Cold Turkey, Day Twelve

There comes a time in every woman’s life when she knuckles buckles down and says goodbye to diet Coke.  Actually, numerous times, but I’ll stick with it stick this time. Honestly.

The first time I can remember ‘quitting’ diet Coke was eight years into the passionate phase of the love affair and roughly fifteen years after we’d first met. Shortly before Christmas 2004, I found myself down on an Antarctic research station that, due to an extensive carpet of sea ice around the continent, hadn’t yet been restocked for the season (not just with diet Coke, to be clear, although, for me, this was all that really mattered).

At first I tried to chalk the weird, horrible headache accompanied by the sense that my eyeballs were exploding and my brain cells were leaking, up to the shock of the very dry very cold or the continuous daylight or the literally blistering levels of UV down that far south thanks to the ozone hole.  But deep down inside I knew it was just that the only cola left within literally thousands of miles of me was the full fat variety and that didn’t help at all (I know because I tried). Neither did slugging down aspartame-containing Crystal Light mixed with carbonate mineral water in between cups of thick black tea.

To sum that experience up: how pathetic am I? Most people I know who have Antarctic stories (back when I had a life, I ran in those sorts of scientific circles) say things like – and then there was that time that I got stuck in a pyramid tent for ten days during a blizzard near the South Pole, or every time we sledged out to the shore to collect water samples, I nearly fell down a crevasse. But my great big Antarctic adventure was a nine-day diet Coke headache.

And that was back in my one-can-a-day days and either a 1.5-L bottle or nothing at all on the weekends. It’s almost adorable how back then I sometimes couldn’t even finish a can of diet Coke, especially if it wasn’t poured over ice cubes.

These days (because I’m sure I still could), I can down an entire 1-L bottle in one brief sitting and feel lost for the rest of the day because the one rule I can (usually) stick to is that after one liter I’m not allowed to have any more. At my peak, a 3-L day was not unheard of (much to the chagrin of my gastrointestinal track, which has not yet found it in its heart to forgive me, although it has at least stopped waking me up at 2 in the morning with terrible pain).

The last time I quit was about a year ago.  I was so ill anyway at the time, the quitting symptoms got lost in the noise of my general malaise.  I’d also upped my tea consumption to through the roof, so at least I was getting enough caffeine.  But then, in early December, I had a few days where I simply thought I was dying.  If fact, actually dying would have been a relief, I felt so terrible.  I couldn’t take in enough air to fuel even the slightest of exertions (like walking up one short flight of stairs) and my heart was working so hard even when I was sitting still and I was freezing, freezing, freezing cold all the time (and suffering from a major outbreak of chilblains) and I was so incredibly, unbelievable, incomprehensibly fatigued.  The most obvious answer was that my heart was failing, but I actually know what that feels like, and this was different.

Then my iconoclast neighbor, the one who had most of her stomach removed a couple of years ago and lost more body weight than I own even after 23+ years of drinking diet Coke, came over for a chat.  She’d gone to the doctor because she had no energy at all and that just wasn’t like her and her doctor ordered her to take every vitamin and mineral there is at maximum dose, every day for the rest of her life, because she’d become deficient in everything and was also now anemic.  And BOOM!  It hit me.  SO WAS I.  Because, duh.  Things like the tannins in tea block the absorption of iron.

HAHAHAHAHA.  Just like some of the phytoplankton I used to study way back when, I’d managed to drive myself into iron limitation.  (Seriously, I found this intensely funny at the time, even in the midst of my misery.  Also, I now really feel like I owe those phytoplankton an apology.)

So that was carte blanche not just to buy iron pills and start sweetening my oats with black strap molasses, but to resume swilling diet Coke.  Because what a message from the cosmos.  The switch to anti-oxidant-rich, much more reasonably pH’d tea had struck me down with anemia and made me want to die.  Wthin short order I was blissfully back at my at least a liter a day and life was good again (at least after a few weeks of taking iron pills).

But now I feel the time has truly come to STOP DRINKING DIET COKE.  At least for a while and never again more than once a week or two.  I will just have to be careful not to drink too much tea and try to avoid drinking any at all within an hour and a half of my more iron-rich meals (which, in my life, is any containing oats, nuts, or legumes).

This time, I found the headache wasn’t as much of a thing as that horrible first time.  But the first two days of this quit were HELL.  Not headachey, but just AWFUL.  Cold sweats, racing heart, and mental and physical exhaustion to the point where I went to bed at 7pm because I couldn’t cope with anyone or anything, no matter how minor.

But then, after 72 hours, everything was fine…. until Day Ten or Eleven.  That’s when the brain cell leaking began (but without the exploding eyeballs and horrible headache).  I hope this stops soon.  It’s unpleasant and the worst part is, I know that all it would take to make it go away is one glass of diet Coke… followed by all the others… and then I’ll have to quit all over again. Again.

Even my stomach, whoch should be grateful I am no longer studiously working on dissolving it, is complaining.  Eh?!  (Shakes fist.) What’s this?!  I have to make my own acid?!

But I shall bravely soldier on and let my gut become recolonized by all the beautiful, beneficial bacteria that 23 years of swilling diet Coke drove to extinction, at least locally, within me.  Meanwhile, maybe my bones will magically recalcify.  And, best yet, perhaps my sweat will stop stinking of phenylalanine.

The internet says it takes 2-6 weeks to get over diet Coke (the feeling like crap part at least; is anyone ever truly over their one true love?).  But I’m still at the point where I read those articles and wonder, through my misery, why nobody blogs about quitting diet Pepsi.  Except that I don’t really wonder that.  Who dreams of diet Pepsi????   In this life, diet Coke is queen (although, shhh…. I have to confess, I was starting to crush on Coke Zero there at the end).

Wish me luck.

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