To the Barista Whose Carelessness Had a Huge Impact on My Bipolar Disorder

Dear Barista,

You probably don’t remember me. You probably haven’t given me much thought since you swiped my card and handed over my beverage. But I remember you. And I think about you. A lot.

Our initial interaction was about as benign as one could expect. I ordered a large decaf latte with a splash of sugar-free caramel; a lovely treat while I sat at the high communal table with my writer friends, chatting and cranking out a few pages. When you handed the coffee to me, I asked out of overwhelming paranoia, “It’s decaf, right?”

You hesitated at my decaf question and then said, “Yes, of course.” I assumed you were giving me the “come on lady, you’ve already said decaf at least three times” look. I assumed that you were taking a breath so you could answer politely instead of snapping at my mistrust. But you weren’t, were you? You hesitated because you didn’t know, and it was late, and there was a line, and you probably had some side work to do, and there was a 50-50 chance it was actually decaf, and really, how big of a deal could it be anyway?

Big. Huge.

Let me tell you, I had a stellar writing session. The ideas were flowing, the dialogue was snappy. I was pleased with the burst of inspiration, happy with the particularly punchy chit chat amongst friends. It was awesome! But that is not awesome, because the energy would not stop there. You know where this is going now, right? Yeah, it wasn’t decaf.

By the time I got home, I was keyed up, jittery, giving my husband the play by play in rapid, tumbling sentences. By bedtime, I was still revving high, thinking it was inspiration that continued to flow through my veins. I would just straighten my office really quickly before I crashed. Let the energy burn itself out. At midnight I went to bed, limbs still jerking. It was then I knew.

By 1 a.m. I lay in bed, tossing and turning and twisting myself in the covers, knowing I had to get some rest before my 4-month-old would be waking up for the day; knowing her nap strike was likely to continue and there would be no catching up for me. 3 a.m. and I was in tears, exhausted, frustrated, desperately needing to sleep as thoughts spun so fast in my head that I couldn’t hold on to them, calculating over and over just how little sleep I would get. 4 a.m. and I started writing this letter.

Tomorrow is not going to be pretty for me. In fact, it will be at least a week before I’m settled back into my calm, functional head space, and that’s if this night only triggers a minor mood swing. If this blows up into full mania, which caffeine plus an entire night of no sleep plus the ongoing erratic sleep of having a young child can definitely trigger, it could be weeks or months before I’m fully back to myself.

I love coffee. Many people use it for the caffeine boost or to pep themselves up, but for me, it is a calming ritual — the warmth, the sweet earthiness, the physical shape I can wrap my fidgety hands around in public. It soothes me. It gives me something to do when I get uncomfortable that is completely normal and expected. Yes, I know the risks, which is why I am very clear when I order (annoyingly clear, in fact), and it’s why I always ask again when the drink is handed to me: “It’s decaf, right?”

It doesn’t seem like much, I know. My husband can drink caffeine on the stairs up to bed and still fall fast asleep in minutes. Even for the people I know who are more sensitive, an accidental caffeine ingestion can mean extra minutes or an hour or two of restlessness. But for me, caffeine can be downright dangerous.

Please share this with your coworkers. I want them to know how tiny actions can have huge impacts on another person’s well-being. It’s very hard for me knowing that my next few days (or weeks) are going to be exceptionally difficult. Sometimes that’s life with bipolar disorder. But in this case? In this case, I will think of you when I struggle to get out of bed, when my thoughts are racing, when I can’t settle. I’ll think of you when I’m fighting to put on a smiling, singing face for my daughter. And when I run off to cry as soon as daddy gets home.

Knowing the next few days or weeks will be a fight is brutal and disheartening. Even more so because I know this could have easily been prevented.


Decaf Coffee Lover

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