Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Cha cha cha changes...

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.

Happiness and Trees

So I was doing laundry earlier and started contemplating the recent changes in my life.  After all, at the end of this week, I have another birthday - always a time for looking back and making those various comparisons of "then" vs "now."  And since 3 months ago I was doing laundry by waiting until every stitch of clothing was dirty so I could make a single trip to the laundromat, rather than being able to take considerably smaller loads out to the utility room here at home and do them in my own working washer and dryer.  And that in and of itself - having a working (and still brand new, no previous owner) washer and dryer at home, which is still a luxury even though most people count it as a necessity - is what had me thinking about recent changes, and various cliches.  I paused in the midst of doing laundry (which I Detest having to do, necessary chore that it is) and asked myself - looking at my still new, bright and shiny, high efficiency, water saving, all the bells and whistles available without costing as much as my (used) car did washer and dryer - "so, are you really Happy with your life these days?  You weren't for a long time.  Has that changed?  And if the answer is Yes, has it changed Enough?"

While the person who came up with the cliche that, "Money can't buy Happiness," wasn't completely Wrong - well - he (or she, though I'm thinking it Had to be a guy) wasn't exactly Right, either.  They weren't completely right about the whole "Money doesn't grow on trees" thing either - cause paper Is made with wood pulp after all!

As anyone who has ever been Poor  (I mean Seriously poor - not knowing whether all the utilities were still gonna be on next week/not sure whether you could make rent this month/not certain whether you could afford food/walk everywhere cause you don't own a car and can't afford the bus kinda poor - not the whole "OMG, I'm gonna have to choose between whether to go to Rio for Carnival or the Bahamas for Vacation!" kind of pseudo-poor) can tell you, while money may not buy happiness, it certainly eases life up enough that you aren't always miserable.  Knowing that the rent/house payment is covered, all the utilities are square, you can afford a trip to the doctor if you start hacking up a lung from allergies, there's plenty of food in the cupboard, and you still have money left over to keep gas in the car (Despite the outrageous price of gas these days - $3.49 a gallon with 10% ethanol that my car can't choke down? Really? In the middle of Oil Country??) relieves a lot of worries and stresses in life - the very things that tend to make you miserable when all other factors remain equitable and relatively pleasant.  Having the latest and greatest gadgets to play with won't make you suddenly ecstatically happy - but they will keep you from being bored outta your gourd as long as the electric bill was paid so you can keep them charged up and usable.

In the past few years I've run the gamut from having a $4000 a month household budget to play with to having a $0 per month budget to worry about and back to having sufficient income between myself and my other half that - while we'll never live in a mansion or take vacations to exotic places (unless one of us starts playing the lottery and somehow manages to win)  the rent and bills are no longer a question of robbing Peter to pay Paul, or juggling skills that would amaze visitors at a Renaissance faire. 

We're finally at a point where we're fairly Comfortable.  The cars are old and were bought used - but they run reliably, they're cheap to insure and tag, and we don't have to make payments on them.  The computers - while not top of the line couldn't be upgraded at this point because the better equipment hasn't come out yet - are new, and more than adequate to either of our needs - and managed to replace our pair of dinosaur machines before either of them completely crapped out and stopped working.  We don't have to deal with the laundromat any longer, and while the washer & dryer weren't The Best I could have gotten - they're new, they're paid for, and they aren't the bottom of the barrel set that I "could" have gotten, and they won't have to be replaced for a very Very long time.  I've managed to replace my old, worn out, ill fitting, stained up and ready for the trash heap wardrobe with clothes that fit well, look good, and aren't second hand, stained, ripped, or so out of style I look like I walked out of a 70's ad. (I'm still working on getting him to let me do something about His wardrobe for when he's not at work - eventually I'll wear him down about it.  I hope.) I've managed to pay off the doctor bills, and not have to choose  between groceries or the various meds the rheumatologist has me taking to keep the lupus and fibro under control.  My relationship with my other half is stable, comfortable, and better than any relationship I've had in the past 20 years.  (I know - that last part isn't saying much, when you consider some of the scum sucking bottom feeders that I've dated - but this is the difference between a man who has a stable job, a work ethic, and no overweening ego issues and one who lacks all of those things.)

So yes, I'm happier than I've been in a long time.  And yes - some of that happiness has been because of the change in financial situation, and subsequent "stuff" that the financial change enabled. 

I'm a lot happier doing laundry at home - where I can toss a load in and come play on the computer - than I was having to deal with going to a laundromat.  I'm a lot happier having my kitchen more up to date, and having some of the gadgets for it (like my KitchenAide stand mixer and all it's various attachments) than I was with a stove that barely worked and sometimes wondering if we were gonna be able to afford to eat healthy.  I'm a lot happier knowing that I can afford my meds, and dealing with a good Rheumy to get my illness under control than I was in keeping my fingers crossed and hoping I simply didn't have a bad flare.  I'm Considerably happier having not 1 but 2 running cars between us, so that I don't have to sit around bored if I want or need to go do something - and I don't have to set my schedule around making sure the car is home for someone to get to work on time.  I'm a lot less stressed, a lot less worn out from worry, and therefore - yes - a lot happier knowing that everything is covered, and there's still at least a bit left over for entertainment or emergencies.  I'm much happier being able to go to the gym, both to work out and try to regain some of my health and flexibility, and simply to relax in the sauna and hottub if I'm having a serious pain day.  Not only does the gym keep me from being bored at times, it's (supposedly) good for me, and it gets me out of the house so I don't turn back into a human hermit crab.

Yes, things have changed.  Yes, those changes have made me happy.  Yes, I can even say they've changed enough.  Though honestly - if it's the right sort of changes, I'm not going to suddenly become UNhappy if various other things decide to change as well.