Freshman year of college I had trouble staying awake in my classes, and mechanical engineering required a lot of attention. My roommate stayed up late most nights playing video games with the sound on while I tried, and failed, to fall asleep.
My head would nod in classes and the comfy, movie theater-style seating in Intro to Mechanical Engineering didn’t help. Then again, the plastic chairs and hard tables in Microeconomics (my best class btw) didn’t help either.
One day, I griped to my father about how I was having trouble getting out of bed in the morning and staying awake through classes. My attendance was perfect, but my grades were suffering. He told me about how he had once tried a Five Hour Energy shot. It gave him jitters for a while, but he got through the rest of his 10 hour work day.
I decided to give it a try and found a knockoff brand. It was something like “7 Hour Fuel” and tasted awful. Not the kind of horrible tasting shots I thought I had pictured doing in college.
I vividly remember the morning I lost my energy shot virginity. The walk of shame to my 8 A.M. Pre-Calc/Calculus combo class was astounding. The colors of the morning sky and the palm trees never looked brighter. My heart raced with new-found excitement and caffeine.
Calculus finally started to make sense and I couldn’t help but think that it was the caffeine that made it click.
Maybe I could have done it with a better sleep on a regular basis, but I also felt hyper-focused on everything I did.
Fast forward a year and I had transferred both schools and majors, and started my energy drink-fueled Rocky-style montage of crazy late night paper-writing. I did some of my best work at 3 A.M. I kept taking those energy shots, the expensive name brand Five Hour Energy ones, all through grad school and into working life.
I try to hide it from my loved ones, but I know they know that I know that they know about it. It’s an expensive habit that I’m paying for with my health, wealth, and pride. It hurts. It’s an addiction that I have tried and failed to break time and time again. Something always comes up to give me an excuse to put in extra effort, to produce three hours’ worth of work in one hour or less. I’m a drug addict, but caffeine is socially acceptable and widely celebrated, so there isn’t a support group for tired people who lack motivation.
My best attempt to quit cold turkey was in grad school, while reading a book called Against the Grain, about rebellious, small, and independent book publishers and their battles to make a difference. I was inspired, and fought off the migraines, knowing it would pay off in the long-run. That was until I encountered my old nemesis, my Ivan Drago, the monster that tried to kill me in the ring every time I tried to kick my addiction; an essay with a huge minimum page count.
Fast forward again, I’m still a junkie, but I have a real chance at going clean coming up. At the end of the year, my office shuts down for 10 days. It’s the same dates as Christmas vacation for school kids in the area.
I can be bold in my optimism because one simple truth I have clung to for the past year: I refuse to get a Ph.D.