Friday, January 23, 2009

Revive with Vivarin


I didn't drink coffee in high school, nor did I drink soda—morning joe straight through until noon, Diet Coke the rest of the day were the fuel of my mid-twenties. But I do remember a caffeine buzz in teen years nonetheless, which took the form of a product called Vivarin, which I'm pretty sure came in a yellow box (the packaging was subsequently given a face-lift) and was sold in drug stores along with a competing brand, NoDoz. Marketing for this OTC stimulant was the key to its true pronunciation: "Revive with Vivarin" . . . but for some reason, I insisted on pronouncing "Viv-" as though it rhymed with "give," a short i sound. Now that I think of it, I'm not sure if the box was yellow, or if it was just the tablets themselves; maybe both. Anyway, the pills tasted horrible, chalky and bitter. I swilled them down with orange juice and cereal for dinner once the scheduled day was done, at least once in a quantity that was close to overdose strength. I do not remember why I wanted to buzz so badly. But to clarify, I wanted only to buzz, not to have a complete anxiety-driven freakout. I remember one night, my roommate and I (recall, these were boarding school years) went on Vivarin overdrive to the gymnasium and climbed a flat-plank ladder up to a high wooden platform area (it seemed high at the time, anyway). We sat up there and talked, that's all. But the talk included what was going on inside our bodies. I remember my heart racing, and that I was starting to feel sweaty. I was probably talking fast as well. I don't remember anything else except that suddenly it was about five minutes to curfew, when we had to sign in at the front desk of our dormitory, and that right at that moment, I had the worst panic attack I had ever had. She climbed down the ladder, and when it was my turn, I just couldn't do it. I didn't feel dizzy exactly, but had this sudden bout of vertigo, like in the movie by Alfred Hitchcock, and it was as though the ladder leading down suddenly telescoped into an impossible length; the height was way too much for me to manage, and I am not (as established in earlier posts) afraid of heights. I had to get talked down by my roommate, and what I remember, other than the panic, was that my roommate truly felt like a lifeline to me then. I knew, just as I knew that we were about to be late for sign-in, that she wouldn't leave me there. I wish I could say that this was the last time I ingested a bunch of caffeine pills; it probably wasn't. What can I say? Teens are stupid that way. I do feel lucky that nothing worse than that happened—the accelerated heart rate surely was dangerous enough. In subsequent years (mid-twenties with coffee and Coke aside), I have become caffeine free, nearly one hundred percent. I do still have the occasional cup of full-strength Earl Gray, green tea, or sometimes a coffee, but it's rare. I dislike the racing heart these days. True, I often feel overextended and tired these days, and maybe sometimes I do need to revive . . . but usually a cup of decaf with a good friend—the kind of friend who'll share your excitements and also talk you down in a crisis—will do the trick just fine.

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