On Caffeine, Health, and Finding the Light

On Caffeine, Health, and Finding the Light



I was never really the type of student that pulled all-nighters to desperately finish an assignment at the last minute. While I did have a pretty terrible sleep schedule during my undergrad years, working an office job following graduation cured me of staying up until 3 in the morning just because. Even though I work from home now, I still get up early, partly because I want to and partly because I can’t help it anymore. Sleeping in past 8 is pretty much unheard of for me now—there’s just too much to get done.

I might be lucky to be among the few who don’t routinely stay up into the late hours of the night doing homework. I haven’t pulled an all-nighter (yet), but that soon may change. We are getting to the point in the semester where everything begins to pile up. Final term papers, final manuscripts, teaching portfolios and all of their required materials.

Thanks to my strange, new, early bird tendencies I actually get the bulk of my work done in the early morning. While some night owls are collapsing exhausted, I’m waking up and putting on a pot of tea, ready to attack my next task.

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I guess this is the perfect place to mention that, in addition to a sleep schedule that would have shocked and possibly appalled my eighteen-year-old self, I have almost completely given up coffee. And I was clenched firmly in its caffeinated claws for years. At one point I regularly drank almost a whole pot a day. Yeah, not so good. It wreaked havoc on my stomach and in time I came to realize the disadvantages of hyper-caffeination, namely in terms of being overly anxious and never, ever, ever sleeping. I used to go through foggy periods of sluggishness after the caffeine wore off, and I always wanted to nap, but that is no longer the case. I may not be HYPER AWAKE OMG LET’S DO EVERYTHING NOW GO, but I have energy and a different type of mental clarity than when I was under the spell of coffee.

A crappy coffee maker that somehow always seemed to burn my brew + grad school budget meant that going down the street for a cup every day wasn’t going to work if I couldn’t make my own. So I turned to tea and haven’t looked back. It wasn’t intentional to give up my dark and delicious friend that helped me complete many a writing task, but I am glad I have.

I’ve come to realize in the past months that one of the best things I have done (and that anyone can do to help ensure that they don’t crash and burn under the weight of grad school) is to take care of my health. That means getting an adequate amount of sleep and that means not making coffee my lifeblood. Exercise is also great if you have the time to fit that in between work, class, homework, and whatever else your schedule holds, and guess what? Columbia’s gym is free for all students, including grad students. When I have the time, I like to run along the Lake Front Trail since it’s so close to my apartment and provides some spectacular views of the city and Lake Michigan.

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Another aspect of health that perhaps doesn’t get enough airtime is mental health. Grad school is stressful, no doubt about it. And if you’re like me, coming from a completely different part of the county to attend school, moving to a new city only compounds some of the stress you feel. You miss your friends and your family and might wonder where your friends are in this new place.

Guess what? Most of us are in the same boat.

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I know others have said it before me, but my friends in the Nonfiction program have helped me get through some not-so-good days since I’ve been here. I recently had a really great conversation with a friend that helped me put things in perspective. When we act out of fear, we don’t only hurt others, we hurt ourselves. Acting in fear may mean staying up all night because you’re scared you’re going to fail, or it might mean drinking a whole pot of coffee because you’re scared to function without it. It could mean isolating yourself from the people around you because you don’t want to look foolish, you don’t think your work is good enough.

Sometimes we need each other to help pull us back up and into the light.

When we act out of love instead of fear, it doesn’t mean pretending to be everyone’s best friend or that everything is sunshine, puppies, and rainbows. It means being open to experiences, people, and perspectives. It means respecting yourself enough to recognize what you need to thrive and recognizing that your behavior has an impact on those around you, even if you think you are in this completely alone.

I’ve always been a skeptic and a pessimist and my former coffee-guzzling, sleep-deprived self would scoff at the above that I’ve just written. I suspect that former self was just scared.


Season’s first snowfall

My teaching course, Composition Theory and Praxis, has a lot of material about respect in the classroom. By modeling respect in our classroom as instructors, we can encourage a learning community based on respect that allows each student to learn and grow. By helping others, we elevate ourselves. It seems odd to confine it to JUST the classroom, right? It’s something I want to bring with me every day as I try and catch this light to help myself and those around me grow and thrive in the program and beyond.