You know how they say that a frog dropped in hot water will jump out, but, if it’s placed in room temperature water, it will stay there while the temperature rises, not noticing it’s getting too hot, until it dies?
I’ve heard this isn’t true, but I can see myself in that frog all the same.
If I had suddenly gotten sick, I would have realized something was wrong and gone to the doctor. But my symptoms came on slowly and grew by small degrees.
I honestly don’t know when I started developing symptoms, but it was years before I reported any to a doctor. I noticed them, of course. My fingers would be stiff and sore as I dried my hair. I got short of breath when going up and down stairs. My hand shook when I lifted a glass to my lips. But these are the types of things you don’t think much of when you’re in your twenties and a busy seminary student. You notice them, but you don’t have time—or the courage, perhaps—to consider what they might mean. So you just push through.
I had other symptoms too, ones that were harder to define. Focusing on almost anything became difficult. I was tired, no matter how much I’d slept. I couldn’t remember much of anything. It took me far longer to read assignments than it should have, and far longer to complete my work.
These things worried me, but what was I supposed to do? Go to a doctor and tell them “Sometimes my hand shakes and I can’t seem to think clearly?” I almost certainly would have been told I was just stressed, which was what I also told myself—since, you know, I was. Seminary and the ordination process are stressful. On top of this, as my symptoms grew worse and I began to worry that there was something more going on, I was concerned that my ordination process could be impeded, and after almost seven years in that process, I was unwilling to risk it.
But I slowly got worse—so much worse.
And still, I didn’t pay attention to the rising temperature.
The summer after my seminary graduation, I was newly married and looking for a job. I was employed on a very part-time basis with a ministry group doing administrative work, but I was hardly ever able to make it in. If I did make the 45 minute drive across the city, I could only work for about two hours before my body just couldn’t keep going. Plus, everything took far longer than it should, because my brain processed excruciatingly slowly, and I had no ability to focus.
At home, I did very little. (My wife recently told me, when we were talking about that time, “I kind of assumed you didn’t really do housework.” That was a fair assumption based on the evidence.) If I gathered the strength to go out for groceries, I would drive rather than walk the quarter mile to the store, and when I got back, I would have to sit in my car for ten minutes or more before I could gather the energy to carry a bag up the flight of stairs to our apartment. I had no short term memory, so going to the grocery store was a futile exercise anyway—even with a list, I’d get home and realize I’d missed one or more things. My brain just couldn’t hold on to information long enough for me to remember to pick things up, or to double check that they were in my cart.
It was fortunate I didn’t have a job, even though that compounded our stress, because I couldn’t have worked one.
Here’s what finally got my attention and made me go to the doctor. My wife and I had both gone through an extraordinarily stressful several months, including the death of her father, and earlier in the summer we had both been very tired and had a lot of trouble functioning in our daily life. But one day I realized: she was better, and I was worse.
That’s when I had to admit it wasn’t just stress, or getting older, or a poor diet, or normal exhaustion after finishing a degree, or “just” anything. Something was wrong.
The water was boiling, and I was cooking.
I’m lucky, though. When I finally realized how hot things were getting, the nurse practitioner I saw threw in a couple of extra tests, those tests clearly indicated a diagnosis, and I was able to get in with a specialist within a few days. I started medication just a week after I first said to Beth “I think something’s wrong” and she convinced me to go to a doctor.
But even so, it’s a long climb out of the pot. It’s been well over two years, and I’m just now at a point where I can usually keep the plans I make and get through a normal day without significant fogginess and fatigue.
I wish I had paid attention to what my body was trying to tell me. I wish I hadn’t been so scared and so ready to dismiss my symptoms.
And at the same time, I’m grateful I noticed when I did, that I didn’t keep cooking until even more damage was done.
I look back now and wonder how I could have written it off, how I could have ignored such clear signs that my body was in chaos. I’ve had to put some effort into letting that go and not blaming myself for it. And now I keep a thermometer at the ready, in case I should find myself in a pot again.