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The Great Decision: Sleep or Coffee?

on September 24 | in Health | by | with 11 Comments

[info_box]Guest Blogger #8: Jennifer Carroll. Jennifer is passionate about seeing people come to their full potential in God. She enjoys teaching, journaling, going to the beach, and LOVES being newly married. She resides with her husband, Matthew, in Fort Worth, Texas…and…. enjoys a cup of coffee for special occasions. ;-)[/info_box]

I gazed thoughtfully at the neon-lettered chalkboard above me.

The contemporary music played – not too loudly – over the speakers in the university coffee house, as if to remind the college students that the night was young and ready for some caffeine-induced study time. Choices, choices…the menu was full of them.

Finally I settled on my favorite – a white mocha – and gave my order to the blonde-haired guy working behind the counter. We exchanged a few words about upcoming tests, and he ducked behind the espresso machine. Within just a minute or two, he scooted the drink across the counter with a grin, “I threw in an extra shot for you; hope that helps you pass!”

I loved coffee, but I had never experienced a double shot before.

Whoa. My roommate didn’t quite know what to do with me, but I felt great. It was only about nine, and I had until eight the next morning to internalize the concepts needed for my music theory test. “Who needs sleep?” I thought, “This is awesome!” The buzz, and my oh-so-productive study time lasted until four o’clock the morning of the test. I crashed for a few hours, then got up, and aced it. Feeling that this approach was a great success, I continued my coffee habit as often as I could, and felt quite pleased with the grades I was making.

When I began college, I began to slowly understand what it meant to have your professors run your life. I was a music major, which meant that I was practicing somewhere between two and four hours every day, in addition to completing all my other homework, attending classes, being a part of the school choir, and trying to have clean laundry by Monday morning. Eating and sleeping quickly became luxuries that I often did not have time for, so…I emptied my wallet and filled my body with the wonder drug of caffeine.

Symptoms can accumulate slowly sometimes, and, like the well-known story about the frog in the boiling water, we may often learn to ignore them until suddenly we are at a crisis point. As each stress-filled month passed, I got more tired and more depressed, but still was intent on the completion of my degree, regardless of the cost to my body. I wasn’t having fun with my music, I became exhausted, and I was frequently not good company, since smiling and laughing took precious energy that I literally did not have to spare. I thought to myself that it didn’t matter so much if I didn’t feel well; I could always feel great again in about five minutes once I had my coffee. To me, It was all about being in control.

I remember the day that I felt my energy levels had come to a crisis low.

I had finished most of my classes for the day, and walked in the door of our little duplex, absolutely spent. As I lay on the homey quilt, staring up at the bunkbed slats, I felt as if someone had attached a vacuum hose to my arms and legs, sucking all the energy and life out of me. Getting up and taking three steps would have been a monumental achievement, because I was too tired to even think about doing that. I was so tired, it scared me. I thought to myself, “Will I ever have normal energy again? Will I ever feel good again?” I was too tired to eat, and it literally took too much energy to go to sleep, so I just lay there.

God was gracious to me in the midst of all my lapses in dietary judgment, and He got me through those next couple of years leading up to graduation. I was able to limit my caffeine intake, supplement my diet with whole food sources, and make better menu choices, but deep damage had been done to my whole system. The shock of pushing so hard had left me, at the end of it all, totally worn down. I cried often, and felt depressed almost constantly. I would wake up after fourteen consecutive hours of sleep and feel exhausted, as if I had just run a marathon.

As I tried to work through, and pray through, and improve my eating through all of those low, low months, the thing that I struggled with most was how distant I felt from God. I remembered in past years, how my times with Him had been full of delight and joy. I remembered insights and analogies He had given me. I remembered such sweet, sweet fellowship—and now? What was this shadow, this cloud? It was as if my soul were wearing fogged-over glasses. I would squint, and try to see through, rubbing the lens over and over again with precious little results. John 10:10 haunted me: “…I am come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly.” If this was abundant life, I wanted out.

It has been four years since that season of my life, and since then I have come to realize that God has designed our bodies to work in such a way that all parts-spirit, soul, and body- harmonize together. The state of your body affects the state of your soul. Depression was a very real companion to me during that season, but it wasn’t because I was a failure as a Christian, it was because I was abusing God’s temple, and paying a very high price for doing so. I wanted to be in control at all times, and caffeine was my way to accomplish that.

I tend to be a perfectionist, so the caffeine to me translated into having control over my grades. For others, it may mean having control through having a spotlessly clean house, or perfectly groomed children. Control may mean that you get to be in charge of the ladies’ ministry at church, your home-owners association, and the PTA meeting tomorrow night. It may translate into perfect, gourmet meals that would send Martha Stewart running to get your recipe.

I don’t know what control means to you, but I know what control did to me, and it wasn’t worth it. Here is the hard truth about control: the more in control you try to be, the more out of control you probably are. Am I advocating poor grades, messy houses, dinner at McDonald’s, and no community involvement? Absolutely not. What I am advocating is the idea of balance.

Four years and a lot of sleep and whole foods later, I am enjoying so much more of the abundant life that John 10:10 talks about. And I have learned to ask a different set of questions. Instead of asking, “Do I get some rest, or drink coffee?” I am learning to ask, “Am I trying to take control over this situation, or am I allowing my body to have the things God designed for it to have like pure food, exercise, sleep, and water? Am I worried, anxious, or irritable? How might that be signaling to me a depleted area of my body? Do I want to pay the price of crashing after the buzz wears off?” And when I think about it in that light, the decision is not so hard after all. Now, when I am feeling like I want to take control, I gladly remind myself that God is in the driver’s seat of this girl’s life. Then I take a nap. :-)

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11 Responses to The Great Decision: Sleep or Coffee?

  1. Kristine says:

    Jennifer, I enjoyed your post! Would you recommend particular foods or supplements that you took to help get your energy back? I think for me, caffeine isn’t so much about control as it is about comfort. It makes me feel less stressed at the time, but I feel tired later.

    • Jennifer C. says:

      Kristine, I can relate on the whole comfort side of things, as well! That was so much of the struggle; I just felt better all the way around when I drank it (although very, very temporarily).

      One of the things that has helped me tremendously is learning to start the day out right by programming my taste buds correctly through the first thing I put in my mouth that day. For instance, although the taste can never compete with that infamous white chocolate mocha, Green Magma Plus sold at most health food stores (I get mine at Central Market) is often the very first thing I drink/taste in my day. Packed with nutrients, this powerhouse drink is a must for me these days. I find that I actually want it first thing in the morning, because that is a time that your body is designed to gently end the fast of the night: hence the term break-fast. Breaking a fast is gentler and more nourishing to your body if you do it with foods that cleanse and replenish, such as with barley green, a fruit smoothie, or, if I’m in a hurry, a simple banana
      or two. I can build later in the day with my proteins and salads, but keeping my breakfast light, simple, and fully nourishing has restored so much precious energy back to me.

      I was amazed to look up one day and realize that I was mopping my floors at full speed mid-morning, having only had my Green Magma for breakfast and nothing else!! Of course, I have not had children yet, so I’m sure the rules of the game will change drastically once I am preggo or breastfeeding. Until then, though, I’m feeling great, and every new cup is going to help those babies have a much happier, healthier momma!

      • Kristine says:

        Hey Jennifer. I was wondering…when you first started the Green Magma Plus, did it make your skin break out? I’m wondering if it’s acting like a cleanse – or if it’s just all the stress I feel.

  2. Julie says:

    This is a great post. I really *wish* I didn’t identify with so much of what you wrote, but unfortunately, that’s just not the case. Although I never drank coffee in college and law school; Mountain Dew was my drug of choice.

    I really appreciate what you said about control. I have also been learning (and honestly, continue to learn) that I really cannot control every little thing around me and in my life. And it’s okay to not stress about it, it’s okay to let go. Sometimes things don’t get done, and that’s okay.

    There’s a little argument I have with my mom sometimes, and your post really clarified what’s really going on there. I LOVE to cook. It’s a therapeutic endeavor that brings me much joy. I spend a lot of time on it overall, too. It frustrates me because every time I talk to my mother about a new technique I learned or a new dish I tried, her response is always, “must be nice to have that kind of time.” Mom, I don’t HAVE that kind of time, I MAKE time for it because it’s important to me. There are other things that get let go as a result. My house is messy a lot. And when it’s clean, it’s because I hired someone to clean it. I spend money on a cleaning lady instead of shoe and clothes shopping, two things I hardly ever do, and then only out of necessity. I’m willing to forego a full closet to have time to practice cooking, which is one of my loves in life. It’s all about choices!!!

    Here’s something I’ll put out there, I’m curious as to what people think. What is balance, really? Sometimes I think it’s nothing more than a marketing tool invented by some savvy PR firm. The quest for balance can become as stressful as any other endeavor in life. Sometimes I think achieving balance is so external, and the standards are so set by others who don’t know you or your life, that you can easily forget what you’re really after in life. And it unfortunately becomes all about making sure your life LOOKS balanced to others, and your needs slip out of the equation altogether. I don’t know the answers here; I just know that for me, the key is learning when my body has its natural rhythms (I’m a morning person), and making sure I relax every day. Also, I really feel one of the best things I have ever done for myself is the day I said out loud, “I have no desire to be Superwoman.”

    Thanks for the post!! :)

    • Jennifer C. says:

      Hi, Julie, thanks for your thoughts!

      I will preface what I am about to say with a quick acknowledgement that I believe many or most of you are ahead of me in experience. I realize most of you have a child, or multiple children, (I don’t have any yet) and have been married for much longer than I have. I appreciate the wisdom that everyone has shared, and I have enjoyed learning from all of you.

      That said, on the issue of balance, all I can share is what balance has meant to me. Balance to me means the Lord gets put first, my husband second, and children/others last. That may come across sounding over-simplified, but I have reaped wonderful fruit from remembering that this is God’s plan for me. If Matthew comes in to a stressed, cranky, unpleasant, unwilling wife night after night, something is sadly out of balance. Nothing except the Lord comes ahead of my man-not wholesome food, not church activities, not even children, as precious as they will be when they come along. He comes second only to God.

      The miracle of this is when, by God’s grace, Matthew comes home to a joyful, rested, delighted, contented, willing wife, when he knows that it is my heart to support and respect and love him, he will *move mountains* to find ways to bless me! Do I need help with food prep? I’ve got it. Will I need help with midnight feedings when the baby comes along? He will be right there. Am I thinking about getting more involved in church? He is right there cheering me on. Do I need a listening ear, an extra nap, or a special date night? He is there, delighting in me, as I try with God’s help, to delight in him. He is my buddy, my love, my best friend, my companion, my confidante, and my biggest fan.

      It is my personal strong belief that we as married women or moms can try and try and try again to conquer our battles, our struggles, our needs, our weaknesses, but if we do so while impatiently pushing our men aside, we will never achieve the beautiful, sweet balance God desires to give us.

      I honestly have no idea of your marital status…I was just speaking openly from my heart. God has special grace for singles, divorcees, widows and others. I speak from a married status because that is my stage in life right now, and probably the life stage of the majority of readers on this blog.

      Blessings to you my friend as you seek balance. :)

      • Julie says:

        I think you hit the nail on the head: “what balance has meant to me” – LOVE IT!! I think that’s so key: making balance work for you and your life, not measuring up to some arbitrary societal standard. I don’t know if my life looks balanced, I just know that I do sincerely strive to not be stressed, impatient, unhappy, and overall unpleasant to be around, but also strive to be productive, effective, genuine, and all those other positive qualities we women (and men too) try to attain. And that always means that I cannot be Superwoman.

        I think we may have some things in common – I’m married with no kids, also to a Matthew! :)

        • Heather says:

          I know I’m late to the conversation on “balance,” but I would just like to say that I’m pretty sure mine does not look anywhere near balanced from the outside. I’m too “attached” to my husband and kids and way “obsessed” with food, blogging and sleep :)

          Rather than strive for balance, I approach life as seasonal. There are times when I am all about one thing, and then something changes and I tend to another area. It works and it’s much more satisfying than trying to have a little piece of everything all the time. I eat the same way, too. When I am nursing I eat MASSIVE amounts of healthy fats (cheese, milk, olive oil, etc) and protein. It’s not anywhere near balanced, but it’s exactly what my body needs. It may not be balanced, but it’s nourishing. Maybe “The Nourished Life” should be my motto.

  3. Heather says:

    Jennifer – So much of your story is my own. My university had a Starbucks on campus that was FREE for residents. That’s right, it was part of the meal plan we purchased. How could I resist? Like you, I was in a demanding academic program and I wanted to excel, so I amped myself up on lattes until my hands shook while I tried to fill in answers during final exams.

    I loved that coffee house. It was my social hub, and met so many different needs (alertness, community, comfort). However, I realize now that it took my already declining health and ran it into the ground. Adrenal burnout, nutrient depletion, and anxiety were the hallmarks of those years.

    By the time I got married my health had failed almost completely, and I had to take a step back and examine how my choices affected my body. I slowly began to wean myself off caffeine and processed foods, replacing them with real, wholesome alternatives. These days a cup of green tea or chocolate is a rare treat, and while I still love coffee houses, I’m okay with sipping an herbal tea while enjoying the ambiance :)

    Giving up daily caffeine required a lot sacrifice, especially in the area of admitting my limitations. I am not superwoman. I cannot accomplish a bazillion things in one afternoon without my caffeine buzz. My life has had to take on a slower, more laid-back pace, which is difficult for my personality to accept. But it has been worth it. My body has become so much more resilient. Over the last three and a half years I have successfully sustained two healthy pregnancies and nursed for 32 months straight without completely burning out! It has been an amazing experience to see what my body can do when I treat it right.

    • Jennifer C. says:

      Heather, I totally agree. Admitting that I could not and could never be Superwoman was a hard place to come to for me. I just loved the caffeine-powered feeling of crossing 10,341 things off my list in a single afternoon! ;) Honestly, I still don’t care for naps because I just don’t like being still and doing nothing. But my body loves them, and needs them, so….sigh. :) I take them.

      And yes, life is definitely seasonal. How freeing that is, when I realize, in the midst of whatever situation, that it won’t be that way forever. My sister, who is pregnant with twins, and has her hubby gone in Air Force Pararescue training, can confirm that she is definitely grateful this is just for a season, too! She does what she can, and then rests and looks forward to the day when he will be back in town to help her.

      I am reminded of the verse in Ecclesiastes where Solomon says that God makes everything beautiful in His time. I think that’s what all of us want…the beauty of God’s plan and timing for every season. Balance would just flow out of that as a natural by-product.

  4. Esther says:

    Jennifer, I really enjoyed reading about your journey to a rewarding place of health and wellness. Life seems like such an exchange: small choices which eventually add up to make a huge difference in a positive or negative way. So glad you were able to share this via Mommypotamus; I’m motivated and encouraged to stay on the right track and find full healing as well.

  5. Laurel Larsen Stokes says:

    Great article. Though I’m now a grand mommypotamous, I have abused my body for many years with crazy shift work and caffiene. (try being a flight nurse and needing to fly 24 + hour straight!) Just realizing the role my need for control had to do with it all. I think it was a blessing to be laid off from my last RN job. I think I have been sleeping for almost 8 months straight. Time to bring balance to my life and family and what strengths I have to offer and teach. I love the Mommypotamous site for so many ideas that I can share with others as an RN/Healer/Lactation consutlant, etc. Just caught up with the DE information. The last I studied DE was when I was digging up our front yard to put in raised vegetable beds back in the 70′s!
    LOL! Keep up the great research and information!

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