Paul Cantor
Oct 1, 2016 · 5 min read

Sitting awake in a London hotel room, I’m wondering if caffeine withdrawal is as bad as the kind you get trying to quit heroin. I’ve never quit heroin — or even done it — so I’m hardly the person to answer that question factually.

I woke up around 5 AM with a headache that could be described as something like sliding under a sumo wrestler’s backside and letting him squat down on my face. Which is painful thinking about for reasons beyond the weight.

After a long day of travel, which saw me leave New York Thursday at 10:30 PM on an overnight flight and finally arrive at the hotel, in Mayfair, Friday, around noon, I’d last had a cup of coffee some time around noon on Thursday, back in New York (it’s Saturday now, if that was at all unclear).

I am not an overly-caffeinated person, nor am I the type who fusses over coffee origin, brew method, or any of those fancy first world problems. Though I know some coffee is better than others, I am perfectly okay with mine being made in a cheap drip coffee maker, or even worse, purchased from a 7–Eleven. In fact, I’d even argue that the best coffee in New York is the kind you get from the little stands that sell donuts and bagels, and costs a dollar. But let’s not split hairs or be one of those annoying people who talks too much about coffee.

I merely say that to say, I do not drink much coffee. If I am anything, I am a man of routine, and for the past 8 years, I have awakened and done the same thing every day — eaten one bowl of cereal and drank one, 12 oz. cup of coffee, which I brew myself, in a Mr. Coffee coffeemaker I bought for I think 10 dollars.

Now, this routine occasionally changes.

During an average day, I may have a second cup of coffee. But it isn’t often.

In the course of a year, perhaps there are 15–20 days total in which I have more than one cup of coffee.

There are reasons why I try to limit how much coffee I drink, the main one being that I believe caffeine is just not very good for you. The way it affects mood, focus, energy — caffeine consumption can potentially be blamed for any number of the psychological problems that ail people.

But everyone reacts to things differently: for me, too much coffee —more than a cup — gets me more wired than I’m comfortable with. Should I need to feel more alert, more vibrant, more aware, I think I should probably get more sleep. Coffee is like a band-aid on bad habits — particularly overworking and not sleeping enough.

Which is how I believe I ended up with this headache, this withdrawal, this painful withdrawal, which had me considering whether I might want to check into a hospital, for fear of needing the kind of painkiller you can’t buy over the counter in a corner store.

In the days preceding my departure, I’d been working like a madman, trying to finish something that had been on my plate for months. While I initially thought I could get it done slowly and methodically, it just wasn’t happening.

So, I engaged in what I consider to be a manic, four day marathon of work, whereby for that entire period of time — 96 hours — I mostly sat in front of my computer and worked, taking periodic breaks to go to the gym and, when possible, sneak in a few hours of sleep.

In truth, I was laying my head to bed around 6–7 in the morning, waking again around 10–11 A.M., then continuing on like that. This is a schedule I have, periodically, at other points in my life, found no problems keeping. But these days, being a bit older and perhaps thus a little less vampiric, it isn’t often that I’m on a schedule like that.

So, when I arrived for my flight on Thursday night, I figured I might find it easy enough to fall asleep on the plane, what with not having slept much in the days leading up to it.

Tired as I was though, fall asleep I could not. No matter how long I closed my eyes, how hard I pushed that little airplane pillow into the window, nothing could get me to dose off.

Now, I know what you are thinking, you genius you, that I should have taken one of those over the counter sleep aids they sell in the airport, perhaps a little melatonin. And maybe you are correct. But I reasoned that as tired as I already was, adding something such as that might have made me more groggy than sleepy, because though sleep aids help you with drowsiness, they do not always help you actually fall asleep.

And so I spent the entire 6-hour plane ride awake, trying to not bother my seatmate, who was fast asleep, but failing to do so, because I needed to go to the bathroom every 15 minutes.

I was so tired that I could not watch a movie or read or do much of anything, except think about how badly I wanted to sleep and could not.

When I arrived in London, I took the Underground to a station near my hotel, checked in, went to my room, lowered the window shades and fell asleep for 7 hours.

When I awakened, I went to dinner at a posh little Indian place nearby, Gymkhana, which I’d never heard of, but came to learn later has a Michelin Star (not that it really means anything).

It was a delightful meal, during which I’d drank two glasses of whiskey from an Indian brand called Amrut. Now I am even less fussy about whiskey than I am coffee — Jack Daniels is more than good enough for me — but this whiskey, this was some very good stuff.

Upon returning to the hotel, I Googled the restaurant and read an interesting review about how its decor was meant to remind patrons of a time before India’s independence, when it was under British rule, and thinking back on all the white people eating there — myself included — I felt a little conflicted, but also maybe a little too tired to think that long and hard about it.

I put my phone down and quickly fell asleep.

When I woke up, five hours later, I did feel that headache, that nausea, that inability to think clearly about anything. I thought: this is either a dreadful hangover or caffeine withdrawal is happening.

I figured that should I be afflicted with either malady, some Advil would help, but after 4 of them, and an hour tossing in bed, wondering if maybe jumping out the window would alleviate the pain, I could not even muster up the energy to dial room service.

When, after thirty more minutes, I was finally able to do so, the coffee arrived and I drank it like slowly, fiendishly, like a junkie who’d just gotten his/her hands on some of the finest, purest dope this side of the Mexican border.

Within seconds, the withdrawal symptoms faded, which allowed me to write this pointless, self-serving drivel here. So I guess coffee is good for at least one thing after all.

No but seriously, coffee is great — I just can’t get over how insane the withdrawal effects are. Debilitating!

The Cantor Chronicles

Essays, opinion and stories about everyday living.

Paul Cantor

Written by

Wrote for the New York Times, New York Magazine, Esquire, Rolling Stone, Vice, Fader, Vibe, XXL, MTV News, many other places.

The Cantor Chronicles

Essays, opinion and stories about everyday living.

Paul Cantor

Written by

Wrote for the New York Times, New York Magazine, Esquire, Rolling Stone, Vice, Fader, Vibe, XXL, MTV News, many other places.

The Cantor Chronicles

Essays, opinion and stories about everyday living.

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