Notes from the nicotine wasteland

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To whoever finds this parchment

Know this — by now I have probably jabbed a 10-inch needle loaded with pure liquid nicotine deep into my brain’s synaptic reward centre. My body should not be far from here. Find it, bury it and have my epitaph read: he died trying to quit cigarettes; his mother was right all along.

My hand is unsteady as I write this. I am wracked by tiny, near-invisible convulsions; the feeble attempts of my body trying to mask the madness within. The battle against smoking has been a torturous one, and I have failed miserably.

When I undertook this ill-fated adventure, I assumed I was fit — positive in both mind and body. How wrong I was. A decade of smoking is no joke. It was already too late for me, but I was convinced by a manic yoga teacher that positive thinking and “stretching” would get me through quitting cold turkey.

Lies.

Week one was spent wrapped in the lies I had been fed. This isn’t so bad, I thought, sitting at my office desk working the extra hour and a half my cigarette breaks used to consume. I am feeling fit as a fiddle, and no, I don’t miss all my friends who go marching by me to smoke and chit-chat. So what if I can no longer flirt with that pretty young thing with the menthol cigarettes. Now my life consists of sucking on hard candy, drinking copious amounts of water, and ignoring that strange out-of-body sensation that is slowly gripping me tight. I feel lighter than air… that’s a good thing isn’t it? My body is floating into the sky, with only my 500kg head holding it anchor to this room that is growing tinier and tinier. No, this is not an anxiety attack. I am not hallucinating. I am quitting cigarettes.

Week two was darker. Literally darker. Tunnel vision with breakfast, jitters and panic at the thought of having lost the car keys. They are in my pocket, never mind — I’m feeling fine. I nearly murder a family on a motorbike for wavering too close to my car — WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?! CAN’T THEY SEE I’M IN PAIN? My head is no longer an anchor for my body, it is now a pounding mass of flesh which demands to be fed, and no amount of hard candy, comfort food and four hour long sessions of Angry Birds is going to meet its demands. My heart is racing, and trips to the water cooler aren’t helping. I’m still walking and talking proud, boasting of my ability to quit cold turkey, but this turkey is deep fried. And only I know the pain inside.

Week three is spent in and out of the shrink’s. She tells me a decade of smoking has caused irreversible damage to the neural pathways in my brain, making it that much harder to quit. She shows me pictures of what the brains of crystal meth addicts look like, and tells me to “cheer up”. I tell her I’m short of breath and my lungs feel like they’re working worse than before. She tells me I’ve finally come off my constant nicotine high and am now feeling the impact. Things will get much worse before they get better she says, and some things will never be fixed. I tell her I’m going mad. She says that’s perfectly natural.

Hope is now dead.

Which brings me to week four. I have watched Mad Men on repeat for five days now, stroking my LCD screen gently as the digitalized smoke from Don Draper’s lips sends final shivers of ecstasy through me. I have the needle in my hand. Goodbye cruel world, I’m leaving you today. Goodbye, goodbye … goodbye.

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, June 19th, 2011.

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