Cure for Cancer: Don’t have a tumour.

July 17, 2007 at 1:48 am 21 comments

This is going to be another of those posts where I write about a random post from another blog that’s annoyed me for some reason. Today’s target: Let Them Eat Crow on How I Cured My Depression.
Posts like this always piss me off. This isn’t a particularly bad example, but it’ll have to do. We’ll go point-by-point.

I have been through a couple of bouts of wicked nasty depression. The last one lasted four or five years and featured near-daily crying sessions. I have never been on meds for it, though I have been offered them a couple of times after tearful doctors visits.

This is something I can never understand. Doctors offer medical intervention for problems (whether it’s something physical like a broken leg, or something mental like depression). Medical interventions for mental illnesses are pretty much limited to counselling, therapy and medication and medication is often the first line treatment since it’s the cheapest. Why go to a doctor about a problem and decide that you don’t want the medical intervention on offer?

The last two years my life have been steadily getting better (actually I would use the word happy to describe myself today) and I think it helped when I finally decided to approach the problem as a war on all fronts. The causes were multiple, and if somebody were to ask me how to deal, here is my patented list of advice:

So you’ve experienced a couple of bouts of depression lasting years and you’ve gone for two years without being depressed. Isn’t a little early to start shouting from the rooftops about being cured?

1. Exercise. This is absolutely definitely number one. Even if I did nothing else on this list it still would have made a big difference. You cannot underestimate the power of endorphins. I think a summertime of bike riding gave me enough dopamine to keep me buzzing all last winter. My theory is that if you are breaking a sweat less than one hour a day, you have no business being on anti-depressants.

No business being on anti-depressants you say? That seems a little judgemental from someone who’s never felt she needed to take them. The exercise advice always annoys me, because when I’m depressed the idea of doing anything other than hiding in my room is pretty much unthinkable. There’s not a lot of room for exercise in a schedule mostly composed of doing the bare minimum to survive, and sometimes not even that.

2. Fight or flight. If you’re depressed and you’re anything like me, you have or have had some toxic emotional vampires in your life. Ditch them, dump them, divorce them, quit that job and get call display so you can ignore the calls. That was my chicken shit but effective way of eventually dealing with them. Until the day that I found myself in mired in a toxic relationship I couldn’t get out of. Confrontation was one of the hardest things I have ever done, and I can’t even say I did it well, but the person has become a lot less blood sucking as a result. There are only two acceptable ways of dealing with abusive people: confrontation and or excommunication. Do not allow them to rule you.

So, to put this another way, you were with someone who made your life horrible. Is it any wonder you were crying every day? That’s what they call ‘situational depression’. If you change the situation, it goes away. That’s what they call ‘common sense’. Great advice for someone who’s in a bad relationship, but the depression that I and many others experience has nothing to do with external situations.

3. Environmental change. Living in the basement suite with the huge spiders and the barred windows facing a house six feet away was the worst. The next basement suite with the wasp nest in the closet and the crazy passive aggressive roommate was pretty awful too. In short, don’t live in basement suites, and make sure the place you live gets plenty of sunlight. Break that lease, in the long run its sooo worth it.

Wait, am I supposed to do this before or after I quit the emotionally draining job? Because there’s not a huge selection of sunlight-drenched property available for no cash.

4. Self-help. Self help books are cheesy and for the most part only useful for some temporary relief. So don’t read too many of them, eventually the flakiness and repetitiveness contradicts the hyperbolic promises on the cover. That being said, read Feeling Good by David Burns.

Self-help books make you feel better even temporarily? Wow. I get enough useless advice on the internet without having to pay for the stuff.

5. Friends. This is in the duh category. Don’t sit at home and ruminate. Catch up with chirpy and sympathetic friends. Maybe they have worse problems or better attitudes and can help you put things in perspective. Or distract you. Thats cool too.

Finding out that my friends’ lives suck worse than mine isn’t going to make me any happier. Them telling me to get some perspective won’t either. Effective support from them might help.

6. Self worth. There was this awful book published in the 90’s called the Rules for desperate women trying to ensnare a husband. It was widely ridiculed and rightly discredited after one of the authors got divorced. But despite the totally regressive and lame objective of the book and more than a few pearls of stupidity like “get a nosejob” and “read fashion magazines to know how to look attractive” there really was something to it. A lot of the advice centered around how to pretend to be a woman with high self esteem. Telling a woman she can’t ask a guy out on a date is backwards and draconian, but honestly a woman with high self esteem probably just wouldn’t bother because she’d be so busy. Funny thing happened when I decided to start pretending I had self esteem; after awhile it became real. For desperately lonely women out there, I would recommend reading it once with a critical eye and cherry picking the advice about playing hard to get.

Firstly, you’re mixing up self-esteem and self-confidence. Secondly, a woman (or man) with high self-esteem and self-confidence is unlikely to be too busy to do something they want to do. Thirdly, being too busy to do something for yourself (eg. asking a guy out) is a sign of either poor time-management, low self-confidence or both. Fourthly, I’ve done the pretending to have self-confidence thing. I learnt how to behave as if I was confident. Fifthly, playing games about being ‘hard to get’ sucks for everyone involved. If you’ve replaced a lack of self-esteem and confidence with a set of rules about how to behave then you’re not really either.

7. Media quarantine. I think a lot of misery is inflicted on our subconscious by the crappy messages we inadvertently absorb. I quit watching violent movies. I quit listening to angry music. I basically decided to avoid consuming media that had negative messages and rented only the silliest schlockiest movies with the feel good endings. Cut back on the hardcore punk and listen to more Marley. You could say it is intellectually stunting to quit watching things like the news or to avoid some highbrow art that happens to center on violence. But when you are depressed you are sick. Don’t go to work when you have the flu and don’t watch Schindler’s List until you get your groove back. And if you are a woman for the love of god cancel that Cosmo subscription.

When you have situational depression your environment is sick, not you. Feelgood endings to movies make me cry because the world doesn’t actually work that way. Listening to loud, angry music is a lot more effective in delaying/preventing a self-harm episode for me (and a lot of other self-harmers) than anything cheerful would be.

8. Alone but not lonely. One great piece of advice I lifted from that David Burns book is to date yourself. Act like you are in this totally awesome relationship with yourself and plan fun little outings and make fancy dinners all for you. Do things that you have always wanted to try but don’t know anybody else that would be into them. Bonus points for enjoying things that your ex would have hated. One thing I have figured out since going from lonely to alone to satisfying romance is good relationships don’t cause happiness, they result from it.

Bonus points for doing things the ex would have hated? Yeah, that’s a great way to stop defining yourself in terms of relationships. Do things you’ve always wanted to try? Please. Depression means not wanting to try anything. Plan fun little outings? Depression means keeping your curtains closed to make the outside world go away. Make fancy dinners all for you? Depression means buying junk food from the nearest shop because in order to do any cooking you’d have to clean the dishes and pans in your sink and that’s such a huge task the mere thought of doing so is utterly exhausting.

9. Eat better. You know, vegetables ‘n shit. Another one for the duh file but it is also the one on this list that I didn’t really follow so well. Oh well.

See my previous point about the sink.

10. Goals. Do stuff. Volunteering or a sport or some creative artistic endeavor. Anything that gives you a sense of accomplishment. This will augment #7. For me this last bit of advice is still an ongoing process.

Depression means having no space in your head for any goal other than to get to the end of the day without killing yourself.

One little unorthodox piece of advice: stay away from all that Buddhism, meditation and forgiveness stuff. All that thinking just gives you time to pickle in your anguish. Forgiveness is all well and good once your perp is dead and buried and there’s nothing you can do, but until then get angry! Phone the jerk up and yell your face off! A few minutes of righteous rage expressed is equal to weeks of sobs in your pillow.

Oh for a consequenceless world.

See, all these things are fine when you’re feeling OK. When I’m in a relatively normal frame of mind, that’s the kind of stuff I do. I cook healthy food. I go outside and enjoy doing stuff. I actively work to make my life better. But depression cuts through all of it. Because, apparently unlike you, I don’t get depressed because these things are lacking: These things are lacking because I’m depressed.

That’s my real problem with advice like this. It’s not about what I can do to make my life better. It’s about not being able to do anything. Being able to do these suggestions on how to cure depression would mean that I wasn’t depressed. Having goals, eating right, dealing with problems, etc. is pretty much my definition of normal. It’s like saying “Cure for cancer: Don’t have a tumour!”


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Random minor worry Future-proofing your life: How to survive when things really suck

21 Comments Add your own

  • 1. letthemeatcrow  |  July 17, 2007 at 7:34 am

    Oooh my first pingback, how exciting! Even if I am getting ripped to shreds. As I was writing it I did forget about that cyclical part of depression where you don’t do things cause you are depressed cause you aren’t doing things. I’m waaay out of my league saying this on your blog but I think it is important to force some baby steps to help break the cycle.
    And yes, a large part (but not all) of my depression was situational. That was why I was so skeptical about taking meds. The doctors were not asking me follow up questions about my life, just writing me a prescription to get rid of me. Even then I thought taking pills would just be like taking morphine for a broken gangrenous leg without actually fixing the leg.
    My list is pretty pollyanna and if I had seen it in my darkest moments I would have reacted just like you. Long story short its obvious that your problems are far more complex and serious than mine but “hang in there” (the useless line the doc said that irritated me). Good luck and I really hope you get better.

  • 2. borderlinecrazy  |  July 17, 2007 at 12:37 pm

    Hee hee. I remember when I used to feel wicked depressed and also usually drunk and totally out of control in every way and my therapist would say, “Why don’t you try meditation?” I was like, “Are you f*cking NUTS?” Same response to the “get up and do something” advice. I agree with letthemeatcrow that much of this list is great for “situational depression” (otherwise known as SADNESS). Sometimes people are “depressed” (SAD) because they’re acting like total assholes or their lives are in the crapper, so obviously the cure is not a pill but to stop acting like an asshole and/or to do whatever is possible to improve their life situation. For real depression, though, oomph. That’s bad stuff. I’m actually not sure I’ve ever *really* had it. I’ve been panicked so unremittingly that I exhaust myself into a state that resembles major depression: does that count? I feel bad for being amused at these posts because it’s a serious topic, but The Chimp has such a way with words, I just love the biting retorts.

  • 3. experimental chimp  |  July 17, 2007 at 4:17 pm

    letthemeatcrow: Thanks for your response. Depression sucks whether it’s situational or otherwise, and your advice does seem pretty good for someone who was in similar circumstances to you.

    borderlinecrazy: Thanks. I don’t think anyone’s actually suggested meditation to me, although the “get up and do something” line is familiar

  • 4. aikaterine  |  July 19, 2007 at 4:49 am

    O.K., I am going to try very hard and be nice out of respect for experimental chimp, who comes highly recommended by someone I respect.

    I cannot believe that you, letthemeatcrow, gave this advice for people with depression. While I agree that most of it is good for people who are feeling sad; it is absolutely absurd for people who suffer from clinical depression – for all of the reasons that experimental chimp listed.

    You come across as though, apart from knowing that endorphins make you feel happy, you know nothing about the biology of depression. And let’s face it anyone who saw Legally Blond knows that endorphins make you happy.

    Please, from someone who suffers from bipolar disease and ADD, make sure your post clearly states that your advice is relevant to situational depression.

    And your comment about Buddhism and meditation is way off. I am not Buddhist, but I studied it for six years. I do meditate and it does help. However, you have to be good at letting go of anger for it to work. You clearly are not, given that you prescribe it as a method to get over ‘sobbing on your pillow’. Which is deeply disturbing. Anger does not help you get over depression.

    The reason why self-help books suck is because they do exactly what you have done.

  • 5. velinn  |  July 25, 2007 at 12:15 am

    This post annoyed me. Enough so that I felt like commenting.

    See, the problem with your post is that it denies the validity of the experiences of the original post. As if your situation is some how more valid because it may or may not be worse than hers. If her problems were, in fact, situational, then obviously this post was not written for you.

    But for the great majority of people that claim to be depressed situational problems, habits, and hard to break patterns are the reasons their lives are no good. The great majority of people are not clinically depressed and this advice is exactly what they need to hear.

    Ripping a person and their experiences apart, especially someone that took the time to write them all out for the benefit of others is rude and unnecessary – except perhaps to sooth your own ego which might be offended by such “basic” advice.

    If your mental health issues are worse than hers, I should think you’d be happy, not bitter, that she was able to overcome hers so that another person wouldn’t have to deal with the hell that you do. But I don’t see that at all. What I see is a small minded person who feels as though they have some sort of monopoly on “good advice”.

  • 6. experimental chimp  |  July 25, 2007 at 12:56 am

    How am I denying the validity of the experience of the original poster? That would involve saying “Your experiences didn’t happen! You’re lying! Rubbish!”, which is emphatically what I haven’t done.

    Severe situational depression can be just as crippling as clinical depression, but most situational depression is part of the normal variance of human experience. It’s being unhappy for a reason.

    And the reason that this kind of advice annoys me is that because of this confusion of terms, it’s the kind of thing that clinically depressed people hear from well-meaning people on a regular basis. And the reason that well-meaning people do this is because of the perception that depression = sadness. Had the original post began “Unhappy with your life? Here’s some things you can do to be happier.” I would have had much less problem with it.

    I may be small-minded and rude, but I certainly don’t have a monopoly on “good advice” (I’m not even sure where you think I imply this).

  • 7. aikaterine  |  July 25, 2007 at 3:10 am

    Experimental Chimp –

    You are not small minded and rude. At least you have not appeared that way to me.

    Velinn –

    You were doing well right up to the point where you started calling people names. Why did you feel the need to do that? It certainly did not help you to make a valid point. And it does not endear your arguments to anyone who reads this blog. If you want to change people’s opinion on a matter, might I suggest that you learn to argue your side without resorting to juvenile techniques.

    None of the responses to this post belittled the original posts experience. We merely pointed out that her use of the word depression was offensive to people who suffer from clinical depression. In fact, all of us stated that her advice seemed good for someone who is sad. There is a huge difference, and it is time for people to stop confusing the terms.

  • 8. velinn  |  July 25, 2007 at 6:50 am

    I can appreciate what you’ve both said. I apologize if I sounded juvenile by using adjectives that were construed as name calling. Perhaps I should have said, “Your opinion seems small minded” rather than “You are …”

    That said:

    Experimental Chimp –

    The fact that you have torn apart the experiences of another person is what denies it’s validity. You’ve essentially said, “boo-hoo, you’re not as bad off as I am and your advice is worthless to someone like me.” I stand by the original statement of: this article was obviously not written for you. I don’t mean to offend, but I am being honest. Perhaps you feel as though you’re doing a service by being “playfully rude” about the whole thing, but it does come off badly, or at least did to me. If you’re going to critique someone else’s work, especially one as personal as this, you should do it right and not merely disagree because your personal experience differs. So the girl was sad. She figured out what worked for her and posted it on her blog. Does that really deserve biting sarcastic commentary?

    aikaterine –

    You start right off with “I’m going to try to be as nice as I can be out of respect for the owner of the blog because were it just left up to me I’d be rude and disrespectful” or, again, that’s how it came off. And again, I understand your position of defining terms – you are correct, strict definition of terms is important and keeps language and ideas from becoming sloppy – but I find it ironic that you accuse me of name calling when the entire tone of your initial reply was condescending with a holier-than-thou attitude. Perhaps you didn’t mean it that way and since I don’t know either of you, I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt, but the reason I commented was to point out how it sounded. Good intentions or not.

    Then again, it’s your blog. Have a blast. 🙂

  • 9. aikaterine  |  July 25, 2007 at 7:11 am

    the smiley face is mocking me.

  • 10. velinn  |  July 25, 2007 at 7:29 am

    You know behind that perfectly symmetrical yellow facade, beyond that well practiced and perfectly white smile, within that 2px wide brain, your death is being planed in exquisite detail.

  • 11. aikaterine  |  July 25, 2007 at 7:42 am

    They are evil – smiley faces and bunnies. I’m telling you – evil.

  • 12. aikaterine  |  July 25, 2007 at 7:43 am

    and you are right. I would have been rude had this been my post. But not because I think the original person was horrible. Merely because I am so tired of people mixing up the two words. It is very very tragic for those of us who suffer in this way.

  • 13. velinn  |  July 25, 2007 at 7:53 am

    I know. More than I’d like. Perhaps I was too quick to anger, I’m willing to be open to that. Generally my response to people with an illness is empowerment; to help others feel what I can’t. Maybe someone that solved a problem, regardless of how severe, being dismantled unapologetically struck a chord in me.

    In any case looking over both of your blogs in more detail has piqued my interest. ADD can be surreal at times:

    “God, how could this person be so stupi — hey, nice theme..”

  • 14. aikaterine  |  July 26, 2007 at 3:26 am

    You know, I wish more blog debates turned out this way. We all agreed to disagree and were civil about it. Yay us.

  • 15. letthemeatcrow  |  July 26, 2007 at 8:38 am

    Actually Velinn did sum up how I felt about the response. I did feel like my experiences were written off as just “sadness” which I don’t think was the case. I went for a period of several years where there would be near daily crying sessions that could last hours, I was ditching school and work to cry and often I could not identify a reason for it. And my pops has depression and anxiety problems, which he does take meds for so maybe heredity plays a role.
    I cringe when I read back that list because it looks like some schlock you would read on MSN Today or something, but it is what separates the chill person I am today from the weeping basket case I was. Of course it took a long time to figure out, I couldn’t afford to just drop the basement suite or quit the job on a whim, and even after I did those things there was a colossal internal struggle.
    In my mind my little essay wasn’t “Cure for cancer: don’t have a tumor” it was more like “cure for cancer: quit playing in the toxic waste dump.” Aikaterine I think suppressing justified anger results in depression for a lot of people, particularly if you’ve been socialized to be nice, be a good girl, don’t make waves. The more shit that was heaped on me, the more buddhist books I read thinking all I had to do was empathize with jerks in order to be happy, yet in the end it was standing up for myself that made a positive contribution. It is my non-professional un-diagnosed opinion that external factors were a catalyst or tipping point for what was to me a prolonged, agonizing period of real depression and self loathing.
    I have rebuttals for every point made but I didn’t really want to get into it on here too much because I’m not a doctor, I was never suicidal or cutting and I certainly don’t want to antagonize anyone who is in that place. And as chimp pointed out and made me remember when you’re in an episode it is very difficult to do anything about it.
    Anyways the response did make me think that everybody’s journey into and out of misery is unique and I just wish you guys the best in yours.

  • 16. aikaterine  |  July 26, 2007 at 10:56 am

    letthemeatcrow –

    Suppressing justified anger might result in sadness or another negative emotion. In addition, if you are clinically depressed it might trigger an episode or deepen an already occurring episode. But it does not follow that the way to get past either is to ‘get angry’.

    I don’t know which buddhist books you read, but empathizing with jerks is not a central tenant of Buddhism. You might want to consider the proposition that you are not qualified to make generalized statements about the efficacy of Buddhist teachings when dealing with sadness, depression or anything else for that matter.

    I am not trying to be hostile, I am just a little annoyed by your continued insistence on (1) making far-reaching, generalized statements on some issues which you seem not to have sufficient knowledge of and (2) confusing sadness with depression.

    I understand where you are coming from, but your suggestions are meant to be a collectively exhaustive list for handling depression. It is not and it belittles the experience of people with clinical depression. And you are continuing to do it. Here is the difference between someone who is sad, even if they are sad for months and cry every day, and someone who is clinically depressed.

    “cure for cancer: quit playing in the toxic waste dump.”

    someone who is sad can quite playing in the toxic waste dump with the good advice you have given. It might be hard, it might take months, but they eventually can. Someone who is clinically depressed – most likely cannot. That attitude, the “quit playing in the toxic waste dump” attitude is saying exactly the same thing as:

    “Cure for cancer: don’t have a tumor”

  • 17. experimental chimp  |  July 26, 2007 at 4:00 pm

    I’ll keep this quick. Situational depression can be just as severe as clinical depression.

    My intention wasn’t to belittle your experiences, although I do disagree with a couple of your points generally. It’s the fact that this kind of advice is constantly given to people with depressive disorders because most people don’t distinguish between situational depression (which responds to changing circumstances) and clinical depression (which usually doesn’t).

    If you want to go into more detail, please do. I’m not a doctor either, and nobody here is very fragile.

    Oh, and cutting has very little to do with depression.

  • 18. velinn  |  July 26, 2007 at 11:40 pm

    Agreed. It’s actually civil debate, and I appreciate that.

    I think, though, that this whole conversation is essentially coming down to a semantical debate over the word depression; what is sadness and what is depression. I think that perhaps chimp and aikaterine are being some what pedantic about their definition – and maybe rightfully so – but being “depressed” and being “clinically depressed” and being “situationally depressed” are all different from each other but can still be referred to with the generic term depression. It is a depressive state, regardless of the severity or cause.

    I have Inattentive-Type ADD. My behavior is significantly different from the other types of ADD. Yet, I still have ADD. I’m not upset by the generic stereotype of all people with ADD being hyperactive retards (it’s a joke, smile). In fact it took quite a bit to convince anyone I wasn’t just a lazy bum simply because I don’t fit the classic symptoms of ADD. I’ve had people tell me that I was simply lazy and that I didn’t have a “real” problem because I don’t appear to be uncontrollably hyper. This is sort of what I felt you were doing to crow.

    When crow says she’s depressed, she is depressed. Maybe she isn’t -clinically- depressed, but she never said she was – that was your language not hers. You made this assumption because it’s what you are. In your effort to clarify terms you’ve actually made these various assumptions and assailed her based on them. This is fallacious reasoning.

    So let me summarize my position because we’ve all thrown a lot of words at the subject and I’d rather be clear than simply make eloquent and flowery statements: Mostly what I’m challenging here is the attitude displayed. I don’t like that you, chimp, were so condescending and attempted to invalidate the experience of what she perceived to be a depressive state – even if you felt that she was using terms incorrectly; I don’t believe she was. If she was guilty of anything it was simply that she was not as explicit as you’d of liked her to be.

    I would insert a smily face to indicate that nothing said here is meant to be taken hostly, but aikaterine takes issue with such concentrated happiness so I will refrain.

  • 19. aikaterine  |  July 27, 2007 at 12:21 am

    oh, the horror of the smiley face. I don’t know why I do not like them. They just seem so…mocking, then again it is just a graphic. In any case thank you, velinn, for keeping it away. And I think that everyone is clear that you are not being hostile, no happy face needed. At least not for me.

    Being a fellow ADD sufferer I can understand what you are saying about dealing with peoples conceptions of our…unique behavior characteristics. Being bipolar, I can say that dealing with peoples conceptions about depression is an all together different thing. And being a philosophy student, I place a lot of value on semantics. Because, when push comes to shove, we really only have words to portray our most intimate thoughts and feelings to others. So they are important.

    And it is the importance of words that makes me continue to debate this topic. We do use sadness and depression interchangeably. And in everyday discourse, I think that this might be ok.. But, when you write a list that you claim to be a collectively exhaustive treatment plan for depression, the situation changes. You are no longer talking about how you ‘feel’ with friends. You are advising people on how to deal with a very significant issue (sadness or clinical depression). Again, I am not saying that clinical depression is worse than sadness. I am saying that the subject matter of letthemeatcrow’s list was not appropriate for treating clinical depression. And we do need to be cognizant of our terms when we are advising the masses (which is what we are doing on a blog).

    So, as I think I mentioned in my very first response. It would be good if letthemeatcrow put a caveat on her list, something along the lines of “this is my advise for treating sadness or situational depression”. It might seem nit-picky to someone who does not suffer from clinical depression. But again, words are all we have. We should do our best to use them in the appropriate context when there is a possibility of harm. And; unfortunately, if a clinically depressed person stumbled upon her list, and believed that they should be able to alleviate their depression based on it’s guidelines, there would be a very real risk of harm.

  • 20. velinn  |  July 27, 2007 at 6:46 am

    The last paragraph is well said.

    I think we’ve mostly made all the points we’re probably going to make. To continue from here would be to just repeat ourselves endlessly with different words, so I’ll let it end here on amicable terms.

    I understand both sides of the argument, and I appreciate the small bit of intellectual stimulation I gained from the debate (which is so rare, sadly). So thank you to all involved. I walk away understanding something a little better, which is the most I can ever ask for.

  • 21. aikaterine  |  July 27, 2007 at 6:50 am

    I will also walk away appreciating a different perspective. I thoroughly enjoyed our little debate. Thank you for your time.

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Hi, I'm James. I'm a 26 year old guy from England with bipolar disorder (currently well controlled). I also have a circadian rhythm sleep disorder (not so well controlled). This blog has charted my journey from mental illness, through diagnosis and, recently, into recovery. It's not always easy, but then, what is?


Self-righteous note about smoking

As of 12th September 2008 it has been forty five weeks since I quit smoking. So in another seven weeks it'll have been a whole year.

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