All my relatives and family smoked when I was growing up, so this never seemed out of the ordinary for me. When you’re a child you try and imitate adults, so I tried my first cigarette when I was 16, but it didn’t last long. I really started smoking when I was 22, I was studying to be a student nurse at the time, and I was struggling with the stress of my exams. This has always been a trigger for me, when I’m stressed and anxious, I turn to cigarettes and it continued from there. I did have a period where I managed to stop for five years, but then the stress of my job made me relapse.
This time round I knew I had to make a lifestyle change, because due to the smoking I developed COPD, and I also have diabetes and high blood pressure. I have had two strokes in my life as well and I wanted to be healthier. I’m an ex-qualified nurse now, so I knew all the risks associated with smoking, but it didn’t seem to make an impression until now. My job was very stressful, and the anxiety always brought me back to smoking, as I felt I needed it as a coping mechanism.
I also struggle with my mental health, and recently I had come to see my smoking as a way of self-harming, and I didn’t like how it made me feel and I knew it was damaging my health. Eventually, I realised that I didn’t even enjoy having a cigarette anymore.
Over the years I have tried to stop about 10 times all in all, but when I look back, I know that each time I wasn’t really ready, but now enough is enough. I needed so much will power to stop smoking and to battle my mental health as well, and I didn’t have that back then. Whereas now I’m getting counselling treatment for my mental health, and before lockdown, I was receiving CBT treatment. It has been postponed at the moment, as I prefer the face to face appointments rather than going online, but I do feel more in control now.
I heard about the Newcastle Stop Smoking Service through the men’s gay group, ‘Gass Bags North East’, which I belong to. We discuss healthy topics and promotes healthy messages, and we did some training on smoking cessation as part of the Gateshead Council and PHE funded initiative, ‘Make Every Contact Count’. This training gave me more information about stopping smoking and I then reached out to the Newcastle Stop Smoking Service.
Initially, I had a face to face appointment at the service with the Smokefree Advisor Emma, but when lockdown happened, we continued my treatment over the phone. Emma went through all the treatment options, and we’d always discuss when a treatment didn’t work and what other choices I could have instead. The service is good at being tailored to the individuals’ needs, as everyone recovery is different. I found the calls helpful and Emma was always really encouraging.
I have tried various nicotine replacement therapies over the years, all with different effects. I didn’t get on so well with the gum, lozenges or inhalers, and initially, the patches gave me vivid dreams. After trying it alone and going ‘cold turkey’ for a few years, this proved even worse! So, this time around, I started with the patches again, combined with the ‘quit mist’ mouth spray, and this combination really worked for me. I never experienced any bad cravings, and if I felt the itch to have a cigarette, one squirt of the spray made it go away. I have now been smokefree since January, and I haven’t had an urge to have a cigarette, which I think is amazing!
I would highly recommend the Newcastle Stop Smoking Service to people wanting to stop smoking, as the best bit is their consistency in their support and treatment. I found this vital to my smokefree journey, as I would always get my prescription and treatments on time and my Advisor Emma always called when she said she would, so I knew what to expect. This took the stress away from me, which had previously been my trigger.
Since stopping smoking my health has improved so much, my chest feels so much clearer and I know this is helping with my COPD and my diabetes conditions as well. I have seen the difference financially too, as I’m able to spend more on food than I would have done before.
It has been hard during the pandemic, as due to my medical conditions I am classed as a vulnerable adult. The physiological damage this does is quite strong, and it is a very stressful time, but I feel good knowing that even through all of this I haven’t once thought about turning to smoking again.
If anyone is thinking of quitting, I would firstly suggest recognising the reason why you want to quit, as this is so important to remember. Once you know the reason you can do something about it.
Secondly, you should contact the Newcastle Stop Smoking Service, as they do an excellent job. They are very supportive and enthusiastic, and they really encouraged me to achieve my stop smoking goals.