By Shirin Nargis Fatima Ahmad
Crossing the smoky bridge – Marylin’s Story
“I was so hooked on smoking, I thought there was no way out. No way to quit the habit that has been with me for many years, and when you have a habit like that it’s like your mind is clouded with the smoke you’ve been inhaling in for so long. Nobody understands unless you’re in that predicament just how damaging the smoke is to your health. It can take quite a while to recognise the self-destruction you are inflicting on your body. It’s like this with every habit like drugs or alcoholism, it is self-inflicted damage.
My journey started when I visited the doctor because I wasn’t feeling well. The doctor told me that given my family history of heart disease continuing to smoke could be very damaging to my health. They told me about the ONE YOU Kensington and Chelsea service and asked if I would be open to quitting smoking. I said yes. I admit I was a little reluctant. Initially, I was unsure if being smoke-free was what I really wanted. When you have an illness and you’re not looking for a cure, you end up living with it as if it’s normal. But at the same time, I was wondering if this could be real? if this could be possible? I thought let’s grab the opportunity and take a chance. I have tried to quit smoking for a number of years, but it’s been hard for me to do it by myself. But when you have professional support and aids, it's easier to see the light at the end of the tunnel. It was the best decision ever.
My stop smoking advisor (Yadira) was very professional and understanding, embarking on the journey with me and assured me that she will be there to help me cross the bridge and see the light. She wasn’t forward or forceful but provided an empathetic listening ear. She advised me that help is available if I was ready to accept it. She helped me understand the health issues smoking can cause, not exaggerating them, just stating the facts. Smoke can cause serious damage to our health, we know this, but we never pay attention to how it’s damaging us. Sometimes we need a helping hand to gradually rescue us. The good thing about the therapy was that it was realistic and tailored to my needs. My advisor understood that I couldn’t cut off immediately, and instead supported me to gradually reduce the numbers, and as you gradually reduce your cigarettes you start seeing the difference. I admire people who can cut off immediately, but that’s not right for me; I needed more gradual support, eventually realising I didn’t need them.
My advisor spent many hours supporting me. We weren’t just talking about the health dangers of smoking but also the side effects, like the smell! Let’s be honest the ugly smell of cigarettes that gets into your hair is not the most pleasant. She also helped me understand the different types of Nicotine Replacement Therapies that I could use like inhalers, gums, patches. These were things I never thought I would be doing. The inhalers were my favourite. They were the most useful medication as it mimicked the same physical movement of smoking, almost as if I still had the cigarette, but I didn’t see the smoke. Instead, I could see the difference in my health, skin, hair, nails, and home by being smoke-free. I’ve noticed that being smoke-free has meant that I look better and smell better.
You don’t realise the difference other people’s opinions play in motivating you. People noticed my skin was looking better, healthier, and glowing. They would say “you look different! You look nice” Hearing these compliments encouraged and motivated me to cut down and eventually be smoke-free. It was quite embarrassing when people would say that “you smell of cigarettes” but it was a fact of my lifestyle. The smell of cigarettes is awful, but when you’re into the habit you don’t recognise it. Now that I’m smoke-free it is not just my hair that smells fresh and pleasant, but my home too. Even my plants came back to life in a smoke-free home. I love nature, so seeing my plants alive and greener was beautiful. It was like the nicotine they absorbed for years gradually disappeared. I feel my home is much lighter! I know that when I was smoking, I wasn’t just passing the smoke on myself but on my plants and my food. I can see that my home is now clearer and more transparent.
My Stop Smoking Advisor also talked to me about the potential effect being smoke-free could have on my weight. She recommended I join the exercise sessions with ONE YOU Kensington and Chelsea. The best part of the ONE YOU clubs was that I got to meet other people who were on the same journey as I am, and I didn’t feel like I was doing this alone. The clubs also taught me about mindfulness and the healthy lifestyle advisors talked me through any issues and concerns I had about my diet and nutrition, especially about foods which are good for health when leaving the smoking habit. It was great to have not just one aid but the combined aid that was offered to me throughout my journey.
Quitting smoking has opened doors for me for improvements in my life. I’ve noticed I’m sleeping better now that I’m smoke-free before it was so difficult to get a restful night’s sleep. I can now walk much faster. When I was smoking, I felt quite strained to breathe and would be constantly out of breath and would feel tired after 100 metres. I can now walk from Covent Garden to Pimlico with ease and quickly. The hardest part of the journey for me was to not have a cigarette while I drank a glass of wine, but honestly, it never was just one cigarette, it wasn’t measured. I was quite possibly having too many cigarettes in a day. If I drank on three consecutive days, then I would be smoking a crazy number of cigarettes. Now I am almost free from the wine and totally free from cigarettes.
During this pandemic, there was a lot of mixed feelings, a sense of uncertainty and ambiguity. Occasionally I did crave for a puff, but I stayed strong and didn’t smoke. During this time, my advisor called me to check in if I needed support or relapsed, it was a nice reminder to keep me on track and I assured her I was still smoke-free. I initially thought those who say they’ve become smoke-free were talking rubbish, but now I know otherwise. Through this journey I learnt we have will power, our minds are very strong and can bring positive changes but sometimes we need somebody to help us cross the bridge. I wouldn’t have been able to do it on my own as I didn’t have the motivation, or the right frame of mind or the right information. I’ve been smoke-free for six to seven months now and it is an amazing feeling to finally achieve my goal; a goal I knew I always wanted to achieve. It wasn’t a very difficult journey; it was an exciting journey. I look at the past and compare it to my present and measure the benefits in my life. I have achieved something important.
I highly recommend it to people, if they are in the same predicament as I was before, to take this help. If anyone needs help, go for it, don’t be embarrassed, don’t feel like you’re hooked and locked in your habit, there is always light at the end of the tunnel.”