Giving up smoking

Judith

Female
Age at interview: 36

Brief outline: Judith, 36, gave up smoking when she was 34. Judith is White Scottish, works as a communications manager and lives by herself. She gave up smoking after being diagnosed with emphysema. Judith started smoking at 14-15. She soon started smoking cannabis to cope with her mental health problems. She always thought she had a ‘smoker’s cough’ but was later diagnosed with emphysema. It was incredibly hard for Judith to stop smoking, but she managed it with the support of a smoking cessation group.

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Judith started smoking when she was 14-15 and she finally gave up when she was 34 after many attempts. She was also a heavy cannabis smoker during this time. She says she ‘self-medicated’ for mental health issues during this time. When she was a child, she found a cigarette on the path and tried it in her bathroom and coughed. She says she smoked at school because it was ‘slightly risqué’ and looked cool. She says she felt that she wasn’t quite the ‘same’ as her immediate family, as they were more academic and she was into PE and sports, so smoking became a marker of difference. Eventually she told her parents she smoked, and they felt that it might have stopped her going ‘over the edge’ (with regards to her mental health problems) but now looking back she thinks that it was a ‘false coping mechanism’.

Judith never thought she would be able to give up, and finally began to consider it when she was diagnosed with emphysema when she was 32. Judith says she was actually losing consciousness slightly when coughing and realised there was a problem. The first time she tried to give up she had a major panic attack, and doctors were giving her sedatives to help her stop smoking. Her hospital consultant shocked her by not only telling her that she wouldn’t be able to give up but also that he could ‘essentially book her a bed in the ward for three years’ time’. Judith said she was looking to others to make her stop, and wanted other people to ‘sort her out’. She started looking at rehab clinics for drugs because for Judith smoking was ‘as devastating as a heroin addiction’: she wanted to stop it ‘but just didn’t know how she was going to stop’. Then, 18 months later, she got to the point where she could think about actually doing it. She stopped cannabis with the help of ‘Crew’, although now she says she doesn’t know how. This success gave her the ‘confidence’ and ‘self-belief’ to start thinking about stopping smoking. She didn’t tell anybody about it as she didn’t want to ‘jinx’ it. She went ‘covertly’ to a smoking cessation group, and although she had gone in the past she felt she was in the right ‘head space’ for it now. She says that she started one-to-one support as she didn’t want the ‘pressure of groups’. She realised a few facts about nicotine addiction that helped her. She set herself a date of 16th February 2010 with the help of the smoking cessation worker. She says it was really helpful that public places were non-smoking. Now looking back she thinks that so much of it is habit rather than addiction. She says she is now ‘so chilled out’ because she doesn’t have to plan her cigarettes. Once she had got over the first day or two she felt a huge sense of achievement. She had lots of products from the smoking cessation group: she used a cut piece of straw to suck through, to just slow her breathing down. She didn’t use the patches much as she didn’t want ‘another psychological thing’ to get over. She now works as an ‘ambassador’ for the smoking cessation group, and has just done some training for ASH Scotland. She says that the group was ‘there’ when she needed it. This in itself is ‘beyond’ what she thought she would ‘do in her life’. She is really proud of herself even though she is a big advocate of smokers’ rights and doesn’t think it’s fair to demonize what they are doing.

Judith is now going to the gym, and has increased her lung function slightly. She has stopped her condition getting worse and is managing it. She now takes more pride in her appearance, in her house and ‘so many different things’. She has had mixed interactions with health professionals since she gave up, and feels that many people put everything down to smoking. She thought that one doctor didn’t give her any credit for giving up smoking. Judith feels that when she was suffering with mental health problems she ‘wasn’t ready to do anything like stopping smoking’. She went to anxiety management courses and felt she needed this ‘almost terminal’ diagnosis to contemplate giving up smoking. She talks about smoking Silk Cut as she thought they were ‘better’. She tried smoking roll ups as they were ‘more hassle’ and therefore she would give up more easily. Now Judith says she has better colour, no cough, no anxiety, and her teeth have also improved, as have her taste buds. Immediately after stopping she felt worse than before, but now she feels great. She now judges that she is listened to more seriously as a non-smoker when she goes for treatment to hospital. She feels that giving up both cannabis and cigarettes at once is a ‘double hurdle’ but does think it’s a personal thing. Now she feels very happy and is really pleased with the place she has got to with her physical and her mental health.

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