Instant Crema.

Life Something I often mention when describing my anxiety disorder is how I can't drink grapefruit juice, alcohol or caffeine. With grapefruit, it's because it decreases the ability of the gut to process sertraline (or zoloft if you're in the US) my drug of prescription. Alcohol increases the side effects of the drug, such as drowsiness, dizziness and co-ordination problems (some of which I already suffer from). Caffeine's side effects include irregular heartbeat, chronic insomnia, loss of appetite, heart palpitations, fatigue and facial discoloration if too much is taken.  Essentially, you feel like the anxiety increases ten fold.

Caffeine is the worst omission.  Caffeine used to be my pick me up, just as it is for everyone but even before I began the tablets I realised that it was increasing the anxiety symptoms, so I stopped.  Every now and then I'd experiment with drinking some in moderation, even since I've been taking sertraline, and it never goes well, especially the withdrawal symptoms after I've realised it's not doing me any good.  There have been many half jars or bags of coffee which have gone uncompleted, sat in the cupboard on the expectation that I'll be able to go back there again only for them to be disposed of when I finally realise that there's no hope.

Which leaves me with extremely limited options in terms of liquid refreshment.  Soft drinks and fruit juices in general are tricky - too much sugar and a sugar rush can - you guess it ...  So I'm stuck with coarse tasting sugar-free options.  I'll buy a pack of caffeine-free diet coke now and it's fine, but it doesn't taste like coke  One of the most realistic elements of the Channel 4 drama National Treasure is that the protagonist's broken daughter, played Andrea Riseborough indicates that with all the drugs she's taking for her depression and anxiety, she has to "pretty much stick with water" (I'm paraphrasing).  That's an element which is often poorly illustrated in drama.

Which leaves me persevering with decaffeinated teas and coffees.  In my heart of hearts I know they're a sham.  The whole point of caffeine is the lift, the pick me up, but these substances provide neither.  At best they're a different taste in the mouth, but all the while I have to try and block out the knowledge that really they're just hot, brown water in varying degrees of bitterness.  The tea can still be refreshing.  But the coffee is usually a disappointing exercise with all the pleasure of watching a panned and scanned VHS release of the Star Wars "special" editions, the image not just having been chopped off on both sides but visually mutilated.  I mean, yes, it's Star Wars but do you really need to see it like that?

Nevertheless, caffeine free options allow me to at least feel like I'm still part of that society, to visit a coffee shop and sit with other people, enjoy the atmosphere.  Except, and I'm burying the led here, through a series of choices by the coffee companies and shops, those of us who're stuck in this predicament are quietly being discriminated against in various ways.  I appreciate that it's politically dodgy to be throwing the D word around like this, since there are people who are being D worded against much more destructively and structurally within society, but nevertheless, if you're caffeine free, you find yourself being treated differently to other coffee consumers and it's all to do with economies of scale.

First niggle.  The surcharge.  Coffee shops don't sell as much caffeine-free coffee, and it costs more to make, so they'll slap on anywhere between ten or twenty pence onto the price of a cup.  The ground floor cafe at FACT in Liverpool did exactly this last time I was there and Caffe Nero do this too.  While I appreciate its effectively a different substance, if as a consumer you're drinking this sort of because you have to not because you have a choice, even though you do have a choice, you could not drink coffee but you see what I mean, its something else to add to the list of things my anxiety is doing to me or working against me.  Ten or twenty pence isn't a lot of money, but when people who don't have our, or my problems are charged less it's, well it's a bit disappointing.

But then there's the instant coffee problem, the companies who don't provide filtered decaff coffee and instead charge the same price for a watery cup of instant Kenco decaff, because it's always instant Kenco decaff in the little green sachets.  IKEA, Easy Coffee, Virgin Trains and as I discovered this past couple of days, Premier Inn do exactly this and it's galling not least because the Kenco decaff is awful, not just brown, bitter liquid but acid indigestion inducing too.  The argument against is that it would mean having to have another coffee machine filled with decaff beans but if that's the case, simply charge less for the instant coffee, half would be fine.  But don't go to the trouble of advertising the benefits of your caffeinated coffee if you're then going to push this garbage on the rest of us.

Quick sidebar on tea: that's just as rubbish, if not moreso because these companies and indeed almost everywhere else just simply don't have caffeine free black teas.  In most cases they provide a dozen fruit teas, usually Twinings, all of which ultimately taste the same once brewed.  Or Green Teas, which sertaline users are also asked to avoid because "the combination can increase the risk of bleeding".  I've now reached the stage were I simply carry my own tea bags around with me, sparked by attended the Liverpool Biennial press launch and finding no decaff options but hot water.  Which meant I was at least able to have a couple of cups of Earl Grey with my breakfast at the Premiere Inn in Manchester this morning.

But it's not as though there aren't alternatives.  Visiting HOME to see BlackKklansman this lunchtime, I ordered a small coffee and the cafe bar had a grinder on stand-by and produced a very tasty beverage for the same price as the usge.  Starbucks has a whole extra machine in every branch I've visited, even franchises, and again the price is the same and it tastes pretty good if you remember to ask them not to fill the cup to the top.  If it has to be instant, there are better options than Kenco.  I swear by Littles, which both smells and tastes like ground coffee and even has that unicorn of flavoured options.  I took a jar of the Chocolate Caramel with me to Manchester which was a lifesaver in my bedroom, where the tea and coffee making facilities were predictably limited.

If all of this sounds like a self indulgent wallow, which it is, the Mental Health Foundation says that in 2013, there were 8.2 million cases of anxiety in the UK, a statistic which a bit old but pretty startling in a population of just six times that.  A fair percentage of those souls will be on sertraline and in the same predicament as me, not to mention those with other conditions and women in pregnancy, all of us getting the shit end of the stick when it comes to beverages.  I'm not sure what. if anything can be done about this, or indeed if its worth anyone's while trying to change minds.  Business decisions are business decisions, but its a craw sticker for those of us who're on the other end of those business decisions.

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