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My Stoptober diary, part two: peaks and troughs

October 16th, 2018 by Joe Lofts

Last week’s start to Stoptober was something of a whirlwind. Aside from kicking the cigs for good, I was also faced with a couple of boozy events right from the get-go. Somehow I managed to pull through smoke-free, and the overwhelming emotion was one of relief.

At the start of week two, I didn’t know what to expect. Would it be easier than the first week? Would it be harder? Without all the fanfare of the previous week, would I cave to the cravings without even realising? As I jumped into bed on Sunday night with the same sense of dread I felt seven days earlier, these nagging doubts were at the forefront of my mind.

I’ve gone more than two weeks without cigarettes in the past, but never in such a conscious, documented manner. Here's how round two went.

Monday 8th October

En route to work, there was a guy stood next to me at the bus stop puffing on an e-cigarette, engulfing me in a thick cloud of overly sweet-smelling vapour. Getting lost in the fruity smog was reminiscent of the moment on 90s TV extravaganza Stars in their Eyes when a contestant re-enters the stage amid a plume of smoke, dressed to the nines as some archaic pop star. And, like most of the singing on the show, the experience wasn’t particularly pleasant. I think it’s actually put me off e-cigarettes for good.

man-vaping-against-a-wall

No thanks.

Although this inauspicious start to the week left me feeling like it’d be a blue Monday, the rest of the day wasn’t actually too bad. If I’m honest, I think I’m still riding off the high of getting through the previous Saturday’s day of drinking without smoking. I hope this temporary sense of pride doesn’t submit to temptation!

Tuesday 9th October

Although it’s the ninth day of Stoptober, this is actually my tenth day without a cigarette. The average ex-smoker is apparently limited to just two cravings a day by this stage, so my hopes of coming through the month smoke-free were high this morning.

Perhaps I was a little too optimistic. Although I made it through the day without a single craving, today has been one of the toughest days since giving up - both physically and mentally.

After a mostly sleepless night, I’ve been tired beyond belief. I experience bouts of fatigue quite regularly due to my heart condition, so this added layer of sleep deprivation did little to help ease the other uncomfortable effects of quitting.

One such effect is that I’m producing a lot more saliva than I usually do, even though my mouth feels a lot drier. This is one aspect of quitting that I expected to occur, and it’s also one that’s hard to write about: after all, who wants to hear an in-depth analysis of the inner workings of a person’s gob? Not many, I imagine.

On the plus side, I’ve curbed the biscuit addiction at work. That’s probably because they’ve replaced the chocolate bourbons with custard creams: a subpar alternative if you ask me, even if they are quite good for dipping into a cuppa.

custard-creams-on-white-background

Biscuits are becoming a recurring theme of this Stoptober.

Wednesday 10th October

Like many, I’ve experienced depression in the past, and smoking was always treated as a crutch for those feelings. Today the feelings of withdrawal felt like the beast at its worst: I felt demotivated, my face felt heavy (cracking a smile would have been difficult and earlier on) and my body felt weak. I wanted to smoke but tempered these cravings by reminding myself how disgusting tobacco’s effects on the body are.

To lift my spirits a bit, I went for a couple of after-work drinks with a mate: a smoker who also plans to give up soon. As he took a drag of his cigarette, he made a very astute point about smoking: many of his best memories are associated with it. This resonated with me because it’s invariably the reason why my previous attempts at quitting have always fallen short.

Many of these memories involved alcohol, too, but the cigarettes provided moments of escapism and connection amid the boozy chaos. Countless riveting conversations were had in the smoking areas of many a bar or club, where even the small action of asking someone for a lighter could spark a friendship.

Cigarettes have also been a constant (albeit unhealthy) companion in personal moments of quiet recollection. From watching the world go by during a smoke break at work to having a triumphant cig while observing an inspiring vista on holiday, smoking always seemed to provide a much-needed sense of detachment. In hindsight, this is a naive view: this “companion” is one that will eventually kill you.

man-looks-out-to-sea-from-a-beach

Tonight I’ve been browsing the web for ways to find a source of calmness that doesn’t involve destroying the lungs. Pilates sounds pretty enticing (especially considering that I’ve been having constant back pain recently), as does meditation. Better get the mat out.

Thursday 11th October

Despite a better night’s sleep, I still felt tired, grumpy and anxious this morning; as though the progress I’d made so far was at risk of unravelling before me.

To stem the potential onset of severe cravings, I went to buy some Nicorette gum at lunchtime. I opted for the 2mg dosage (which is meant for those who smoke 20 or fewer a day) and expected it to taste like normal gum with a subtle hint of nicotine.

My expectations were wrong. The gum aggravated my throat more than actual cigarettes do, made me feel dizzy, and dampened my resolve. Once nicotine is separated from the act of smoking an actual cigarette, you begin to realise how unpleasant it is to have in your system. For me, a nicotine rush has always been an inevitable by-product of smoking, so it came as quite a shock to experience it suddenly while sat at my desk.

In sum, the gum made me feel rubbish. Nicotine replacement products obviously work differently for different people, but I felt as though I’d just wasted £10 that could have been spent on something to actually make me feel good (a banh mi from my local Vietnamese takeaway springs to mind).

echo-nicorette-gum-2mg-on-table

It’s worth noting that this is not a product review: if you are struggling to control the cravings, I would certainly recommend that you seek any treatment that you think will help with smoking cessation. I was no longer a heavy smoker by the time I gave up, so the effects of the nicotine rush were more intense than I’d bargained for.

So, in terms of alternatives to being cold turkey, neither e-cigarettes nor Nicorette gum do the trick for me. Time will tell if I try any other options, but for now, I’m going to continue to trod the path of total abstinence.

Friday 12th October

My heart condition flared up somewhat this morning, so I sensibly opted to work from home. Although the symptoms of my MVP (mitral valve prolapse) can induce added stress, I’ve actually had way fewer cravings today than yesterday. This seems to suggest that the hustle and bustle of the commute is a major trigger of cravings. As such, next time I head into the City, I intend to have an even sharper focus on when the triggers appear and how I react to them.

I used my lunch break today to peruse online forums of other people who are participating in Stoptober. To my surprise, an awful lot of the people posting found giving up too difficult and relapsed not long after giving up. One guy even claimed to have managed five weeks without much difficulty before breaking and smoking three cigarettes in a row, which highlights the extent to which nicotine addiction can overpower a person’s determination to quit. Instead of finding motivation, I closed the web browser feeling indifferent.

However, further research offered a bit more comfort. Although it’s easy to feel like you’re the only person going through the quitting process, one person gives up smoking every 80 seconds in England. Many of these will have tried to quit before and failed, but the fact that so many people are giving up shows that decades of public health information about the habit are starting to pay dividends. Young people (our future, no less) are smoking way less than previous generations, and we now have the second-lowest smoking rate in Europe.

map-of-europe-from-an-angle

Saturday 13th & Sunday 14th October

I spent most of the weekend indoors due to a dreary combination of miserable weather and still not feeling great, and it couldn't have been more different from the challenges presented seven days ago.  Although a couple of moments of boredom on Saturday morning sparked the urge to pop into the backyard for a cheeky cigarette (there’s still a couple lying around the house - I should really get rid of them), I’ve hardly given smoking a thought over the last two days.

This afternoon, I saw a guy puffing on a cigarette outside the local supermarket and he seemed to be enjoying his moment of alone time between man and Marlboro. Much to my surprise, my initial instinct was to think “what a mucky habit” - rather than have an immediate urge to go and ask him for one. It looks as though my subconscious mind is adopting a non-smoking mentality - something I thought would take longer than a mere two weeks.

At the end of the day, this subtle subconscious reorientation from nicotine addict to indifferent non-smoker is a bright finish to a gloomy second week of Stoptober. Fourteen days under my belt, and ample motivation for the week ahead!

Weekly round-up

It’s been a very topsy-turvy week; not so much because I’ve been dying to have a cigarette, but more because of the symptoms associated with withdrawal. Still, I feel just as committed as I did last week to see this thing through.

Here’s a quick review of my progress since last time:

Highlights

Lowlights

One more thing worth mentioning from this week: I finally succumbed to the custard creams. Not ideal, but this is one relapse that I’m not too bothered about for now.

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