by Catriona Mills

Articles in “Life, the Universe, and Everything”

Oxygen-Rich Environment

Posted 4 July 2011 in by Catriona

I’ve been debating about whether or not to write this blog post, for a variety of reasons.

Partly because this is yet another in my intermittent series of “why I haven’t blogged lately” posts, and I’m sure there’s a saturation point to be reached in those.

But more than that, I just haven’t been sure I’ve wanted to talk about why I haven’t been blogging.

Don’t worry: it’s not as bad as I just made it sound. Though each time I’ve said to someone in person, “I should tell you this, but I don’t want to talk about it”, they say, “You’re not pregnant, are you?”

I’m not pregnant.

But I have quit smoking.

Big deal, right? I’ve done that before, and never successfully. But this time, it’s a bit different:

That’s the number of days since I last had a cigarette. Sort of: I’m over onto the next leaf of the calendar now. (And yes: that’s a Doctor Who calendar with a Dungeons & Dragons character sheet stuck under it, but that can’t come as a shock.)

So: three weeks. Nearly. Nearly three weeks.

And if I’d known that I’d feel this awful, I don’t think I could have ever done it, even though it was entirely my choice.

Luckily, and against all advice, I quit at a moment when I was insanely busy. So what with the nearly three-hundred first years whose final exams I had to either mark or moderate, the final grades for those students, and the Animal Farm manuscript (which came back from the structural edit right at the moment the exam was being sat), it wasn’t until last Thursday that I had a moment to notice the symptoms.

Oh, I noticed that I was a bit short-tempered and craving cigarettes. But I had no idea what a plethora of symptoms the quitting process would bring.

I can’t regulate my body temperature, so I’m either flushed or shaking uncontrollably, regardless of what I’m wearing or what the ambient temperature is.

Because I can’t control my body temperature, I can’t sleep through the night. I wake up boiling hot, but can’t throw off the bed clothes because it’s 3 am and freezing. So I can’t get back to sleep, and I lie there and fret.

And fretting has a whole new meaning, since quitting smoking messes with your adrenaline and cortisol levels, so my anxiety levels are through the roof, and I can’t control them.

My appetite has changed radically, and not in the direction I intended: I was expecting to be eating more, but instead I can force myself to eat during the day, but can’t stomach anything after about 6pm.

(Of course, it’s not as though missing a few meals would do me any harm. Quite the contrary.)

And—and this is the relevant one—I can’t concentrate.

I can’t concentrate on anything.

I can’t even read. After about half a page, I just can’t concentrate any more, even if it’s a book I’ve read before.

Can you imagine what not being able to read does to someone like me? Not to mention that I certainly can’t work, when I can’t even re-read a Charlaine Harris novel.

And one of the casualties of not being able to concentrate on anything for more than about five minutes at a time is this blog.

Before this blog post starts to sound like a particularly dangerous public-service announcement, I should say that I don’t regret quitting and I have no intention of starting again. My breathing is easier, even now. And my skin is brighter, too, even though I do look like a ghost. I’m sure it’s only going to get easier from this point.

It can’t get harder.

At least, I hope not.

But until I can get my brain (and body) back under control, I don’t think the blog will be updated as often as I like.

As I said to Nick, it’s like living at high altitude for fifteen years, and then coming down into an oxygen-rich environment. I just have to stop and sit down until my head stops spinning.

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