On Quitting Smoking

On this day, April 13th, in 2003 I quit smoking. That makes today my 13th anniversary. Not really sure how I feel about that, actually.

See, I looooved smoking. Loved it. It was the biggest crutch I’ve ever had. I wouldn’t walk down the street without a cigarette in my hand. I’d have one before bed, when I woke up in the morning, sometimes even if I woke in the middle of the night. I’d have a cigarette before and after every meal, and every time I went out for drinks. I’d smoke when I was angry, or sad, or stressed, or anxious – I mean, mostly anxious. I am anxious pretty much all the time. Smoking calmed me or, at least, I believed it did, which is really all that matters.

At the time, we could still smoke inside some establishments, or on patios of others. And packs of course cost way less, just like everything else did in 2003. It was far less difficult to find a spot than it is now. I went on multiple breaks from work during any given shift, and I drank way less because my hands were kept busy. I always had a lighter on me, but still preferred the smell of matches. It was kind of a social thing sometimes, too. We’d go out together and have conversations that didn’t include the people inside, and the cigarette would act as a timer to let us know when it was time to go back in.

For me, though, it was mostly just a huge crutch. A thing I felt I needed – or at least really wanted – to help get me through the day.

Then one day, I found out I’d been accepted to teacher’s college, and I’d promised myself that I would quit before school started, because I didn’t want to be a hypocrite teacher – one who tells the kids not to smoke, but then hangs out in the parking lot every recess and lunch break, puffing away and setting a bad example. I figured I could be the poster child for Don’t Ever Start, but I didn’t want to be a hypocrite if I could help it.

So I planned a big party to celebrate my acceptance, and smoked as much as I wanted that night – then stopped as of the next morning. It sucked, too, because my last cigarettes weren’t even mine. I ran out too close to the end to make it worth buying another pack, so I bummed a few off someone at the party, and THEIRS were the last ones I ever had.

To make matters worse, I’d done all kinds of research into quitting, and thought I’d set myself up for success, but it turned out that the information I had was only part of the issue. I don’t think even now addiction is truly understood, let alone withdrawl. Nothing I saw online prepared me for the acute depression, for example. Not one mention of it. I had the patch ready in case I needed it, but that only helps with cravings, not all of the other crazy things that happen to your system when you’re going through severe withdrawl.

The other thing that sucked was that, for months prior, I’d cut down to the lightest cigarettes I could find, so that it’d maybe be a bit easier to stop smoking completely if I happened to get into school. But the first step of the patch contained way more nicotine than I’d been ingesting, so it actually ramped me right back up to higher doses than I’d been used to. I could feel it in my veins, I thought. And it gave me crazy vivid dreams.

A few weeks later, my partner decided to cheat on me fairly publicly, and then break up with me not long before school started, so there went my financial and emotional support system out the window. Luckily I’d loaded up on student debt that I’d hoped to not need. Poor timing much?

The bets were on as to whether or not I’d cave and take up the habit again, but to my mind that would be failure, and I suspected my ex would love to see me fail, so I kept not giving into temptation, which I’m sure also saved many lives.

Also, I’m stubborn as hell sometimes.

Now, keep in mind that I really loved this habit I’d quit, and my reason for quitting was simply not to be a hypocrite. It wasn’t for my health, it wasn’t because it was too expensive, it wasn’t for my own good nor the good of anyone else. It was ONLY so I could face the children each day in class. As well, I got very depressed very quickly, and not being able to smoke felt not only like a punishment, but a punishment I deserved. In that sense, it was easy not to break down and buy more, because not having them made me feel bad, and in my mind, I deserved to feel bad.

So, there I was – alone, unbearably sad, my self-esteem the lowest it had ever been at that point. Trying to teach children. I started drinking more and eating more, so I packed on an unimaginable amount of weight in a very short period of time, and have the stretch marks to prove it. Hell, I have pictures to prove it. I almost flunked out of school a few times, but knowing that failure would also make my ex happy, I hung in there, too. I took on another shift at work, and all but maxed out all the lovely credit I’d been handed as a student. Hating myself pretty much every minute of every day.

But hey – at least I wasn’t a hypocrite.

I haven’t had a cigarette since that day, except for one accidental inhale when I’d only meant to pull it into my mouth to help out a friend. I was drinking at the time, and even though it was years later, habit still kicked in. My body still knew the motions automatically, and I knew that if I ever did have one myself, I’d be back to a pack a day in no time. And who can afford that, really?

Do I feel better as a result of quitting? Not really, no. Am I proud of myself? Meh, kind of, I guess, but more in that it was one more way I made my ex wrong about me. And I’m told nicotine withdrawl is actually harder to go through than heroin, so there’s that. Don’t worry, though – I can’t afford a heroin addiction, either. It does seem that I am always a little addicted to something, though. I tend to just temporarily quit something long enough to get it out of my system, and then pick it back up later, just to make sure I still can. I don’t really want to quit anything else I love forever, though. The very idea makes me sad. I can cut way down, and even quit temporarily – but for good? No thank you. That feels like punishment, too, and I don’t wish to punish myself that way anymore right now.

I likened the whole experience to getting out of a bad relationship. You know they aren’t good for you, and that your physical and emotional health is suffering as a result of such toxicity. But against all rational argument, you still love them, and even though you’re technically glad you got away, you really do miss them quite a lot.

Then, every time you go anywhere, you get see them with somebody else.

Know What’s Crazy? ‘Cause I Don’t…

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So, I stumbled across this list on Tumblr a couple of weeks ago, and it’s still kind of on my mind. It consists of reasons why someone would be admitted to an insane asylum – in the late 1800’s.

First, insane asylums are creepy as all heck to me. Especially old school ones, but really, no matter what name you give them, they are filled with unpredictability. And that is one thing that bothers me most. I mean, a lot of things get under my skin, but that is a huge one. I still occasionally check under my bed to ensure the psycho killer isn’t waiting for me to feel safe enough to sleep before he stabs me, or whatever. It’s the feeling that everything is fine until it isn’t – the sense that anything could happen at any time and for NO DISCERNABLE REASON. Like, the sane (or sane-ish) can’t predict what the insane will do at any given moment, because even they don’t know until they do it.

Also, asylums are scary and full of ghosts, especially after they’ve been abandonned. Not to mention all the tools. What the hell are doctors and scientists thinking sometimes?

I think part of it is also – like, I’m pretty sure even a sane person, under similar circumstances, would begin to exhibit insane-like behaviour after awhile. In many cases, even now, prison would be better. It’s called an asylum, but it’s not really to keep the sick safe from society. It’s to protect society from the sick. For so many, there’s no coming back from that. And I feel like even for the “sane-est” person alive, trying to prove you’re NOT insane would be like trying to prove you’re not drunk. Evidence can be found to prove the case against you quite easily once someone is looking for it, and from that point on, the frustration at not being able to prove your truth to the world – that you are sane and/or sober – that alone would begin to make matters much, much worse.

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Now, I of course know that things are very different now than they were in the 1800’s. We have made incredible advances in the mental health field along with everything else. Looking at this list is almost laughable, really. Like, WTF does “time of life” even mean? It’s your time to be a lunatic? Fell from horse in war is a reason for admission? What if you fell from a horse at home, and not anywhere near the war?

I’m not even going to get into the sexist, ignorant reasons, because as you can see, they make up the majority of the list. I wonder how many of these were acted upon by a person checking themselves in, versus being checked in against their will. I wonder how many were women or gay or not-white.

Novel reading?! Seriously?!

Funny how priorities change. Back then they seem to have been obsessed with masturbation, the expression of any emotion (grief is on there), and anything possibly related to a fever and/or the imagination.

To my eyes, all of those reasons seem insane in and of themselves.

Possibly because I would have been locked up for several of them, myself.

Sometimes I actually have to wonder how far we’ve really come. Attitudes and stigma surrounding mental health are still – I mean, I feel like they’ve been getting a bit better in recent years, but I almost feel like it’s going too far in the other direction. We’ve gone from having no real understanding of most mental health issues and not really talking about it in any kind of meaningful discourse, to still having no real understanding, yet talking about it all the time. Just on the surface, though. Everyone jumps on the #BellLetsTalk bandwagon one day a year, which is great, but it doesn’t seem like very many people actually talk. We’re all very good at nodding in sympathy and telling people to just talk about whattever’s bothering them, that we’re here to listen.

I just don’t think many of us know how to really talk about it. Because none of us really understand any of it.

On a logic level, we can grasp that being sad and being depressed are not the same thing. But sometimes it looks the same. And sometimes it looks completely different. Sometimes it doesn’t look a thing like what we think depression should look like, and so we might not even notice.

Even when it’s happening to you.

That sense of not being able to understand your own self, of not knowing why you do some of the things you do – it can feel very disconnecting. And so we bury it, because we don’t want anyone else to see us becoming more disconnected and risk having them think we’re a freak.

Or insane.

Because once someone has that thought about you, it’s very difficult – if not impossible – to get them to see you any other way.

We all want to be normal, yet unique and special. And the definition of normal has never been anything but a slippery slope. Whoever invented the concept of normal should be put in an asylum, were they still alive, because that concept is completely crazy. We want to stand out as individuals, but for good things. Inspiring or heroic things. Not for telling squirrels to be careful when they cross the street when you’re on your way to work in the morning.

Hypothetically speaking, of course.

So as much as we all want to talk about our thoughts and feelings, and let our freak flags fly, we’re also terrified that it’ll reveal too much, and that there will be no coming back from that. Once we are too real, and too exposed, we’re doomed. It feels like it could actually drive people further away, especially since we have no idea why we think and feel some of the things we think and feel. We can’t explain it because we don’t understand it ourselves.  Human beings have a need to dissect and understand everything – we’ve been testing theories and hypotheses since we crawled out of the primordial ooze.  But I think mental health is perhaps the one true bane of our existence, because it’s not something that can be quantified or studied with any degree of accuracy.  It not only changes from person to person, but also within the same person, from moment to moment and day to day.  It’s unpredictable, and that’s what makes it scary.

Like, maybe we have a great life – not just appear to have – actually have everything that should make us happy. A spouse, children, pets, job satisfaction, comfortable salary, a boatload of friends, an in-home theatre, a cottage in Greece, sunshine, rainbows and a unicorn. From the outside, we have everything. From our own perspective, we want for nothing. Yet for no discernable reason, we feel unhappy. How can one who has so much to make them feel complete still have a sense of disconnect and actually suffer from depression? How do you fight something when you have no idea what it is, why it is, or what might actually help make it go away? How do you live with it? And how on earth would you ever, ever tell anyone about it? What would they think? How would they react? Is it worth the risk of potentially making it even more difficult to get through the day, if the conversation goes south?

Often times, no, it is not.

And so we remain silent, for better or for worse, and wait for the next storm to pass.

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Food Matters

I need to evaluate, re-evaluate and keep re-evaluating my relationship with food.  I can’t break up with food, so I need to find a way to make our relationship much healthier than it’s ever been, and keep it that way.  Much easier said than done, of course, and perhaps not even entirely possible.  But it’s definitely time to try.

I love food, in general.  I always have.  Well, snacks, at least.  From needing that one bowl of chocolate ice cream after school every day, to a bowl of whatever flavour of chips was in the house, snacks were always welcome in my belly.  Peanut butter and honey sandwiches for lunch was a staple, breakfast for dinner was a treat, cereal was a never-ending parade of taste sensations.

I was a scrawny kid with a high metabolism, so I was the hateful sort who could eat whatever I wanted and never gain weight.  My problem was, for awhile there, I couldn’t gain weight.  I was constantly getting weighed at the doctor – weekly, if I recall – and everyone did what they could to put weight on me, but none of it worked for awhile.  I often wasn’t allowed to leave the table until I’d finished what was on my plate – which, of course would grow cold before I could finish it.  Mealtime became this highly stressful thing for me, and that did nothing to increase my appetite, so for awhile there, things did not go well.

As I got older, my body started to balance itself out, and though I was still scrawny, I was at least within the target weight range for my age and height.  The low end, but still there.  I went to University and introduced regular alcohol consumption to my routine, and still bounced between the same 5lb range for a decade or so.

In my early 30’s, a lot of change happened – mentally, emotionally, and physically.  I got into teacher’s college, so I quit smoking before school started, which helped launch me into a deep depression.  I started drinking way more, and continued to eat whatever I wanted to, not realizing that my metabolism would no longer bounce back as it had before.  It’s almost like it slowed to a stop for a bit there.  I packed on something like 60lbs in the 8 months of my school year.  None of what I’d purchased at the start of the year to wear in class would fit, and I couldn’t stop the spiral.

Over ten years later I managed to lose some of the weight, but it’s always in stages.  I try different things, and it works a bit, but I plateau, in a way, and no matter what I do, nothing changes for awhile again.  It’s like a tightrope where the drop is only on one side.  It’s ridiculous, really.  But the crazy guilt or sadness or despair I feel every time I eat something -no matter what it is – feels like it’s doing more harm than anything else.

And a healthy relationship that doth not make.

I think I’ve gone from one end of the spectrum as a kid, to the opposite as an adult, and none of it has allowed me to enjoy the simple act of eating.  I think everyone has this problem to some degree or other, and it seems to me that we’d all be a lot healthier if we could allow ourselves to enjoy providing our bodies with fuel.  Our bodies need it, our minds need it, and I think our hearts and spirits need it, too.

I’m not saying we should be able to eat all the crap we want and feel great about it.  I’m saying we need – or at least I need – to find a way to take the stress and guilt and fear and despair out of every single mealtime.  I could eat all the healthy, nutritious foods in the world and it won’t make a lick of difference until I can be glad I’m doing it.  Until I can enjoy it.

It’s all about balance, and when it comes to food, I’ve never had any.  Time to start looking for some.