I started drinking tea because I was sick. Both physically and mentally. Not the kind of sick that comes from a cold or a cough. The kind of sick that comes from a chronic disease.
One thing you learn about being alive is that nobody is responsible for helping you calm down. If you get yourself into a shitshow nobody is responsible for getting you out. Most of the time nobody even notices.
For me, this shitshow happened during high school. I was not the most responsible student in the world. Often times I would stay up until 3 am the night before finishing homework. Despite all this, I felt a strong pressure to succeed. I took all the hardest classes and my grades were always decent.
However, these grades came at the cost of my health. Staying up late every night, eating shit food, and being stressed all day manifested itself in both lower immunity and mental health problems. At the peak of this I was getting sick every few weeks with whatever bug was going around school and was constantly anxious and moderately depressed.
I should point out here that anxiety runs in the family. My mother is the same way: somewhat scatterbrained and not good under stress (love you mom!). In high school, that anxiety took the form of social isolation. I would form surface relationships with everyone I encountered and had few real friends. The friends I did have were the ones I formed online playing video games instead of working on homework after school.
This was my shitshow. My mental and physical health were a joke. When symptoms like these creep in, they work so slowly that nobody really notices, not even yourself. Friends and family noticed I was becoming more socially withdrawn, but I acted normal enough that no one thought to take action.
I tried to take action a few times myself. Upon my request, my parents did take my to a counselor for my anxiety. He suggested meditation and provided a few guided meditation CDs. While I was too young at the time to see the value in it, he planted a seed that has since grown into a daily meditation practice. At the time I didn’t see much value in meeting with him and I knew it was expensive for my parents, so after 3 visits I stopped.
You know in stories where the characters say they don’t know how something could get worse, and then it does? Well, this is that part of the story. Senior year of high school, near the end of the year, I start seeing blood in my poop. At first, I panicked. I didn’t really tell anyone. It’s just one of those things you hope goes away. After a few months, I realized I needed to see a doctor. If this ever happens to you, don’t wait like I did, get to a doctor ASAP.
When I finally met with a GI doctor I told him I thought I had Crohn’s Disease. Even after explaining my symptoms he brushed it off has hemorrhoids. He said Crohn’s was 30th on the list of things he thought it could be. So he suggested I start taking some Metamucil, which is basically just a fiber supplement.
The Metamucil didn’t really help. I wanted to believe it did, so I forgot about my symptoms for a few months. A little over half a year later, the blood got worse and my time in the bathroom increased. After consulting the doctor’s office, I decided to schedule a colonoscopy to see what was going on.
The worst part of a colonoscopy by far is the prep. They give you nearly a liter of this liquid that has a taste somewhat akin to cough syrup but much worse, and you have to consume all of it over the course of several hours. The procedure is easy because they give you some fine drugs.
Afterwards I wasn’t all with it, but I have a pretty good memory of what happened. After I was dressed, the operating doctor basically sat me down and told me that I had Ulcerative Colitis, which is similar to Crohn’s but only affects the large intestines. He told me it was a lifelong autoimmune disease and that more than a third of people diagnosed with the condition get their large intestine removed at some point in there life.
Nobody really knows what triggers the disease, but it appears to be some kind of hiccup of the immune system. It’s kind of like allergies, but instead of attacking a foreing invador, your immune system attacks the lining of the colon, resulting in chronic inflammation.
I can’t be sure that anything specific triggered the disease, or if I was just genetically susceptible. But, I can’t help but thing that if I’d led a healthier life during high school by taking a lighter course load or maybe by taking some time off when things got stressful, I would have been less likely to develop this disease.
Now that I’ve had this disease for a few years, I’ve started to learn what aggravates symptoms and what helps. Sleep is absolutely critical. Anything less than 6 hours and I can feel the inflammation in my body. I’ve also been prescribed a number of medications to help combat the inflammation and those help a great deal. Certain foods also seem to cause more problems than others. I eat much healthier now than I used to and exercise a few times a week.
But there is one key component that has helped me through this whole process. And that component is taking time throughout the day to just sit with my thoughts. I started drinking tea daily earlier this year, because I’ve found its one of the best tools to help you unwind. There are several chemicals in tea that help relieve stress, but beyond that the process of brewing a cup is therapeutic: hearing the hot water pour over the leaves, smelling the fresh tea, and appreciating the subtle flavors in the tea. And then afterwards when you get to sit with the cup, letting it cool down, observing your surroundings, and taking time to appreciate the little things.
No matter what happens in life, no matter how fucked up things get, there’s always time for a cup of tea.