Quitting Smoking? A Harder Road for Those with Bipolar Illness.   12 comments

If every morning you wrapped your lips around the exhaust pipe of dad’s Buick and told him to kick it over and give it some gas, just so you can savor the luscious fumes, the production crew of “My Strange Addiction” would be on your doorstep chronicling your life threatening compulsion.   But most people wouldn’t do that because the violently hot exhaust would instantly burn your throat and lungs, possibly killing you on the spot.

Well about 20% of the population are doing this, although the pleasure source they have selected won’t mame or kill you quite as quickly; They’re called cigarettes.  And I’m not going to go on a diatribe on how bad they are for your health.  I’ve smoked on and off for since I was 12 years old knowing full well it causes cancer and heart disease, but chose to puff forth anyway.

I actually love smoking.  The hand-mouth thing, the calming nicotine rush with the first cigarette of the day, the relaxing act of inhaling and exhaling the gray wafts of smoke and how blissful morning coffee can be with a cigarette.  I have no proof, but I think bipolar people are more susceptible to this addiction because smoking a cigarette gives them time to pause and think.  I know whenever I felt a manic display of behavior waiting in the wings, a five minute cigarette break could put things in a new prospective.  If I would get frustrated or felt my anxiety level needed a release, cigarettes came to my rescue.  I actually convinced myself it was OK to smoke because I was bipolar. It was therapeutic.

I knew I was kidding myself.  Like when I tried to convince myself I needed a ten thousand dollar Hublot Big Bang watch as a good investment.  And after a little heart scare this past weekend which sent me to the emergency room, I decided enough was enough.  I quit cold turkey.  Who’s fooling who? My body is just like everyone else’s.  I can still get cancer and heart disease from smoking.  It’s my mind that’s different.  So now I sit here writing this blog in mild misery because I want my cigarettes.

I think it’s harder for bipolar people to quit because of the way our brains work.  We are forced to take medication, endure side effects and often never feel completely well.  Since many things in our lives are so difficult we crave an outlet.  Although many of us silently suffer, we can publicly blow off steam in the form of smoke.  Cigarettes become our friends.  As long as we are in a place where we can smoke, we’ll be alright.

Then some of us have to quit.  Maybe it’s a health scare.  Maybe you promised your daughter you’d be there for her wedding.  Or, maybe you decided against having your larynx removed so don’t you have to burp out your words while holding what looks like an electric razor up to a hole in your neck.   But you didn’t count on the depression that would ensue.  You’ve lost a pressure release valvue.  A distraction from the circus in your bipolar mind.  Something you can depend on with an illness that can be very erratic at times.  It’s quite a hit.

I can’t tell you how to get through the discomfort and sometimes agony of giving up cigarettes.  I’ve been hypnotized twice and lit up on the way out of each session before I even made it to my car.  But as a bipolar man, it helps that I understand why “the quit” is so difficult.  I think even harder than for someone without bipolar disorder.  But then again, everything is harder for us.  However I have learned that the “one day at a time” way of looking at things is very applicable.  And I do try to keep thinking of all the things I will be able to do now that I am a non-smoker; like run faster, smell better, not have to always carry cigarettes and a lighter with me and most of all let go of the guilt I had for playing Russian Roulette with a pack of Marlboro every day.

The one thing I won’t miss are overzealous non-smokers yelling out 5th floor windows of downtown office buildings at me on the street that my second hand smoke is making them sick.  I call this the “magic smoke theory.”  With all the exhaust fumes, food vendor smells and other smokers on the streets of San Francisco, somehow my particular cigarette smoke can be detected above all else and make these people sick.  It’s enough to make me want to start smoking again just to annoy them.

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12 responses to “Quitting Smoking? A Harder Road for Those with Bipolar Illness.

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  1. As a smoker myself…..you hit this one right on the head! Everything, I agree, is so much harder for us. I’ve tried quitting numerous times and well, I still puff away.

    • I feel for you so much. I’m on day 5 of my most recent quit. I’m missing it.

      Do not be hard on yourself Becky. You are not a bad or weak person for smoking. You’ll quit when you are ready. I honestly believe you’ll just know. If you’re mind is not ready you won’t be successful. You have to really want to do it.

  2. Really cool post, highly informative and professionally written..Good Job

  3. i’m a month in and completely miserable. just started to do some research on the link of quitting/smoking as someone with bipolar disorder. like you it was my outlet – i’ve adjusted to not smoking with coffee, driving, that stuff is easy. it’s stressful situations i’m having a very hard time dealing with. i’m somewhat in crisis mode right now (not self harm or danger) and not smoking is not helping (making it worse? causing it?). i’ve actually had therapists in the past tell me *not* to quit since smoking helped calm me down so much. i thought by the time i got to a month it would be easy. i’ve almost debated letting myself go back to smoking bc of being bipolar. arg. how are you getting through it? is it causing cycling for you? do you find yourself being more irrational?

    • Butterfly, you got me at a bad time. I broke down and started smoking again three weeks ago. Things at work became unbelievably stressful and I smoked just one cigarette that lead to half a pack a day. What I will tell you is that I do not feel any better and now I have yet another problem to re-conquer. What I did realize is that only two or three cigarettes a day actually taste good, and the rest are all automatic, obligatory, because I’m bored or I want an excuse to sit and think. And, I feel like a complete outcast always standing off by myself or with the smoking crowd. Moreover, I hate they way I smell. This is all not to mention it’s impeding my exercise ability which I depend on to help my bipolar depression.

      So, when you think of starting again, think of all these things I have experienced since I gave in. And if you still are miserable and none of this is a deterrent, plus you are having serious Bipolar issue and cigarettes will definitely make you feel better, you are not a bad person for starting again. However, there will always be a reason not to quit.

      I wish I could give you all these powerful tools to stay off the smokes, but I have to be real with you. Please let me know how you are doing. And I’ll let you know how my next quit is going.

  4. i actually didn’t realize this was posted almost a year ago – was just searching for bipolar and quitting smoking and came across your blog…i understand the stresses of work and life (and obviously being bipolar) leading back to smoking and hope things calm down for you soon. thank you for sharing how it’s making you feel and reminding me why i’m staying off of them in the first place – someone said to me don’t think of it as quitting. think of it as a passive act, i am not a smoker. i’m hoping it gets a bit easier, that my work and life stresses calm down and i stop rapid cycling for a bit (with more on the low than the high side). i appreciate you sharing your experiences and will read some of your more recent posts.

  5. I know I am swinging, I am trying to stay in the middle. Smoking has been my friend, my best friend. My cigarette never left my side in any situation, I left ciggy’s side. I am trying to figure out how not to blow the hell up or cry because I need a cigarette! How to stop shaking and the stress headache to go away. My dogs are unhappy right now. Im not happy or playing with them. As soon as I feel a little happy the urge to smoke gets worse. Doing things to punish myself is my Bipolar, and when I am happy I dont punish myself and not smoking is punishment.

  6. Hi there Day 2 of not smoking and im bp type 2 and am beginning to feel absolutely miserable..I just feel like bursting into tears…Im quitting as I want to sing better in my band have a clearer tone and get rid of the husk caused from smoking. I want to run faster and am goung in a 10k fun run in March. I also work in the fitness industry and smoking makes feel like such a hypocrite at promoting health and fitness as I also have to hide it from my work colleagues and clients…but have some weird as up and down negetive mood swings..distracting and trying myself with candy crush.

    • Hi Lisa. Well I have to give you a pat on the back because you are doing better than I. I am smoking again. I can tell you the long sordid tale of the pressure that brought back to the cancer sticks, but it’s only an excuse. Normally I don’t recommend anyone do anything that makes them absolutely miserable. However, I do know each day quitting definitely gets easier. The first week is the very worst of it. I promise you that. I am trying to get up the courage to do my first week again, for the umpteenth time. What I do know is the most horrible thing you can do is beat yourself up about it. You are not a hypocrite unless you preach smoking abstinence. And it doesn’t matter what other people think if they do know. They aren’t Bipolar and don’t realize how much harder it is for us. However, I wouldn’t use that publicly as an excuse. It may draw fire. I think the running is the thing that will help you get through this. Just keep running and I think you’ll want your lungs to be clear because you’ll want better performance in your 10K. Plus we all know exercise is a great natural anti-depressant. Also, try those electronic cigarettes that deliver nicotine through heated vapor and you can actually blow the vapor out of your mouth, as if you were really smoking. I have cut down incredibly with them. And they don’t hurt you lungs. The “Blu” Brand or “Njoy” are pretty good. But please stop beating yourself up about this. And if you slip you slip. Then you just take a deep breath, or as deep a breath as you can as a smoker, and try again. And if it makes you feel any better, I’m going to do it with you. I have Bipolar II as well and out of solidarity I’ll close ranks and give it another shot. So now we can be miserable together. Misery loves company. Please keep in touch.

  7. My love has bipolar and just quit. I googled it and found you. Thank you for sharing, as it reminds me of what he is going through right now.

    • Thanks Jami. I’ve been smoking a lot recently. I blame it on some bad times I am going through in my life at present. However, I know that’s only an excuse. There will always be reasons to keep smoking. But right now cigarettes are my security blanket.

      • Take care of yourself there, sweetie. Sometimes we do what we have to do to survive, and that’s ok. You will quit again when you can handle it.

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