Baby Blues is a column about raising my daughter in the windstorm of postpartum depression. Though discussing the dark spots of postpartum depression, I also share my successes.
I am choosing to smoke again.
It's strange wording it like that, because I've never felt like it was a choice before. When I first started smoking cigarettes in my early 20s, it just kind of happened -- a cigarette here and there, usually at a bar, sometimes on the drive home from work. It evolved into a pack a day habit. Then I quit a month before getting pregnant with my daughter and remained an ex-smoker for nearly two years.
Around the time my daughter turned one, I guiltily puffed on a clove cigarette from time to time with friends, thinking I could make it a casual thing, a social thing. But of course that turned into a pack a day, and I worried myself sick about it. Guilt and a wicked sinus infection got me to stop again. I didn't smoke for three months.
Physically, I felt okay during this time. My lungs felt warmer, my blood more alive. It was nice not smelling like an ashtray or having to step onto the patio in extreme weather to feed a habit. It was nice not having to dig around in drawers to find a functioning lighter or scramble to the gas station upon realizing I was out of smokes.
But without cigarettes, my brain felt like it was moving in slow motion. I replaced cigarettes with sugar, and when we didn't have dessert in the pantry I became just as irritable and insufferable as a toddler throwing a tantrum. I carried on having extreme mood swings, panic attacks and sugar cravings for three months, trying to remember when it was supposed to get better. It got better, right? I mean, I had quit for two years before. I had some really good times in those two years, so I knew it was possible.
I waffled back and forth with the idea of smoking for weeks, trying to find other activities to do that might help me feel better. One day, I hit breaking point. Nothing was helping. My husband said, "just make a decision. But once you do, be okay with it. Either smoke or don't."
From what I've read, nicotine causes your brain to release serotonin, much like antidepressants. Whether this is true or not, I do know that I feel less depressed and more functional when I'm smoking. That's exactly what happened when I started again that day. Perhaps this has nothing to do with my PPD, perhaps if I'd never started smoking in my early 20s I wouldn't have developed this chemical dependency that makes me only feel "normal" when I have nicotine in my system. And maybe one day I'll be able to afford antidepressants, and I'll be ready to quit smoking again.
But this time, smoking is symbolic in a way. It is my reminder that I'm not a perfect mom, and I don't have to be. Before, I was constantly on the verge of losing my mind because I felt like a failure for not exercising enough, not working hard enough, not eating the right kinds of foods and not balancing my life correctly. I legitimately thought if I just tried hard enough, everything could be exactly as I wanted it to be. I didn't rest. Daily, my husband had to remind me to relax.
This mentality was killing me. It was killing me faster and deeper than any cigarette habit could. Although I'm aware of the long term dangers of smoking, what I fear most is the emotional consequences I might suffer if I do the "right" thing and quit again. I would rather live a short, mostly happy life than a long one filled with near-constant anxiety and guilt.
Oddly enough, since easing up on myself, I don't feel some strange compulsion to have a cigarette every hour, on the hour. That was my routine in the old days. Now, I see it as something to do when I need a moment to regroup. If I'm distracted or busy or engaged in an activity I love, I don't have to stop to have a cigarette. I just do it when I feel like it. Allowing myself not to feel guilty about it also allows me to not feel like a slave to a habit.
When my daughter is old enough to understand, I'm going to be as candid as possible with her about smoking. I will, of course, explain that it is easier to never start smoking than to start and quit. I'll tell her it's more addictive than street drugs, and just as dangerous. I will answer any questions she has, as hard as they may be to address. And if she understands everything and chooses to smoke too, I won't judge her for a second.
(photo: Givaga / Shutterstock)