Wed | Aug 23, 2017

Just when you thought it was safe

Published:Saturday | October 17, 2015 | 10:00 AMTony Deyal, Contributor

One of the most famous movie taglines came from the film Jaws 2. The first movie in the series, the one that contributed considerably to the reputation of Stephen Spielberg, Jaws, was released in 1975 and immediately became the biggest summer blockbuster until Star Wars came along and had the force with it. The matter-of-fact 'ad-lib' or improvisation by actor Roy Scheider who plays the police chief in the movie, "We're gonna need a bigger boat", is fifth on the list of the top 100 movie moments. So what did author Peter Benchley do as an encore for the sequel Jaws 2? He created perhaps the most famous tagline in movie history, "Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water ...".

I thought about the much parodied "Just when you thought it was safe ...". when I saw an article that said "High caffeine use is linked to psychotic symptoms." I started drinking coffee a long time ago in a galaxy far away. I can still remember my grandfather's house in a little village in South Trinidad where every morning I would sit in what we called the "gallery" or verandah of the house and watch my grandmother prepare the many different teas - cocoa, green, coffee, and Milo.

There was no talk in those days about caffeine being bad for you. In any case, with all the milk and sugar, the taste was not as important as it is today. No barista making patterns of the swirls in my cappuccino. You had to be early to grab your breakfast before the other children finished the food. No "better latte than never" then. My grandma boiled the hell out of the coffee, strained it, mixed it and I drank it to keep my piece of roti or hops bread from choking me to death and then headed outside to play with my many cousins. Guilt, if it ever existed, was not something I remember, certainly not over the coffee. It might have been when one of my cousins and I raided my grandfather's stock of DANO canned luncheon meat which he kept especially for his prized hunting dogs, but that is another story.

Until I went to Canada in the early seventies, my coffee was a concoction of Nescafe, Caroni brown sugar and Frico powdered milk sometimes with Crix crackers soaking in it. No supplies were more vital than that. During the week, having to get up at 4.30 in the morning to walk across the dew-laden savannah, my shoes and socks wet, hustling to catch the 5.30 a.m. bus to go to school, the coffee provided some heat and released some energy which I was unaware of at the time. Caffeine was not on the list of products to avoid. Bad dogs were.

 

Coffee in Canada

It was not an issue when I went to Canada and studied in Ottawa, a city that is possibly the coldest capital in the world. There, coffee was a necessity, a lifesaver even. I would have a cup, leave my rented apartment shivering despite the many layers of clothing, walk about two blocks, have a coffee at a friend's home before the other two blocks to catch the shuttlebus to school and then immediately upon arrival, have another coffee before going to class. Each class was punctuated by cups of coffee and the return to my apartment was celebrated with it. No more milk and sugar for me. I became and continue to be a black coffee drinker. I was unaware at the time about the psychotic symptoms although some of my friends there would nod wisely now and say in hindsight, "That explains it ...".

Just to get some perspective, I explored the jungle of the terminology of the mind's states and illnesses to see exactly what is meant by "psychotic". One writer tried an explanation, "A neurotic is a man who builds a castle in the air. A psychotic is the man who lives in it. A psychiatrist is the man who collects the rent." Another said, "Doubt is to certainty as neurosis is to psychosis. The neurotic is in doubt and has fears about persons and things; the psychotic has convictions and makes claims about them. In short, the neurotic has problems, the psychotic has solutions." This does not really solve the problem of determining whether my still continuing love affair with coffee is as bad as the research says it is. Is it really a Freudian sip?

What the Australian team at Melbourne's La Trobe University found is that high coffee use combined with stress can cause people to exhibit psychotic symptoms such as hallucinations and delusions. They discovered that around five coffees, or the equivalent of 200 mg of caffeine, may be enough to tip people over the edge and cause psychotic-like symptoms. The head of the team, Professor Simon Crowe, said that people who are highly stressed and who are prone to high-level caffeine use are more likely to report phenomena like hearing things that aren't necessarily there.

It is just around 5.30 am as I sit in my living room researching and writing this article. I am under heavy deadline pressure. I just had a huge cup of hot, black, thick and strong Kenyan AA coffee. It was so thick that I bent the handle of the spoon and had to use an electric mixer to stir it. The dog is barking ... or is it?

- Tony Deyal was last seen saying that a psychotic told Sigmund Freud, "I feel like a pack of cards." The busy Freud replied, "I'll deal with you later."