Cigars and Anxiety: The Perfect Combo
A SHORT ESSAY ON HOW A FAVORITE HOBBY, A CRAPPY DARKNESS, AND A BROKEN BRAIN CONVERGED. AND, YES, IT GETS A BIT PERSONAL.
My torrid love affair with cigars started back in 1999 shortly after I turned 18. I knew I'd better experience this adventure prior to Y2K... when the world was scheduled to explode, or something like that. As an annoying teenager, my trips to Sheetz (a regional gas station/convenience store chain) provided me the chance to score a glass-tubed "cigar" that was "infused" with some type of "bourbon".
I was on top of the world! A shitty-tasting, improperly humidified world. I knew it all. I smoked those cheap, short-filler (picadura), machine-made, dog-rocket cigars for about two years until a close friend's dad gave me my first premium hand rolled Romeo y Julieta Bully. You seasoned cigar smokers know that one.
THAT changed everything.
A History of Anxiety
And now for something completely different...
In my adult life, starting around 2009, I began experiencing some pretty severe and seemingly random bouts of anxiety/depression. My income was suffering due to the economy tanking, along with my mental health. After multiple trips to the emergency room and being terrified of my own brain, I needed something. Something so that I could avoid taking pills; something to curb the intense fight or flight response I'd suddenly acquired.
"No, Mike. You are not being chased by a dinosaur". - ER Dr. 2009
I struggled for years.
After a long hiatus of panic, my dad passed away in late 2015 unexpectedly. I experienced more severe panic attacks and a trip to the ER again. My doctor prescribed Cymbalta, but I hated the idea of popping pills on a daily basis. Weening off the meds was even harder. The withdrawals symptoms trumped any side effects. I needed something else...
Some people smoke cigars as part of their lifestyle, while others enjoy the flavors and aromas. Do you know why I smoke cigars? The RITUAL.
I get lost in the ritual:
- Choosing the perfect cigar -- for the perfect mood -- from the humidor
- Visually inspecting the wrapper, band, cap, and foot
- Smelling the foot and noting any particular aromas
- Feeling how the cigar is packed, i.e. dense, light and checking the weight
- Choosing the appropriate cutter and cutting the cigar
- Testing the draw
- Roasting the foot with my chosen lighter (always a butane torch for me)
- Lighting the cigar and noticing what color the ash is
- Noticing any sparks from the magnesium burning in the wrapper
- Tasting flavors on the initial draw
- Kicking back and enjoying the sights, smells, feels, and contemplating my day
- Realizing that 100+ hands touched this cigar prior to me being able to enjoy it
The ritual is what helps me. It forces me to slow my mind and focus on something bigger than my wacky brain. From the tobacco fields and curing barns to the blending and aging rooms. It takes years and so much passion to create a single cigar.
You know what? I have ZERO stress or anxiety while enjoying a premium cigar. I sit, peacefully, with my wife or friends and just take in the sights and sounds around me. I no longer worry about tomorrow or the day after. I no longer pay mind to the day-to-day crap. I push out the constant bombardment of people's drama from work. It's just me, the cigar, and that moment in time, and usually my iPad, haha. That hour to hour and a half forces me to just be me.
(Marriage has mellowed me out quite a bit too. Without my Sarah, I'm not sure how I'd be handling life. She's awesome.)
This summer, I've decided to self-study to become a Certified Consumer Tobacconist through Tobacconist University. New chapter!
I encourage you to find what it is in life that gives you pause. What is that one thing that allows you to calm your mind and relax? Find it. Hunt for it. Fight for it.