Bad Time to Quit Smoking?

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

I am 50 years old, the age where loved ones get sick, need care, and die. I am currently caring for one relative in my home who has in curable cancer after having cared for a different relative (only a few hours per week) who died over a year ago. I also am dealing with a parent in a nursing home with dementia. I had cancer about two years ago but it was cured and I am slowing getting my strength back. My marriage has been on life support for several years now. Up until a few weeks ago I felt like I was coping pretty well with everything. Yes there were some moments during which I wasn’t exactly pleasant but all in all, I felt like I was doing okay, considering. So I decided to quite smoking. I hate being a smoker but staying quit is so hard and takes so much daily, minute by minute effort.

Two weeks ago I quit smoking and last week my husband lost his job, totally out of the blue. And that was the last straw. I just can’t take any more. I want to cry, but can’t. The tears form and then dissipate without falling. I think of crying and I feel shooting pains in the shoulders, chest, wrists and hips, but no tears. I want to scream and yell and stamp my feet but don’t have the energy and know it won’t change and darn thing. I try to grasp onto gratitude, thankful my children are healthy and are doing well, but then I’m consumed with fear that something will happen to them if I focus on them being healthy. I’m starting to feel like I’ve been cursed for having been a pathetic coward for so long, staying with a man I don’t love and being too afraid of the effort it takes to quit smoking. I don’t believe in curses or fate, really. Stuff happens in life, sometimes we caused it and other times we didn’t but in either case we gotta deal with it.

I’m not dealing very well right now; can’t sleep (have had sleep problems for a while but now its even worse) can’t cry, can’t gather enough energy to even plan ways to economize or get a job. I’m numb. I trust this too shall pass, but I’m afraid of how long it will take and how bad it will get before it gets better. I wonder if maybe right now is a bad time to also be struggling to staying quit. In the past few days I’ve cheated each day and smoked. It didn’t make me feel better but once I made the decision to go ahead and light up, that one little bit of stress fell away and then I was okay the rest of the day, comparatively speaking that is. I am taking Chantrix and I know there are some concerns about mental status changes, so I don’t know if the depth I feel right now is completely situational or has it been pushed deeper by the Chantrix?

I hope you can help because clearly, individual counseling is out of the question without insurance.

A: The safety information listed on the Chantix website states: “Some people have had changes in behavior, hostility, agitation, depressed mood, suicidal thoughts or actions while using CHANTIX to help them quit smoking” and advises that you call your doctor right away. I agree. I’m very concerned about your inability to cry and the pains you are experiencing.

Different people respond differently to medications. I realize you were trying to do something positive for yourself by quitting smoking but you may not be able to tolerate this medication. Yes, quitting smoking is good, but not at the price of your physical and mental health.

Please give yourself some credit for dealing with as much as you do. As my grandmother used to say, “Getting older isn’t for sissies.” She was right. You are dealing with multiple losses, changes in your own physiology, and now the financial and emotional stress that comes with your husband’s job loss. You may at times wonder why you are still standing up.

I understand that therapy may be impossilbe right now due to not having insurance but I do think you need some support. I hope you have some good friends or family members to talk to. Some mutually supportive whining is absolutely fine as long as you don’t get stuck in it and can balance all the stress with some good times. If you don’t currently have friends who can provide that, please consider finding a support group for caregivers. To locate one, contact your local hospital, senior service, or your doctor’s office for information.

Don’t give up on your goal of quitting smoking. Do wait until your life settles down and find a way to do it that doesn’t give you so much distress.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 25 Dec 2012

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2012). Bad Time to Quit Smoking?. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 24, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2012/12/25/bad-time-to-quit-smoking/