several days of the week. Thankfully, I don’t have to have chocolate or intense amounts of sugar in my coffee to be able to stand it anymore. I can even drink it plain, although I don’t really enjoy doing that.
I’ve learned my limits with caffeine. I know what I need to drink to perk up a little (a latte) or get completely jacked up so I can have plenty of energy to get through my assignments or a particularly busy day (a mocha, because the chocolate will make me hyper, or plain old black coffee). Plus there’s actually really good coffee here in Athens, so I enjoy walking over to Athens’ corporate coffee stand (Jittery Joe’s, represent) or a cafe down the street.
Drinking coffee makes me feel more like an adult, and hey, it obviously keeps me alert too. It might have taken around 12 years, but I finally got what I wanted that day in Carrabba’s when I was seven.

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Control-Alt-Delete

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I am a control freak. Every day is a battle between my dictatorial urge to exert complete control over every aspect of my life and my battered, overly stressed psyche. I moderate whatever I can: how much work I do in a certain day, what kinds of food I eat, the amount of food I end up eating, how much money I spend on food, how much time I spend in my room, and when I want to get things done. You should see my day planner – it may be adorable and uplifting on the outside and come with stickers (I know, it looks so harmless here), but on the inside, it’s a sentence for anxiety attacks. I’ve scribbled pages and pages of to-do lists that range from my academic tasks for the week to what I need to buy at the grocery store to certain ways I want to think. They’ve taken multiple forms, too – I’ll draw a calendar next to an obsessive bulleted list to remind myself that my tasks aren’t simply jarred strings of words, but real actions that are chained to deadlines and time. That’s right, I have multiple lists for the same thing. My attempt to become more organized and subsequently think more clearly has only thrown me into an even larger spiral of worrying. My motion to reduce my anxiety has not only backfired, it’s managed to stress me out even more.
Did I mention that I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder? Yeah, that plays a huge part in this.
I’m a worrywart. You probably inferred that from the tone I used earlier in this post. I will worry about anything – I worry about everything, actually: grades, whether I’m marketing myself enough, what I eat, my cholesterol intake, time, my friends, my family, my weight, not getting enough sleep, sleeping too much, my performance, my car’s MPG, you name it. It can take me a matter of seconds to trap myself in a cycle of anxiety, and once I’m in there, it’s very hard to pull myself out. I have to take pills for it – pills that are supposed to mellow me out, which just make me tired all the time, and bipolar pills, because I can’t stabilize myself when I get anxious.
For some reason, I love worrying about things I have absolutely no control over. This category namely includes quarrels within my family (and since it’s divorced and partially Iranian, that happens very often), what other people think of me, and any negative situation my friends get into.
Of course, it’s only logical that I cope with situations I can’t control by taking it out on myself. Here’s where my nature as a control freak comes in. I tell myself that by achieving perfection, I can fix things that I honestly can’t do a thing about. I’ve tried to cope with my school-based stress and ignore the series of intense fights my dad and sister had a few years ago by cutting off a chunk of my food supply. That worked stupendously. Then I’ll bottle everything up and crack weeks or months later. That method helps me out too. Ignoring my anxiety or covering it up with a control-based issue is my go-to method is coping with a stressful or depressing situation.
The thing about my coping mechanisms is that they don’t work. They make things much worse, actually. There’s also the matter that they’re completely inappropriate methods of stress management. Since when has shutting myself away from the world and hiding in my bed helped me get over something? It hasn’t. It hasn’t helped me at all, but for some reason, I am set on doing it every time something troublesome comes my way.
I cannot do this anymore. I can’t! It’s driving me crazier. Even thinking about my anxiety is stressing me out. I have to change. And it’s not just so I can make it past May 7th in one piece – I don’t want this interfering with the rest of my life. I want to be a journalist. I want to travel and write and get paid for it somehow. How am I supposed to get my stories and interview people if I’m afraid of talking on the phone?  I’m afraid that if I can’t tame my anxiety, I’ll be living with my parents or something and not be able to work efficiently. That isn’t exactly my dream.
I have to tackle this on a short-term scale right now because my finals are creeping up on me and I’ve got two projects due within the next week. They’re both for my journalism classes, so that means I’m going to have to talk to people I don’t know and sit at a computer for a long time. I can’t have any distractions, especially not anxiety.
I’ve started by eliminating my sources of stress. It’s proven to be pretty easy so far. With school, it’s getting things out of the way and setting up meetings and interviews for my projects. I don’t have to worry about my Paradise Lost test anymore, so that relieves me a lot, especially because I think I did really well on it. So that’s one issue out of the way. I’ve got some leeway on my projects, and I’m in the process of finalizing setting all my interviews and appointments up. I’ve got one tomorrow, one on Friday… I have to set my other two interviews up, but that shouldn’t be a huge deal, especially because I figured out how to record phone conversations (that one was a bit of a lifesaver.)
Then there’s studying for finals, which I’m actually not too concerned about. But I’ve got all my notes typed up, so I don’t even have to let any senses of impending doom concerning not having studied for my news writing final at all bother me. That’s good.
I’ll get my projects done. I’m typing that again to encourage myself. It’s working, just so you know.
I have to say that the easiest adjustment I’ve made was shutting off all my worries about food. I mean, yeah, food is important. But for these next few weeks, I’m going to try not to worry about what I eat as much. I mean, I’m not scarfing cheeseburgers down for every single meal. And at this point, I really believe that a slice of bacon is healthier than all the stress I’ve endured over the years from fixating on food so much. So for now, all worries concerning food will be shut off, and I’ve made a good start. I drank one of the best iced lattes I’ve ever had today, and I spontaneously took 15 minutes aside yesterday to sit down and have a few scoops of blood orange gelato.
It was definitely worth it.