Guest post, originally broadcast on WBFO Radio by Dr. Elvira Aletta:
“I’m sure you’ve heard that if you boil a pot of water and throw in a live frog, that frog will hop right out, saving his life to croak another day. If, on the other hand, you place a frog in a pot of cold water and turn the heat up slowly, that frog will stay in the pot. The frog will not jump out.
“Instead, he will slowly get used to the increasingly hot water until it boils to death. Truth or urban legend? To prove it, I’d have to cook a live frog – and that’s not going to happen! It sounds true, so it should be because of what it teaches us.
“As a psychologist, I meet people who come to me for help when they’re overwhelmed.
“Like the woman who came to my office feeling guilty because she thinks she can’t do enough for her kids, one of whom has a serious disability. On top of that, she’s the primary caregiver of her elderly parents, her mother has Alzheimer’s, and her father is frail and anxious.
“And there’s more. She has a full-time job she doesn’t like, and she worries about her husband getting laid off. Sleep? Forget it! She worries that she eats too much for comfort and has gained weight. Who can blame her? This woman tells me her story, sighs, and then says:
“Really, it’s not that bad.”
“Excuse me? Oh, yes, it is! This woman was sitting in a pot of very hot water. If she was dropped into her unbearable situation all of a sudden, she’d be saying:
“HOLY COW! Get me out of here!”
“I know what I’m talking about. This stress creep has happened to me a couple of times.
Okay, I should say several times, once when my mother and father came to live with us. My parents lived in Kansas City, but when my mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, her doctor there couldn’t offer her any treatment. He basically sent her home to prepare to die. Until then, I had completely taken it for granted that we had one of the top rated Cancer Centers in the country right here in Western New York. So under the care of an excellent oncologist at Roswell Park Cancer Center, my mother underwent chemotherapy and palliative care which significantly extended the quality of her life.
“Meanwhile, being so focused on caring for my Mom and Dad, I didn’t notice the water in my pot getting hotter. It wasn’t like I was alone; my husband is a hands-on kind of guy, thank God, but I live with chronic illness that I need to watch, and at the time I also had a demanding full-time job, two small kids, and my brothers and sisters were hundreds of miles away.
“All four of my siblings would check in by phone, and I’d tell them:
“Really, it’s not that bad!”
“One day, my younger brother flew in from Michigan for a visit and to help out. It didn’t take him long to sit me down and say firmly:
“You’re about to drop dead and you don’t even know it.
“We need to talk about maybe taking a leave of absence from your job, and setting up a schedule so one of us is with you from now on.”
“I didn’t see what he could see clearly. He was the frog that just dropped into the boiling pot – the one that I had been in for a while.
“So please, take the temperature of your water once in awhile. If you are chronically tired, stressed, anxious or feeling low, you may be a slowly cooking frog. If you think you are, talk to friends, family, a counselor. Reach out, get a reality check, ask for help as the woman who came to my office did.
“There’s no virtue in being a martyr frog. All you get is cooked.”
Dr. Elvira Aletta is a clinical psychologist in Amherst, New York. Visit her blog, Explore What’s Next.
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