Running on Empty

My very first hit of Extra Strength 5-Hour Energy came around 7 a.m. in late November of my freshman year, ...

My very first hit of Extra Strength 5-Hour Energy came around 7 a.m. in late November of my freshman year, just as the first rays of sun penetrated the windows on the third floor of Lamont Library. Six other souls from my Expos class and I had been camping out in the reading room since 8 p.m. the night before, our stay punctuated only by a short break around 1 a.m. to refuel on greasy chicken fingers and crab rangoons. Two paragraphs shy of being done and four hours away from the deadline, I needed a boost to see me through to the finish line.

Hours later in class, my Expos preceptor pried the empty plastic vial from my fingers. To this day, I’m still suspicious that it was the sound of the heavy pumping of my heart, revving on overdrive from that self-induced adrenaline rush, that tipped her off.

“Your hands are shaking, you know,” she noted, reading off the ingredients label, “Probably from the 8333% daily value of vitamin B-12 you just shot into your system.”

I should have known that there was something inherently wrong about being carded to buy a drink that bears a label warning users to limit their daily intake to two. But I was young, I was overwhelmed, and God, I was tired of being tired.

My tumultuous relationship with caffeine started off innocently enough. After an upperclassman made a snide comment on how I was nodding off during the second week of classes, I was shamed into finding a solution to combat fatigue that I thought was the by-product of my adjustment period to college life. I began with Earl Grey tea, then a daily dose of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, always a medium order with three creams and four sugars mixed in. I was soon making religious midnight runs with floormates to Au Bon Pain for extra-large cups of stale hazelnut coffee to tide me over ’til morning after a cup-a-night just wasn’t cutting it. When I began falling asleep in section with my Styrofoam coffee cup in hand, I started adhering to a ritual breakfast of Rice-Krispies squares and  a lukewarm can of Red Bull.

When I had graduated to daily doses of 5-Hour Energy, I was convinced that I had stumbled across some new ambrosia. For $3.25 a bottle plus tax, my mortal self no longer had to succumb to the limiting reagent of sleep. A day’s sleep for me was reduced to the length of naps, if I even chose to sleep at all. All the while, I still had the energy to catch up on all my readings, complete problem sets early, make it to office hours, participate in six or seven different organizations on campus, and I still had hours to spare for weekend socializing and cultivating mint-condition freshman-year friendships. I was living proof that, in spite of warnings of overcommiting, there was a way to have my [coffee] cake and eat it too.

I became so fond of caffeinated beverages that I even took on a part-time job at a café for the perks of free coffee and Red Bulls. My addiction was so infamous that, for my 18th birthday, friends showered me with an 18-pack of 5-Hour and can-after-can of Monster and Amp. Romance for me was a 9 p.m. run to Café Pamplona to refuel on a doubleshot of espresso.

By the tail end of second semester freshman year, I no longer flushed after downing a 5-Hour; my hands no longer twitched and shook. The side effects had disappeared, but so had the guaranteed energy boosts. Even with a Red Bull, I still found myself showing up late to every 9 a.m. class. I was falling asleep in lecture halls again, even though I had my neighbors jab me in the arm with pencils every time I nodded off. Meals became dine-and-dash opportunities instead of sit-down occasions for socializing. I was quickly falling behind in courses because I couldn’t remember a word of what I had read in my caffeine-intoxicated state of mind.

The wake-up call jolting me out of my self-induced insomnia came during my Chinese midterm that spring. Having slept for three hours the night before, I had routinely downed another 5-Hour, certain it would pull me through the exam as it always had. I let my eyes close for what I could have sworn was a few seconds as the professor transitioned between Part A and Part B of the exam. When I opened them, she had just finished reciting a dialogue, and I had completely missed Part B. I totally flunked that entire portion of the test.

Moving out of the Yard freshman year, I threw away every last 5-Hour and Red Bull that I had stashed around my room. Sophomore year, I severed my resume in half, I aimed for a balanced course load instead of a formidable one. Most importantly, I made it a point to ensure that I was sleeping at least six hours a night. Routine replaced caffeine.

This past May marked the yearlong anniversary of my last 5-Hour. It’s an ongoing struggle; around 3 a.m. on particularly depressing nights, a part of me is tempted to head to Tommy’s and give in. But I ain’t got the time for rehab.

—Anna M. Yeung ’12 is a social studies concentrator in Winthrop House. She sympathizes with Amy Winehouse.