Grind Culture Made Fizzy Energy Drinks My Toxic Writing Partner

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This is a fragmented memory of the year I drank sparkling caffeinated beverages and took a lot of stimulants in order to try and become a better worker. This is not a cautionary tale or a poignant anecdote about finding myself amid waves of imposter syndrome. And this is certainly not an advertisement for caffeinated sparkling drinky drinks, but I’m not gonna stop you from living your life.

Or, why your fear of failing is holding you back and making you waste money on cases of sparkling caffeinated beverages.

It’s barely sunrise and I’m in the office. I’m typing away at a spreadsheet that’s been giving me  carpal tunnel and a toothache, pretending I actually enjoy looking up product users individually and inserting their information into a document my boss will only slightly praise me for. It’s kind of demeaning — no, it is very demeaning — but wow I’m actually very broke and sleeping on couches to stay in this city for some reason, so I’ll give it the old post-grad-with-no-foreseeable-direction-in-life try!

I always get to the office too early because of my fear of being late and semi-irrational fear of having to say hello to each of my coworkers individually if I walk in when everyone’s already settled at their desks. I also know I can leave early if I get to the office first to get a jumpstart on work. This is my first “big girl” job and, like most necessary jobs, I’m giving it slightly more than the bare minimum.

This job is not the publishing house or the film archiving collective I applied to. This is the Financial District on a winter day, and I am a glorified intern shoving overpriced pineapple jerky and organic muesli into my tote bag for dinner.

I’m still in the phase of my life where intermittent fasting appeals to me for some reasons you might be able to assume, so when my stomach gives me away, I opt for a drink instead.

I mosey over to the fridge stocked with various beverages and skim past a handful of flavored still waters and a row of La Croix, picked over with only limoncello and coconut left. Chapstick flavors, yuck. Not a pamplemousse, tangerine, or lime in sight. If there’s one thing these people know how to do best, it’s take everything and enjoy it first.

What’s left at the bottom of the fridge is a small party of fizzy yerba mates. Ah, yes. What I’ve come to know as adderall in a can! My late night savior and early morning treat! I probably shouldn’t be doing this on an empty stomach but, bottoms up!

Despite what I wished, this sparkling can of caffeine did not make me better at my job or more confident that I knew what I was doing.

Even before I grew up — or metamorphosed into whatever this iteration of myself I am currently — I always wanted to write something profound. And if that wasn’t the line that you expected from an essay supposedly about caffeinated sparkling beverages and the distaste I have for grind culture, bear with me.

For me, writing is as much a practice as it is a pony show. I’ll write something that awes myself one day, and the next, I feel like I need someone or something to slap the nuances and sensitivities that should come so easily to a writer out of me. For the perfectionist I try to keep dormant in this vessel of mine, writing can feel like a chore. And at times, housing sentiments of that kind can mean “forgetting” to check your post’s comments — even if that means missing a gorgeous compliment or two advertising men’s leather shoes or online casinos. Or, stopping yourself from going too deep into what you want to say in favor of being aloof. Both stemming from the fear your work isn’t as good as you want it to be. And why not? Aren’t you supposed to be a writer?

And that’s where the mundane aspects of work feel so good to succeed in. Like, yes I did in fact finish a week’s worth of work in two days. All thanks to this little can of caffeine! And perhaps if I chug an entire can of yerba mate before I sit down and type for pleasure, my words will also be significantly more clear and enjoyable.

When I started high school, I had a dream of writing this beautiful, long story about being queer in the suburbs. After scoring well on the writing portion on the ACT, I thought myself a good writer. If these test graders believed in me, then why shouldn’t I just write the next great novel and carry that confidence within me until the day I croak?

But the main character of that story was fated to end up as a horrible self-insert, and the love interest was just a figment of the girl I thought I loved for a few mere years of my adolescence. I didn’t write it. It was immature to believe I was a teen prodigy of Pulitzer Prize proportions. I fell in love with another girl, moved to a different city, and began my second year of college somewhere new. Always seeking another story I felt too afraid to put on the page.

At college, I learned about ways to pass classes you hated and how to participate enough to where it seemed like yes, you did the reading. I learned the best energy drinks for productivity and how long they would last. Celsius was good, but it was too much like pre-workout powder and gave me the sweats. Bang energy drinks worked, but only if you could stomach the taste of sugared food coloring. But Yerba Mates were solid. They came in a sleek little can and tasted like better versions of La Croixs. The classic flavor was reminiscent of Coke and the grapefruit one had those small bubbles I always liked in a Perrier. Plus, when I was on them, I typed more accurately and came to conclusions faster.

These little cans made me feel like I could write anything well. Like all this potential was building inside me over the past few years, and it was just the right time to let it out. And my worthy subject? Some six-page essay about a poem I can’t even remember the name of now. For the last years of college, I let this dependency hold me. It kept me up through finals season and late night shifts at my university part-time job. It gave me the confidence to power through even the most boring of subjects and carried me into my first job outside of college.

In these drinks was limitless potential and I was tipping the can to get every last drop.

But the dizziness, chills, and rapid loss of weight wasn’t serving my body anymore. My tolerance built up, and I felt like I had to drink more caffeine to feel more, do more, and write more. I was combining sparkling caffeine with adderall and vapes to supplement meals and came (and a little too late) to the conclusion that I couldn’t keep up with this without consequences. I knew that this gold mine of knowledge I thought I’d found was going to dry up sooner rather than later.

The things I was writing became sloppy — at work and in my personal practice. I was more irritable and cried at every botched draft and lackluster poem. I’d just started dating someone new and felt less like myself when I was “working.”

My body meant too much to my mind. So, I stopped. Not cold turkey, but I spent less time searching out methods of curing my writer’s block and fear of mediocrity with consumables.

And the healing still goes on. It doesn’t end because she no longer lives inside of you.

Bubble Trouble is a series helmed by Autostraddle Managing Editor Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya about the nostalgia, effervescence, and never-ending appeal of carbonated beverages.

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Julie Gentile

Julie is a writer by night and marketing bot by day. She enjoys long video game playthroughs and pretending like she didn’t internalize every single episode of Glee. Contact her at julie[at]autostraddle[dot]com.

Julie has written 23 articles for us.


  1. Really loved this, Julie! This question really made me laugh: “If these test graders believed in me, then why shouldn’t I just write the next great novel and carry that confidence within me until the day I croak?”

  2. One time I accidentally bought seltzer with caffeine in it and it made me feel out of my mind and body but then I indeed used it to power through work 😩 love this piece Julie!

  3. Julie, I felt this to my core, except put art student post grad instead of writer.
    I had been doing a similar setup with Bang drinks until I ended up in the hospital with a kidney infection and had to examine my direction while in a hospital bed. I’m in a different place in life now but this still rings very strongly with me and I hope things are better for you too. I also hope you write your story of the queer character in the suburbs (unless that story truly has left you,in which case,good luck on your next story)

    • Honour, thank you so much for your kind words <3. I'm glad you're in a different place now and am wishing you the best in your art! Maybe I'll write that story someday, who knows :).

  4. “I’m still in the phase of my life where intermittent fasting appeals to me for some reasons you might be able to assume”

    i really love how you chose to put this – directing attention to the obvious while eliding it at the same time. i’ve read so many frank and direct personal essays; it’s strangely refreshing to come across one that opts for the elliptical instead. thank you!

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