Tag Archive | WFTH authors

Smoking: Habit or Addiction by Susan J. Katz

Smoking: Habit or Addiction?

by Susan J. Katz

from Visions Journal vol. 3 no. 4 (Spring 2007)

I crouched, face to the floor, my eyes burning badly, straining to breathe. I was six years old and following the procedure for avoiding smoke inhalation that I had learned in elementary school—except this was not an accidental fire emergency. We were cruising home with our car windows rolled up tight because it was winter and too cold to open them, and my parents were both smoking. I hated inhaling the cigarette smoke. But, I accepted smoking as a normal part of what the adults around me did. What else could I do at six? Other things besides cigarette smoke inhalation were a threat for me as a child. I had to accept life in an exceptionally chaotic and abusive family in order to survive. One effect of my traumatic childhood, besides recurrent depression, has been a pervasive feeling of never ‘fitting in’ with others. As a typical teenager, this included the need for peer acceptance and I became a ‘social smoker,’ having the occasional cigarette with friends and trying cigars and a pipe in my bedroom with an adventurous girlfriend. My smoking increased in university; study breaks, social drinking and role models who smoked were added inducements. Living in Alaska was the final boost that got me hooked to the habit. I was 19 and worked on commercial salmon boats. I loved the fresh air, romance and challenge of my adventure—and I already spoke the universal language of smokers. “I need a smoke.” “Want a cigarette?” “Which smokes do you want me to get?” Smoking helped me gain acceptance by the rough, independent fishermen despite the fact that I was a single, young, Jewish, female university student from California working in what I’ve been told is the most dangerous of livelihoods—commercial fishing. I got up to one-and-a-half packs a day. I bought them by the carton and stashed them under the pillow of my ship’s bunk, thinking that I could handle anything as long as that carton lasted. I managed to handle the stress of watching helplessly as a companion’s boat and crew were swept into the sea and drowned. I had to protect myself from threatening approaches by some rough and often jealous men. One boat lost its propeller into the deep, and the engine of another one burned out from too much strain, both in isolated areas of open water. If we hit a big run of salmon, we worked non-stop hauling in fish for two or three days at a time. The peace, space and companionship I gained by taking smoke breaks helped me get through all this. I returned to university with a hard-core tobacco habit that persisted for about three years. But over the last six months of that time, I gradually quit. What was the secret to quitting? I had moved into a new location and had begun graduate school. I now found myself surrounded by people who did not smoke. I don’t recall any of my fellow students, professors or friends as being smokers. As a young woman already insecure about fitting in socially, however, breaking into the traditionally male domain of the mammalogists (biologists who study mammals) was particularly challenging and stressful. But, without the former social inducements to smoke, turning to cigarettes was no longer attractive for me. I developed new ways to find relief from stress: I took up jogging, which was popular with the other students; for a study break I had a coffee or other low-calorie drink; and I joined a western swing dance club and made new friends and had fun. After about six months of new activities and associates, I had tapered down to one or two cigarettes a day. The final kicker was that I preferred spending time with my new non-smoking boyfriend than with a cigarette—I met him at the western swing dance club, and have now been married to for almost 27 years. Then, I just stopped buying cigarettes one day. There were times I really missed the fresh sea spray mixed with the smell and taste of that first drag. But, hey, realistically, I was no longer at sea! A few years later, in a moment of wanting relief from stress, I longingly recalled the sense of fulfillment offered by that first drag and tried a smoke. It was nauseating. I recalled the early memories of choking on smoke on the floor of my parents’ car and wondered how I could ever have smoked as much as I did. I recently chatted with a relative over dinner about a major research project he is managing for a large pharmaceutical company. The goal of the project is to develop a drug that prevents nicotine in a smoker’s blood from stimulating the pleasure sensations in the brain that reinforce nicotine’s addictive aspects. This sounds promising—a ‘vaccine’ that will stop people from smoking. It also raises concerns, such as what side-effects this vaccine may have. And it raises this question: what benefit would a vaccine that targets nicotine addiction have for me, or for others who, like me, smoke for complex behavioural reasons? Physical addiction is a real and serious problem for many smokers. But looking for simple solutions, such as ‘magic bullet’ vaccines or pills that can be aimed at some physiological ‘target’ is not a realistic approach, either. An injection won’t eliminate the other incentives I had for smoking, such as attracting companionship or preventing boredom. Stress is a normal and inevitable part of life, and particularly so for someone with my compromised sense of self-assurance. But, by finding fulfillment with healthier stress reducers such as exercise and refreshing drinks or snacks, by having relationships with people who didn’t smoke and by making productive lifestyle choices, I was able to quit. Susan is a writer and former mental health services consumer. She lives in Vancouver.

The Invitation by Leanne Johnston

The Invitation

The boat crashes against the water,
Which looks like jelly.
Translucent, thick, taut,
Reminds me of a glass of water overfilled,
Held in place,
By some invisible skin.

When the boat soars and crashes,
Soars and crashes,
The foam it creates,
Makes fizzing sounds.
F’shoo, f’shoo, f’shoo.

I look into the dark, thick water.
The bubbles invite me in,
Suggest the water will
Envelope me like a bubblebath;
Sooth my soul.

I remove my shoes,
Place them on the window ledge,
Climb into he window,
And dive into the water.
I am alone in that nothingness.
As I watch the ferry sail away,
I am free.

–Leanne Johnston

Remebering Brian Farrell

Brian Farrell

August 1, 1947 – February 25, 2008 Brian was born in Glasgow, Scotland. He will be lovingly remembered and sadly missed by family and friends, especially by his wife, Diane; daughters, Courtney and Louise; mother, Anna; sister, Anne (Graeme) and their children, Charles, Emma and Guy. A service will be held on March 7, 2008 at 10:00 a.m. at First Memorial Boal Chapel, 1505 Lillooet Road, North Vancouver. Donations in Brian’s memory may be made to the Canadian Mental Health Association www.cmha.ca “Forever in our hearts”.

Brian will be dearly missed by us all.

A memorial service will be held at First Memorial in North Vancouver at 10am this Friday, March 7 2008.

Harumph! by Tony Ruzza

Harumph! Harumphing!
Stribber was clearing his throat
trying to calm himself down.
Touchdown to land
quagmire to approach.
He began to lower

the hypno-craft-oleo. Hum Azar.

He ran the power source. Stribber
eased back on the modiloto.
He kept watching the
needles on the dials, making sure
they were in the critical zone.
The Hammer came down. Stribber gyrated left tight center forward
every which way until he could zero
in on the landing. Suddenly everything
went dark. A power drop.

Poem: Try Spitting by Sharon Taylor


To be
By psychiatric labels
You need to
Have honesty

Stand up
Take a stand
For what you believe in
You’re out of touch
With reality

Speak your mind
You’re psychotic

Assert yourself
You’re resistant to treatment

You’re angry
You’re showing
Signs of hostility

You’re happy
Get real
You’re Manic

Oh yeah
Thanks for the
Slap in the face
For the $3.00
A month
Increase on the
Comforts fund

Get real
Try spitting
Next time

by Sharon Taylor, from her book, Deep System

WFTH Level 2 Class Poetry

Grow a Poem 1
WFTH 28 January 2008


Grow a Poem 2
WFTH 28 Jan 2008

The black cat
Run to apple them
no understanding
of black
Mr. Mistopheles had no fleas
but had a collar
with a shiny blue nametag

Grow A Poem 3
WFTH 28 Jan 2008

The wasp’s stinger
drove into my hand
causing me to shriek
identify all matter terrestrial
who cares
Yes Yes Yes
The pharyngeal glands emptied as she
flew her final death flight

by Wilma B.

Parfait Adeste Pluralistic Taschen
French Latin English German
Paradeste Pluraltasch

Ein Deux three
Nei Ho Ma allons Allons
Oui Yes Nyet
Parasol Parapluie
no “fideles” Now its “Faithful”
Eau de Nil & Boes de Rose.


Translucent light slightly
Obscures the images
No matter what!! They are real
Out of grasp They continue
to intrigue
when vision ecomes more clear
perhaps they may dissapear
from a world left to interpretation

by Martin H.

World of water
in a desrt of Tsunami winds.

Sand in the food, sand in my eyes
but clear, clear water in the abyss.

World of water
and flames will consume it all.

the pressure can’t hold, the steam released.
and clean, clean water there will be.

world of water.
and shame will dilute it all.

the falls are growing
an no-one will be knowing.
where Noah killed us all.

Tardive Dyskinesia by Susan J. Katz

From eVisions Journal: Tardive Dyskinesia—A Side Effect of Stigma

Susan Katz I have tardive dyskinesia (TD), a brain disorder that causes its victims to have uncontrollable muscle movements or tics. My movements are mostly in my throat and head area. My symptoms increase and decrease in an odd cycle every couple of weeks and include difficulty breathing and swallowing. I have to constantly sip liquids, suck on lozenges and clear my throat by softly grunting. I have learned not to raise my voice or sing for more than a short time because I will become hoarse or develop a throat infection. The tics cause me to grimace, raise my eyebrows and lick my lips, which can create confusing or inappropriate facial expressions when I’m talking with people. My tongue takes on a life of its own, and uncontrollably explores hiding places between my teeth after I eat, which has drawn stares in restaurants. Because of all these movements, the inside of my mouth and the surface of my tongue are usually scraped, blistered and sore. At times I feel very self-conscious about my appearance. Tardive dyskinesia is a potential side effect of the antipsychotic medication I was on for almost 15 years, and it is usually permanent. The TD didn’t appear until after I had stopped taking this medicine. That’s when I was told that while you’re taking antipsychotic drugs, they commonly hide the symptoms of TD. I first started taking the medication because I was experiencing some of the social problems caused by stigma and discrimination toward people with mental illness. For example, after mentioning to a neighbour over coffee that I suffered from post-partum depression, she stopped her daughters from playing with my daughter and stopped our regular coffee dates. This type of emotionally painful rejection made me fear behaving in ways that might be socially unacceptable. My fear of rejection was greater than any concerns about possible physical damage the side effects of a medicine might have. The stigma attached to people with mental illness is real. Grasping at straws I am a very high-functioning, middle class woman with a daughter, and my husband is a working professional. But I had too many emotional pressures. I had become weepy, confused and depressed shortly after the birth of my daughter. I was also so physically tired that I couldn’t meet the high expectations that I and others close to me had for me to take care of my daughter, run the household, be socially active, and employed. This made me extremely anxious and fearful that I was ruining my life and the lives of the ones I loved most. Fuelled by the fear of rejection for being ‘mentally ill, I began to have disabling anxiety and nightmares. I also suffered confusion and memory lapses due to my depression, which was embarrassing and interfered with my work and social relationships. This lowered my self-esteem even more and increased my depression and anxiety until it became intolerable. I struggled to find the right psychiatric care, but the supportive and skills-based therapies I was offered weren’t designed to address the reasons underlying my feelings of inadequacy. So I finally came to believe what I was being told by my doctors: that medication was my only hope. I believed what I was advised, that by numbing myself from my worries with medications, no one would know I was ‘mentally ill’ and I could fight my increasing need for social isolation. My acceptance of medications as “the only hope” for relief led to taking an increasing number of medications. For five years I took various antidepressants. Unfortunately, these medicines numbed all my emotions, not just the depression, and their side effects increased my tiredness and ability to think clearly. My anxiety grew to be intolerable. As a “short-term” solution, I was prescribed a tiny amount of thioridazine (an antipsychotic and sedative medication), which was replaced by trifluoperazine (an antipsychotic and antianxiety medication) to control nightmares, anxiety and my increasing anger and frustration. I continued taking the ‘short term’ trifluoperazine for 15 years. Eventually, I developed unusual finger-tapping movements and head bobbing. I was told that, because my dose of antipsychotic medication was low, I didn’t have tardive dyskinesia, but rather, some “Parkinsonism.” I was prescribed benztropine (an antiparkinsonian medication) to control the movements—and continued to take my other meds as directed. My very numb and limited existence only added to my depression and sense of low self-worth, and I finally reached a personal crisis because of this constant effort to hide my mental illness. I lost hope and attempted suicide. ‘Coming out’ has been the best medicine Friends and family rallied to support me after my suicide attempt. With their love and support, and a new team of more enlightened care providers, I’ve come to realize that I am the one in charge of my life and how I behave. This has led me to a sense of self-empowerment and a reconnection with humanity. I now use a range of therapeutic options for self-improvement, including peer friendships, group therapy, a personal psychologist, and correcting chronic physical conditions, such as low thyroid and reproductive hormone levels. With my new sense of self-worth and self-esteem, I no longer take psychiatric medications. Getting off the drugs has had many interesting results. I no longer have memory or concentration problems, and I can feel a full and normal range of emotions. Of course, after 20 years of feeling numb, there has been a biblical flood of feelings to cope with! A very important change is that I now have relationships with my care professionals that are based on working together to find the best treatments, and I do a lot of the work to find what options to choose from, rather than just letting them make decisions for me. Most importantly, however, I no longer stigmatize myself, or fear being stigmatized by others. I’ve thrown off the yoke of stigma’s straw man and have ‘come out’ about my illness. I’ve learned to tell people that having a mental illness isn’t any different from other obstacles life throws in people’s way from time to time. Now I have the challenge of living with tardive dyskinesia—a new set of behaviours that stigmatize me as a person with mental illness. Because I have reclaimed my former sense of self-esteem, though, I can openly share what the disfiguring facial movements are. I use the questions I get about TD as an opportunity to tell others what mental illness really is—and to share with them who I really am. For me, my TD is a visible symptom of the harmful power stigma can hold in our lives if we let it, whether the stigma comes from society, our professionals or ourselves. Susan was first diagnosed with a mental illness in 1985. She resides in Vancouver.

Poem Crazy
by Tony Ruzza

when there was a time
unself toward another
ambiguous a turn of thought
realize all ways to an end.
surprise surprise its over
thuous note to fancy
a foshia two sense
heyday to disclaim
theme to a perpendicular arise

Poem: Together We Try by Jude Swanson

Together we try
Why must I take yet another tired breath?
I really look forward to a sudden death
Depressed, I will rummage in the fridge
While I visualize leaping from a bridge
The darkness really makes me want to cry
I usually want to give up before I even try
Why must I always feel that life is so bad?
Day after day my moods are simply so sad
“Why go on living?” I often hear myself say
Before enduring yet another meaningless day
The road of life may come to a happy bend
But for now I still long for my life to just end
Some say “you are constantly complaining”
But wanting life just seems to be so draining
With courage, I decided to finally take action
My failed suicide attempt equalled traction
If you really want to have no wind in your sail
Attempt to kill yourself and then have it fail
Some people are glad that I am not yet dead
“Many wonderful times for us are still ahead”
I am still not quite sure if they could be right
But sometimes the future does seem bright
I then began to wonder if the secret to living
Was to reap the benefits of emotional giving
I found one of the happiest moments must be
Meeting people battling depression just like me
Our parents differ but we are sisters and brothers
Talk to me so I can then introduce some others
If you let people see what is stored on the inside
You are a friendly person for them to confide
Often battling similar problems then and now
Maybe together we can each discover the how
Life seems to be cutting quite close to the bone?
It is tough enough without trying to do it alone.
…Jude Swanson

Poem: Yoga Sunrise, by Sharon Taylor

Yoga Sunrise

Passionate about yoga
Bending this way
That way

Standing on tip toes
Muscles rippling
My fingertips reaching towards the misty blue sky

Then, relaxing onto my heels
Inviting in the stillness
The sun
A full-size fiery orange ball
Comes blazing up

by Sharon Taylor,
excerpt from her book, “Deep System”