Until I find the cure for anxiety, cigars are my home remedy. I am simply incapable of relaxing. I pick my fingers until they’re bleeding; I fidget incessantly; the only time I’m at rest is when I’m asleep (well, some nights that’s not even true!). If you want to see me at my worst, just make me sit still for an indefinite amount of time. It’s not that I don’t want to sit still; I just can’t. I’ve always envied those who could spend a fall afternoon lying on the couch watching wall to wall football games.
Here’s a snapshot of my thoughts when I try to chill out in front of the TV: “Oh this game looks good…hmmm, commercials…let’s see what else is on…ooooh another good game and this one’s farther along…which one should I watch? (anxiety starts to move in; OCD starts telling me that if I pick the right show, I’ll be able to relax, but if I don’t, I’ll regret it forever and probably die of a stroke because of what I missed)…maybe there’s a movie on instead (hit “guide” button on remote)…dammit another game I want to watch…and 2 movies…self-criticism starts: ‘Tim, why can’t you just pick something and quit over-thinking this, you idiot! Take a deep breath and just pick one’…okay, I’ll watch this game…crap, they scored twice while I was channel-surfing…now this game is boring…
Sounds pretty relaxing, no?! Yeah it’s not.
In college, I loved having a cigar with friends, not as a cure for anxiety, but as a do-gooder’s attempt to be edgy. Smoking a cigar nearly guaranteed an hour of great conversation and relaxation. Last summer, some of my recently-graduated students invited me to join them for a cigar, and I eagerly said yes. Then I decided to buy a few more and to enjoy them in the coming evenings.
Then I got hooked.
Not hooked in a cigarette sense – cigars are not addictive unless you inhale them, which I don’t. But hooked in the sense of having found a way to force myself to sit still, read a book, think, and quit fidgeting for an hour. I had something in my hands to fidget with if need be; the flavor and management of the cigar kept me engaged in the activity at hand; the slow and quieting nature of cigar smoking naturally seemed to do what nothing else could – make me relax.
Then the inevitable guilt, OCD, and anxiety kicked in: Is this going to kill me at age 46, and my wife and children will resent me for making this choice, knowing I would’ve lived to be a healthy 105 without the damn cigars? Am I a horrible father for smoking and giving my kids mixed messages: “Don’t smoke cigarettes! but leave daddy alone while he has a cigar.” Can I afford this expensive habit? Will my wife tell me I have to quit smoking them just as I’m starting to love them?
So I did what any good, obsessive person would do: I decided to figure out exactly how dangerous this is for me since that fear was at the core of my anxieties. Unfortunately, there’s only conjecture. No one’s ever studied cigar smokers’ longevity. The warnings about any kind of smoking all get lumped in together, but in the case of cigars, that’s a cover-your-ass (cya) measure by our government…”We’d better tell people these will kill them just in case it’s true…even though there are no additives (it’s 100% tobacco), most people don’t inhale them, and we’ve never actually studied this particular sub-group.” So, without the religious-zealot’s certainty I was hoping for, I was left feeling anxious about my new habit. There was no data telling me that I had, in fact, found a healthy cure for anxiety.
After a year of anxious questioning (while still smoking) here are some of the conclusions I’ve landed on (at least for now):
- My issues and challenges are entirely different from other people’s. Most people want to live as long as possible; I’d like to be dead by 75. Not that I’m trying to kill myself with cigars, but if you’re argument against it is that it might shorten your life, I for one ain’t aiming for 100! My brain is exhausted already…has been since I was 8!
- Most people are capable of some degree of relaxation without the aid of the 4 mental health drugs I take, so they have other options for relaxation – I even have one friend who runs 3,000 miles a year (about 8 miles a day), and that’s his therapy and catharsis. Lucky bastard! His relaxation is actually good for him…more proof of the inequities in life, right?! But smoking cigars helps me immensely. I’ve tried getting the “natural high of exercise,” but I hate exercise. I still try to do it, mostly out of guilt, but I hate every second of it.
- No matter what I do, I will obsessively fear my own untimely death and subsequent abandonment of my children; even when I exercise religiously (see #2), I think about the healthy 37-year-old father of 4 who dropped dead 2 years ago in our community. I’m always aware that death is never all that far away. Morbid, I know! That’s why I have a blog about my own insanity, people.
- I want to add things to my life that help me to embrace TODAY without living my entire life in the fear of the future or regret of the past. Whether I smoke cigars or not, I’m not sure I’ll be alive tomorrow, so I want to, pardon the cliche, seize the day.
- Finally, and this is very similar to the first, but it’s worth repeating: I’m just trying to survive today. I don’t have the luxury of daydreaming about where I’ll retire and life happily ever after. Staying alive is something I routinely question my desire to do! Living happily ever after?! Ha! I’ve lived less than 2% of my life truly happy since I’m ALWAYS anxious, obsessing, or depressed. The rare manic (or even just peaceful) moments are great, but I realized a long time ago that I ain’t got a chance to live happily ever after. I’m just SURVIVING and trying to make my survival a little better bit by bit.
So I smoke cigars. These days, quite a bit. Will it kill me? Maybe…but so will my anxiety and/or suicidal depression if I don’t get a handle on them. If cigars are a somewhat unhealthy part of that handle on sanity and peace, so be it!