Tag Archives: smoking alternatives

A Crazy Idea?

I woke up in the dark at 5:40 am and wished I still believed in God.  Fourteen people dead at a center for developmentally disabled people in California.  I wished there was a higher power to whom I could appeal for help.  Help for us all.  For a moment, I thought I could feel something, then … nah … wishful thinking.

It’s up to us, people.  What “it” involves is a matter of dispute.

Someone asked on Facebook, “will this turn out to be a mentally-ill person?  Someone with extreme ideology?  A workplace grudge?”

There’s still a lot unknown, but it looks like it could be all three.  And I’m curious to learn if post-partum depression played a role in this latest incident, where a young mother dropped off her baby then went on a shooting rampage which she knew would result in her death or life in prison.

Here’s the liberal argument I hear: “Why do we label the white attackers mentally ill but the Muslim ones terrorists?”  I think what is really being expressed, by the conservative “side”, is that white attackers are deranged while Muslims are evil.

I’d like to flip that around and suggest that instead of considering every horrendous act an act of murder terrorism, we consider it an act of mental illness.  Hear me out.

I’m not a mental health clinician, but I have worked at two mental health clinics, where I have observed that mentally ill people often have religious fixations.  They think they are Jesus, they hallucinate angels, they hear demons telling them to do bad things.

A number of members of my family have suffered from Bipolar Disorder.  One was convinced that the Catholic Church had a conspiracy that had something to do with the numbers on the clock.

Anne, haven’t you noticed?  The numbers on the clock—there are 12 of them!  It’s so obvious that the Catholic Church is behind it.”

“Behind what?” I would ask.

He could never explain to my satisfaction what the numbers on the clock had to do with the Pope and the Catholic Church, but I would hear him out, hoping he wouldn’t call his parents next and burden them with his ranting.

If mentally ill people can have wacko Catholic theories, why wouldn’t they have wacko Muslim theories?

I was in the Middle East for work in February.  We were in Bethlehem on a long lunch break between meetings.  My two Palestinian colleagues and I were smoking shishas while my colleague from Minnesota gagged.

I had arrived in Amman the day ISIS released a video of them burning to death the Jordanian pilot they had captured.  The streets were packed with people waving the Jordanian flag and shouting.  They were angry, and I didn’t blame them.  I wish Americans got angry about wrong doing and demonstrated more often.

Omar turned to me.  “Tell us, what do you think about ISIS—these people who do such things?  We really want to know what Americans think.”

I had been thinking about this a lot.  “I think there’s an element of mental illness involved.  Who is it that most often gets schizophrenia and other serious mental illnesses?  Young men.  Who is it that is almost always behind violence?  I’m sorry, but it’s men.  And then you get them in a group—call it group think or herd mentality or whatever—and fire them up with ideological rhetoric, and put an AK47 in their hands…”

My Minnesota colleague disagreed.  She asserted that poverty and hopelessness were to blame.

Of course those are factors.  But I’ve been poor and hopeless, and I’ve never even shoplifted.  Millions of people around the world are desperately poor and they don’t kill people.  Many members of ISIS and Al Queda are not poor—they’ve got engineering degrees and come from middle class families.

If we do assume that mental illness is behind sadistic killings by ISIS or mass shootings in California and Connecticut, this does not mean the murderers are not responsible for their actions.  It does mean we can have hope, at least in the US, because there are effective means to identify and manage mental illness.

Dying for a Smoke


I’ve written about how I’m so lucky / grateful to not be an addict. However, quitting smoking was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, so I guess that makes me … an addict? Is having a Swisher Sweet cigar once a month a slippery slope? This is something I started in the last year or so.  I don’t inhale. But I must get enough nicotine to give me that instant stress reduction effect. I go down to the river with a beer or a flask of tea and smoke one little cigar and watch the water go by. Is that really so bad? Can’t I just enjoy one vice, once in a while?

I tried everything to quit. Setting a quit date. Cutting down. Smoking myself sick so I’d never want one again–until the next day. The patch, the pills (which caused frightening hallucinations), chewing on cinnamon sticks. Willpower. Phone counseling through my insurance plan. Not smoking til after I’d worked out for two hours. Never smoking in public. Never smoking until after work. Meditation.

I quit over and over. I’d quite for six months then cave in. Once I quit for FOUR YEARS! And then I started again after Dr. Wonderful broke our engagement. I was so sick the next day, after smoking one cigarette, that all I could do way lie on the couch and moan. But I started and kept on smoking for another 10 years.

In the end it was a silly thing that got me to quit. I read somewhere that the average age of women who get lung cancer is 42. So I’d had that in my mind for years—that I had to quit by the time I was 42. And I did. But as with the depression that I battled for decades, I think it was all the things combined, plus this final silly thought, that made it stick. That was 14 years ago.

Meditation helped, too. After all, it involves inhaling and exhaling, just like smoking. I still found myself tearing off the nicotine patch so I could have “just one” cigarette, then slapping the patch back on and yelling to myself out loud, “No—NO!!”

I know I can never pick up a cigarette again, not even to have one drag. I know this I went to Jamaica with a friend 15 years ago. She had quit smoking years earlier. But I was smoking, and she picked up one of mine, just to have a few drags—we were on vacation, after all! She smoked all week and has been smoking ever since. My sister smokes. Yes, the one with cancer. Yes, she knows that smoking can be a contributing factor to colon cancer. She tries and tries to quit. Now there are e-cigs, and she says they’re ok up to a point and then she Just Has to Have a Real Cigarette. I don’t blame her. Like I wrote above, they’re an instant stress reliever. Until you think about lung cancer and heart attacks; that’ll raise your stress level.

There has been no smoking allowed in Minnesota prisons for over 20 years. This is good; Vince’s lungs will get a chance to regenerate. But will he light up again the minute he’s out? He didn’t fight to quit, like I did; he was forced. And he wonders why he was so moody the first few weeks he was inside!