While no doubt some of you are getting really tired of hearing about the various struggles and issues attendant with having a systemic illness like Lupus or Fibromyalgia, over the course of the past year - while I fought with a severe flare, the stress that caused it and was in turn caused by it, and the consequences of both - this blog has begun to turn into something primarily dedicated to that struggle. It has become both an outlet for my Lupus/Fibro induced frustrations, and a place which I hope - in time - will serve as a source of hope for others who are suffering from either of these particular complex disease issues.
Lately, one of the things that has come to the fore in my life due to the illnesses has been a desire to focus more on my Health and Well Being. I've been taking a much more critical look at some of my various (bad) habits. What caused them? What are they, in turn, causing? Is there anything I can (realistically) do about some of them, or are they stuck with me for the rest of my life just like the Lupus and Fibro are here to stay?
In some areas of my life, I'm as stubborn and strong willed as it gets. Once I dig my heels in about something, you'll have as much luck moving me as you would dragging a mule who has decided it's not going one step further. No trick, no inducement, no bribe or threat, is going to change my stubborn planting and digging in roots. Unfortunately, this is only true in Some areas of my life. In others, it's almost the exact opposite. I have zero willpower, and it takes the prodding, pushing, coaxing, threatening, bribery, and coercion of someone else to get me to make a decision and/or stick with it once it's made.
And of course, it's usually the seriously Important areas of life where that second set of circumstances happens to hold sway. Taking care of my health - giving up unhealthy habits, changing areas that seriously need to be changed for my own good - happens to fall.... where? You guessed it - right smack in the middle of the "someone else is gonna have to push me to get it done" area.
One of my really bad habits - which has lasted for 3/4 of my life span - has been smoking. I've tried to quit several times in the past. I've sworn time and again that I was Through, over, done, kaput, wasn't gonna spend that money any longer, couldn't stand the smell, the health risks to myself and (through second hand smoke, etc) others, hated being Dependent on something which has (during the course of my 47 years) become a severe social stigma (even though it wasn't when I Started smoking, or even during the vast majority of the time which I've been a smoker.)
I've been a smoker since I was 12. That's right, 12. I'm 47 now (or will be as of mid-June) which means that I've been a smoker for 35 years. That's longer than a good many of my closest friends have even been Alive. I smoked through 2 rounds of childbirth, and the deaths of my sister, all but one of my grandparents, and both my parents. I watched my father suffer from COPD, emphasymia, bladder cancer, renal failure, and stroke due to his smoking habit. I've watched as my world grew smaller and smaller as far as where I was allowed to indulge my addiction to nicotine - from being able to smoke in the mall, restaurants, stores, on the street, and at home - to only being able to smoke in my car (with the windows down, since other half is allergic) outside at home (again, other half, allergic) or outside at work (while I was still working, because they closed the smokers break room in an effort to force everyone to quit.)
I have spent literally thousands of dollars over the years feeding my addiction. Cigarettes were $.55 a pack when I started 35 years ago (at least here in Oklahoma that's what they cost back then.) Now they're more than $5 a pack. I was in my late 20s, after the birth of my oldest daughter, when the price went over $1 a pack around here. I decided then that I was going to quit due to the price. That lasted a whole 2 days, and I simply made adjustments in my spending priorities to continue to accommodate my addiction. Every time the price went up... $2, $3, $4.... I said the same thing as it was announced that prices were going up again, "If it hits X amount, I'm quitting - this has gotten to expensive." And every time, it hit that mark, surpassed it, and I continued to be a smoker and simply adjust how I spent money to accommodate the ever increasing price. In the past 5 years, since the price spiked over $5 a pack, I have spent nearly $10,000. That's just in the past 5 years. When you consider that I've been smoking for 35 years, I've probably spent enough money on that one habit to have bought and paid for a house by now. Certainly I've spent more on tobacco than I have on vehicles or their maintenance.
I've watched over the past several years as more and more evidence came to light about smoking's ill effects on health. I watched what it did to my dad, vowing I would quit rather than allow it to affect me the way it had affected him. I still smoked. I've dealt with my fair share of the whole Smoker's Cough, wheezing, decreased lung capacity, etc., and told myself "this is it, I'm quitting, I can't stand this any longer." And I still smoked.
I've dealt with the snide remarks, the catty comments about the smell of smoke that clung to everything, the sidelong condescending looks, the sneers, the hateful glances from non-smokers while in public settings (even those which were outdoors.) I have had to deal with the increasing stigma, the guilt, the shame. And I still smoked.
Now for those of you who are sitting there thinking, "well if you wanted to quit, why didn't you simply Stop and not buy any more?"
It's not that simple. It's no simpler for someone who is physically addicted to nicotine to simply "stop smoking" than it is for someone who is addicted to Heroine or Crack cocaine to simply "stop" using their drug of choice. It is, quite literally, a physical addiction to the active Natural chemical in the tobacco. Withdrawal is very real, and unpleasant. Nicotine as a biochemical attaches to the same receptors in the brain which nature intended for Serotonin - the feel good happy chemical that our brain produces through hormonal activity. It effectively acts in ways that are Similar To, but not Identical to, Serotonin. It keeps us calm, helps us deal with stress to a degree, and gives us a (false) sense of well being. As the Nicotine attaches to more and more of the receptors naturally intended for Serotonin, the naturally produced biochemical has no where to go - and as a result, the body produces less and less of it, thinking that it's in more than adequate supply.
Now you cut off that supply of chemical that attaches to the receptors, keeping us calm and functioning. Can we say "homicidal maniac in Capri pants - especially if she's still trying to quit when monthly hormone changes take place"? I knew we could. It's not pretty, it's not pleasant, and getting on my nerves or pushing my buttons when I'm nicotine deprived is asking for a hormonal rage of the sort that men shiver in fear about when a woman is having "that time."
Don't get me wrong. I'm still trying to quit. I still Want to quit. I'm (once again) weaning myself off cigarettes and onto a nicotine vaporizing e-cig. I can step down the amount of nicotine in the vaporizer slowly over time, once I've gotten myself (again) using it and not buying actual cigarettes at all.
Keep your fingers crossed. Wish me luck. Pray, light a candle, invoke your various deities (if you're pagan) and perform a spell (if you happen to be a practitioner of That sort.) Whatever it takes to bring both luck and willpower this direction - while keeping me from going postal and accidentally killing someone who happens to annoy me unintentionally during the process. I've set a quit date - at least to be completely free of actual tobacco. Now let's see if I can stick with it this time.