Caffeine’d

Howdy,

First, a digression.

I’m going to tell you the story of what happened last Thursday night, the 17th of November. Astute calendar-watchers will observe that today is a Saturday, the 26th of November, a full nine days after the event in question. Maybe I’m getting old and disinterested in blogging, and so I don’t see a problem with such a delay in written observation as I once did, or perhaps my life is increasingly resembling a gelatinous mess of times and dates and deadlines and banterous stories that a nine-day difference is nothing to me when life is one big, chaotic to-do list to plow through.

But regardless, I am going to tell you the story of being caffeinated up to the eyeballs, so here goes.

As some of you may be aware, I don’t drink caffeine. This is in part an aspect of the Straight Edge lifestyle I lead, where I dislike the idea of being reliant on drugs to the point where I abstain from them entirely, and in part based on my own personal catastrophic experiences with alcohol, that ended with me alternating between Red Bull-fueled lectures and naps in Regent’s Park in first year. It’s been pointed out that abstinence isn’t the most mature of responses to something like this – it betrays a fundamental lack of self-control if one doesn’t trust oneself to only take something in moderation – but for the sake of my health, I avoid caffeine completely.

Until Thursday.

*dramatic music*

Due to a series of unlucky timetabling issues and my own negligence, I ended up with nine hours of Old Icelandic prose to translate for a 10am seminar on Friday. I realised this at about 2pm on Thursday. In theory this would give me ample time to complete the work: start at 2, finish at 11, go home and get a solid night’s rest, right?

Right.

I’d already had about three hours of sleep the night before, and I wasn’t free until about 5pm on the Thursday to work on the translations; so best-case scenario, I’d be working until 2am, by which point I’d have been up for 18 hours after 3 hours the night before. Not impossible, but certainly strenuous considering I’m stressed all the time and haven’t had a decent night’s sleep since September.

So I did what 15-year-old me would consider unthinkable; I broke Edge and drank caffeine.

But I don’t do things in half-measures, so instead of grabbing a coffee or nursing a can of Monster through the night, I bought two litres of Blue Bolt, the Sainsbury’s own-brand version of Red Bull, chugged it, and opened my textbook.

Obviously, caffeine is not the most mind-shattering of drugs, and I don’t expect to be presented with a Hardcore Binge Champion sash any time soon, but it was certainly a shock to the system. I simply didn’t feel tired, nor did I get bored from the work, and I spent the evening chirpily tweeting my experienced to an engrossed audience of about two people, which is two more than I can usually hope for. The nine hours passed relatively quickly and painlessly, and even when I got on the bus home the worst I experienced was a weird lightheaded-ness and an inability to string a sentence together, which is really my default state of being.

I then spent Friday with a constantly high blood sugar and slept most of Saturday, so it wasn’t all peachy.

At the end of the day though, I used caffeine without wrecking my health, which is a huge step forward. It might be an uncharacteristically clinical approach to dismiss it as s purely mechanical force, something akin to an ankle brace strapped to a foot for a few hours for a game, then peeled away at the final whistle to let normal humanity return, but it’s a pretty solid metaphor in all honesty. I might break Edge again over summer for my exams, or even over Christmas to get my dissertation finished, because I’m at the stage in my life where idyllic lifestyles are less important than getting shit done: I have a degree to do, which will get me a job, which will pay for my rent and food, which will allow me to actually live.

But I won’t make a habit of it; I didn’t get to bed until about 4am that Friday morning.

Changing priorities

Good evening,

I’m not interested in academia any more.

Call my year six teacher, call my Sixth Form head of year, call the ambulance, the coast guard, even the careers adviser.

Because I don’t want to do academia any more.

Okay, knowingly-exaggerated introductions aside, there is a point here. It’s not that I’ve developed a sudden loathing for trawling through books and comparing Chaucerian metaphors, simply that other pursuits have emerged in my life that I am more interested in. I’ll still be that guy slaving away over Old English translations in the depths of February, musing that, indeed, oft him anhaga are gebideð, and I’ll honestly enjoy my final year of pottering about with books for the sake of achieving an almost completely arbitrary numerical judgement on the quality of said pottering. But there’s more to life than that.

And, most tragically for 14-year-old me, who sought never to deviate from the singular path of academic endeavour, some of these new things aren’t even that, whisper it, employable. My main passions are those related to administration: the running of university societies, the management of my magazine, that kind of thing. Other passions include sports, which have finally taken over a large part of my life after being relegated to the realm of hobby in the past, like a hungry tramp gazing through the windows of an affluent family, starving and alone, which was not coincidentally my response to asking people for a game of footy, only to be literally sidelined when it emerged I couldn’t kick a ball.

One particularly unacademic passion I’ve found of late is my friends. And, at the risk of sounding like a YuGiOh character, my relationships with the people around me are becoming key parts of my life, and things that I build whole events around, rather than a background thing that just kinda happens as I pursue more rigorous bookworming. I wonder what people will think of certain outfits, of how I can attend separate and simultaneous events so as not to upset anyone, and look forward with great anticipation to the next time I can meet someone for lunch or do core workouts with them in the park. This latter passion is also bound up in gender in a way that the others aren’t, and gender itself could be considered a new passion of mine, an active interest in the way I present myself to others and the regard in which I hold myself, instead of the older, more passive approach of identity only happening by accident, and in retrospect.

What this does mean, however, is that my future is even muddier than it was before. What Do You Do With An English Degree? is a question as old as the degree itself and one, ironically, warranting a whole book to be written on the subject that, yet more ironically, will inevitably not sell well enough to secure its writer consistent income. I can’t really turn ‘I care about my friends and like chatting to them about nail polish’ into a career, even with my not underwhelming spin-doctoring abilities.

But I kinda signed up for that. I intentionally stayed away from degrees that offered direct paths to employment – Law being the big one – because I expected my life to diversify and expand once I reached university, and wanted to keep my options open. I can’t say I expected everything from my name and pronouns to change, but they did, and I’m happier now than I’ve been before.

It’s just been hard to admit that academia is no longer my primary goal. My actions have long suggested this – pulling all-nighters to finish dodgeball posters is not the same as pulling all-nighters to finish an essay – but it’s the difference between being addicted to a substance and admitting you’re addicted. Now I’m admitting my addiction to … things I genuinely am passionate about?

At that point the metaphor breaks down.

And I can’t say I’m addicted too much; I’ve got a Straight Edge lifestyle to preserve.

Today was weird

Hello again,

Apologies for the radio silence. For nine days I’ve not written on here, nine whole days! 17-year-old me is freaking out and churning out crappy posts during free periods as a kind of bloggy penitence.

But I am no longer 17-year-old me, and so things are different. The main difference is that I respect and respond to the importance of my own mental health; because, surprise, surprise, the last week or so hasn’t been great from a mental health perspective.

By the end of last week I was stressed and exhausted, fresh off my first fortnight of exam revision that was tinged with the oh-so-comforting hue of ‘do I really want to do these exams?’, a rainbow-shattering tone that both stresses me out and makes it harder for me to get work done. At least we can give it credit for engineering such a catastrophic combination of two worst-case scenarios at once, like finding out the local Nisa is out of both blackcurrant and strawberry Ribena.

Then the weekend was stressful, partially because I took a day off and breaks have never sat well with me; missed blogging days used to stress me out, then skipping a day of revision scared me, and now not getting out six Game Shelf articles a week sends me into a maelstrom of logistical panic. Then I cleverly decided to embark upon three consecutive days of socialising, which may be completely normal for most people, but for myself, as someone with more social and physical insecurities than hairs on their body, this was an issue. It’s always weird, as I’ll see people who are important to me, then get exhausted and nervous around them, so when I get home and the day hasn’t gone absolutely perfectly, I toss and turn in bed, fearful that I’ve ruined my one chance to see that person, or present the best side of me. This is a hangover from my younger years, when I would literally ‘socialise’ with peers about twice a year, so there was an obscene amount of pressure to not be miserable or boring or quiet on those days; my social calendar is nowhere near as barren these days, of course, but it’s a hard feeling to shake.

So I woke up today – Wednesday, after my Herculean streak of seeing people I like – at about nine. Then, I felt sad. So I watched some LPs, shot the shit with a few friends, then went back to sleep. I woke up at noon and repeated. Then I woke up at four. Then I woke up at six, had a small moment of dysphoria (nothing says ‘I don’t feel feminine today’ as clearly as putting on a skirt and immediately wanting to impale yourself on a fish-hook) and crawled out of bed to get food.

I was okay from that point. I wasn’t productive or particularly alert – I played Madden and Spore, and watched more LPs – but I was awake. I was out of bed, and dressed, and I’d eaten.

It’d be easy for me to dismiss today as wholly unproductive and, should I get a terrible mark in a few months, I probably will. But it’s unproductive in a strictly academic sense, while being totally vital in a personal sense. I’ve spent years bottling up mental weaknesses to power through learning yet more French vocab or sourcing yet another obscure Yeats critic, and while it worked in the short term (suck on my grades, bitch!), I’d attribute the overwhelming majority of my recent mental troubles to that approach. I felt sad often, but wouldn’t take a day off; I’d question whether continuing to be alive would be the best option, but ignore that to question what Steinbeck really meant by that ending.

And here I am. I have a CV people would kill for but am an incoherent, terrified mess of a person behind it. I know more about the mind of the narrator in the Book of the Duchess than I do about my own head. My magazine is more carefully-organised than my daily routine.

Grades are important, but my health is of literal life-and-death importance.

So here I am, writing a blog post at 2am. I probably won’t get up until noon tomorrow, and almost certainly won’t open my copy of the Riverside Chaucer. The first step is to have a day where I wake up, and conclude that it would be worth it to wake up.