We all have our vices. Often more than one. But usually, they're connected. And we don't know it...
I quit smoking recently. In fact, Friday made one month of being smoke-free (okay, so I had one full one and a puff of another, but coming from a pack a day, that's damn good progress). In my case, the method of cessation this time around was Chantix. Unlike my husband who also quit via the same method, I faced a barrage of the "potential" side effects of the drug. Headaches. Nightmares. Nausea. Worst of all, depression. For someone already diagnosed with this particular mental illness, taking a drug that could (and did) make it worse may not have been the best idea. Nonetheless, Chantix did what it was supposed to do. I'm not smoking anymore.
Ask a smoker about their experiences with non-smokers and one phrase is bound to come up: "They just don't get it." The same goes for alcoholics and non-alcoholics, substance abusers and non-substance abusers. I'm going to a step further and say this rule/theory/whatever-you-want-to-call-it goes for interactions between those with mental illness (i.e. depression and those without). Yes, we all have sad days. But that kind of experience is different from a day-today experience of someone whose affliction has no visible source, even if its resurgence might seem triggered by something externally.
Unlike smoking, there is no tried and true cessation method for clinical depression.
Trust me on this one. Do medications like antidepressants work? Sure, for some people. Does therapy help? To some extent. Even in my own experience of being with the same therapist for the last six years, I can vouch for the helpfulness and benefits of psychotherapy. But the truth of the matter is that these methods, these tricks, don't kill depression. The don't slice it at the carotid, leaving it to bleed to death. They don't strangle it, pummel over it with a tank, run it through with a sword. As much as we may want them to, these things only help slow depression down, and even then only momentarily.
I told a friend yesterday that I wanted to cut. He asked me if I had a history of cutting, and I told him the truth. In practice, no, I did not. It was too messy, and the pain caused by it never last long enough to really assuage the real pain with which I dealt. But in thought, in my head, the desire has been there for a long time, and often very intensely. In high school and college, I would wear rubber bands on my wrists. Not because I was in early stages of becoming goth or emo, but because a simple snap of the band would shake me back to reality. After a while, that method stopped being effective.
You might be wondering what connection I might be making between quitting smoking and chronic depression. Here it is: when we rid ourselves of distractions and vices, when we remove the bandages that cover up our wounds, we have to face them. Smoking for me (and I might venture to say for many others) isn't really about smoking. Sure, I enjoyed the buzz of the nicotine, the ritual of that initial incineration. I loved the habit of slamming a pack against my palm, or finishing a drink at the bar a little more quickly so I could go out and light up with friendly strangers. But at home, in the privacy of my own sanctuary, the ritual of smoking was a distraction from actually encountering myself.
...It's hard to see yourself in a mirror if there's a thick fog of smoke between the two...
With my partner gone this weekend, and without the distraction of tobacco, I spent most of yesterday facing the reality of my feelings head-on. And it wasn't easy. And it wasn't pretty. In all honesty, quitting smoking was easy for me (despite pharmacological side effects). Quitting depression... not so easy. Thinking happy thoughts. Taking long baths or walks. Listening to music. Seeing my shrink. Calling a friend. All these things help for a moment, all too briefly. But they aren't cessation methods.
Next time you think about lecturing a smoker friend about how bad it is for them, make sure you're ready and willing to stick around for the fallout that might follow if and when they decide they're ready to quit. You never know what's to come...