losing ourselves in the orange

4 Asma’ 166 B.E. (Baha’i Calendar)
Drumbeat in my head: Thievery Corporation, “The Time We Lost Our Way”

I remember one night in Chicago I looked out my window at 1 a.m. and was surprised to see that it looked almost bright enough to be daylight. The cloud cover was low, and the street lights reflected off the clouds so brightly that the sky appeared bright orange.

It wasn’t until I moved from downtown Madison to this near East Side neighborhood a year ago that I realized how much darker it is on Madison’s streets than in Chicago. I and two other Chicago transplants were the first to move into this co-op house after it had been vacated by its previous tenants, and we were taken aback by how dark it got in the house at night. In Chicago, it’s usually not too difficult to navigate around one’s apartment or house with the lights off–there’s usually enough light on the street that you can pretty much see where you’re going. We were surprised to see that this was not the case in this house–here we were at far greater risk of tripping or bumping into something. We now have LED night-lights that help us find our way around the house after we turn off the lights for the night, and I have a little flashlight on my watch which comes in handy.

Last night I went to a get-together at a friend’s apartment. She had a nice second-floor deck from which we could see twilight as the sun went down, and we could see stars as we looked up. We can see stars from our neighborhood, too. This was much more difficult in Chicago. In fact, I don’t think I remember seeing stars from my any of my apartments in Chicago. I think it’s different in Madison, because in addition to not having as many street lights, I think it helps that we are on a mile-wide isthmus sandwiched between two three-mile wide lakes.

But even here, the light pollution obscures most of the stars. I remember on a camping trip as a child, we were taken aback by the incredible number of stars in the sky, and I could see for the first time how the ancients were able to make out not only The Big Dipper and Little Dipper, but constellations like Aries or Aquarius. I would not be quick to argue that we should turn off all our street lights, but what are we losing when, on a day to day basis, most of we can’t see anywhere near as many stars as the ancients did?

confessions of someone who used to party like a rockstar

8 Kamal 166 B.E.
Soundtrack in my head: J Boogie, “Do What You Love”

I am embarrassed to admit this, but until recently, I was addicted to energy drinks.

I first encountered these energy beverages in 2004, a time when I was driving frequently between Chicago and Madison.  My return trips were sometimes kind of late at night–10:30, 11:30 p.m. and there were many instances when I came close to falling asleep at the wheel. At such times, even coffee was insufficient to keep me safely awake. One such late night, I went into a gas station off the interstate desperate for something to keep me conscious and that’s when I encountered sugar-free Rockstar. It was remarkably effective, and I was surprised and pleased at the level of alertness I felt for the remainder of the drive.

Later, this late-night driving staple began to creep into my workplace. Starting in 2005, I began to have some difficulties staying awake at work, and my supervisor caught me starting to fall asleep a couple of times. During one of those times, I was told to do “whatever it takes to stay awake.” You can guess what happened next. One can of Rockstar per day turned into two, and on some days even more.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was likely dealing with the first noticeable symptoms of sleep apnea. I don’t know how long I’ve had sleep apnea–sometimes I suspect I’ve had it most of my adult life, but the struggle with daytime sleepiness was definitely noticeable by 2005.

At some point, maybe during 2007 or 2008, I realized that the crash following the buzz was beginning to interfere with work. That’s when I began to see the advertisements for the 5-Hour Energy Supplement. This little bottle–not much bigger than a bottle of Liquid Paper–promised five hours of energy, and no crash. Well, it wouldn’t always deliver on the promise of five hours of energy, but I didn’t crash as much either.

Whether it was Rockstar (sugar-free Monster was another favorite) or 5-Hour Energy, this was turning into an expensive habit. Both the big cans and little bottles cost about $2.50 each. This amounted to $16-25 per week.

Last November, it began to become clear to me that I had sleep apnea, though I couldn’t get into a sleep study to confirm this until late February. My doctor said that my case of sleep apnea was a severe case. Certainly, things had gotten so severe, that every night was a struggle to sleep and every day was a struggle to stay awake. The amount of energy drinks and caffeine I was consuming just to stay at a functional level at work–well, I could only characterize as embarrassing. Finally, starting at the end of April, I got a CPAP machine, and within a couple of weeks, normalcy began to return to my sleep patterns.

I found myself not quite so dependent on energy drinks, yet I still found myself needing them. Finally, I talked to one of my doctors about it, and she recommended the supplement L-Tyrosine, which is one of the ingredients the 5-Hour Energy drink. She said she herself took it, though with a cup of coffee (because she said she “liked the taste of caffeine”). She also recomended vitamin B supplements, which can also be found in energy drinks. In short, she was recommending the healthiest and least problematic ingredients in such drinks.

I’ve been doing this for a month now, and I really notice a difference. I’ve cut out energy drinks from work completely. I take two capsules–1000 mg total–of L-Tyrosine in the morning. Sometimes I’ll have some caffeine along with it, sometimes I won’t. My day operates on an even keel, and I no longer feel like I’m on a stimulant roller-coaster. I’m also noticing a difference in my wallet. I was spending $15-20 per week on stimulation–but a bottle of L-Tyrosine costs me $13 and lasts six weeks–a savings of over $50 per month.

I am writing this because I know there are other people in situations similar to mine, and I thought I’d publicize what’s worked for me. Though I recommend that people see their doctor like I did. L-Tyrosine can potentially have side effects, though they haven’t affected me in any way.