I Gave up Smoking Six Weeks Ago. When Do I Start Feeling Good, Again?
For more than a quarter of a century, I was an absolutely dedicated smoker. A two-packs-a-day, anytime, anyplace, anywhere smoker. A smoke-ring-blowing, lighter-stealing, ashtray-filling semi-professional smoker, the sort who looked at photos of a young Serge Gainsbourg bathing his children with a filterless Gauloise affixed to his lower lip and an inch of ash dangling and thought: “Amateur!”
I have smoked at weddings, at funerals, at ceremonies Christian, Hindu and Jewish. I have smoked in temperatures 30 degrees below freezing and rising 50 degrees above. I can light cigarettes in monsoon rains, Himalayan blizzards, shallow-draft speedboats on a breezy day – conditions that would defeat even the most hardened adventure smokers.
In fact, within five minutes of giving birth to my spawn, I was scampering down the stairs to smoke outside the hospital.
And, no, I am not exaggerating. Here are a few of the situations I have smoked in:
* While driving a motorbike
* On an air ambulance
* During sex
* While floating down a river in an inner tube
* In the Dead Sea
* On sundry mountain summits
* While skiing
* Within hours of promising my son to give up cos it was his birthday
* In Mongolia (harder than it seems)
* In the bath
* From butts, without even bothering to make a rollie out of them like a (partially) self-respecting human being
I have now been smoke-free for six weeks. And I feel… Well, I feel rubbish. I have been, almost constantly, sick with one minor but debilitating ailment after another. Further, I look rubbish.
Now, on the plus side, I actually have no desire to take up smoking again. Which is handy since, living in Bali, I’m surrounded by smokers.
Seriously, Indonesia – not least because its tobacco industry employs about 250,000 people – is one of the last bastions of the smoker. You can smoke pretty much everywhere apart from hospitals, petrol stations and parts of airports (I’ve seen Indonesians smoking below the “no smoking” sign on bloody oil tankers), and it’s not unusual – even outside those Borneo villages where bloody toddlers smoke fat cigars to keep the mosquitos off – to see prepubescent children with fag in hand. Plus, cigarettes, even Western brands – cost spit here (it’s around $1.50 for Marlboro, and very much less for local brands).
I do get the odd craving, every now and then – a raw, physical craving – which passes with a few deep breaths. But, push comes to shove, I don’t actually want to go back to smoking. The idea of sucking burning, foul-tasting smoke into one’s lungs from a little white tube just seems intrinsically ridiculous, even if you don’t factor in the fact that you’re cancerising yourself and (possibly) those around you to do so. That is, I think, a sea-change from the last few times I tried to give up smoking, when I rather missed it.
I’m constantly grateful that my breath doesn’t stink, that I can wake up in the morning without reaching for a packet of fags by my bed, etcetera. I do not feel anything untoward when retrieving an ashtray for smoking guests.
But… I am extremely far from experiencing that wave of healthy wellbeing, of glowing-skinned gorgeousness that one is supposed to feel. I look infinitely worse than I did before stopping smoking.
And here is my major gripe with this. I was absolutely geared for a week or two of hell – I’ve given up smoking many, many times before, and, for the dedicated smoker, the withdrawal is, some claim, comparable to heroin withdrawal. (I certainly did very little but lie in bed and doze and read for the first two days of giving up smoking – handily, I started the day before Nyepi.)
I was also geared for that irritating period where your lungs clear out all the mucus that’s been accumulating there leaving you hawking like a nineteenth-century chimney sweep shortly before expiry, which is probably what all those consumptives in Victorian novels actually sounded like, but, oddly, that phase is yet to come.
Still, by now, according to a myriad websites, I should be feeling many of the benefits of giving up smoking: clearer lungs, better skin, fresher breath and more. With the exception of the fresh breath, though, I must confess it’s quite the reverse.
Given that I rank number one in Google for the search term “whining about my cold“, you might wish to take the following with a pinch of salt (I know Zac does). Still, I’m just coming off what is, I think, my third mysterious cold-type bug in those six weeks (aching muscles, sore throat, runny nose, insanely bloody tired the whole time). My face exploded about three weeks ago and hasn’t gone back to normal.
Whether that’s because of oestrogen returning to my system and sending my hormones haywire, me adopting spot-picking as an alternative to smoking (one needs something to do with one’s hands, after all), or some combination of the two, I neither know nor care. I have more spots than I’d ever had as a teenager, and that sucks.
And further, I’m bloating up. I’m not sure how much weight I’ve gained, because I don’t weigh myself but, while I can still fit into all my clothes, my stomach definitely sticks out further than it did. And, because I feel so goddamn tired all the time, it’s almost impossible to exercise.
I am not at all sure what to do about this, to be honest. Patting oneself on the back for giving up smoking only goes so far. If one feels a bit enfeebled after 20 lengths of a very small pool, or a leisurely stroll up to the market, as I do, then surfing is not an option to shed the weight.
Further, I’ve spent quite insanely disproportionate sums (given the economics of smoking here in Indo) “rewarding” myself for giving up smoking, an activity that simultaneously nigh-eliminated my ability to focus and, therefore, to earn, for a solid fortnight, so reward strategies aren’t likely to help. (And, no, being constantly mildly debilitated isn’t helping, either.)
But I continue to feel rubbish. Just boringly, tediously, whinily rubbish.
I’m not a great believer in medical conspiracies, but I can’t imagine that “unpleasant reactions to giving up smoking” is something that many doctors feel motivated to explore as a topic (although one bold chap has gone on the trail of the common cold, as well as mouth ulcers – mine have gone now, yay!).
But…. tell me. Did anyone else feel like absolute rubbish as much as six weeks after stopping smoking? Or is it just me? It all seems most unfair.
Image credits: Serge Gainsbourg, leerde mij by Marco Raaphorst and
Fat Cat by 紫流. Thanks to Lia Vandersant for the 100th birthday pic.