Chronic Pain and The Boiled Frog
Recently, I’ve found myself telling the story of the boiled frog. Those who know me know I have a ‘little’ frog-phobia, which makes it seem quite fitting (in a strangely perverse sort of way) that this is the story that launches my blog!
Like all good fables, there are doubts about the authenticity of the story, but for the purposes of this post, I ask your indulgence… Drop into story-land with me for just a moment as there’s much we can learn from the story of the boiled frog.
For those who are unfamiliar with the story, here’s a quick précis.
If you put a frog directly into a pot of boiling water, it will jump out. If, however, you put a frog in a pot of cold water and heat the water VERY gradually over time, the frog won’t notice that the water temperature is rising and it will eventually boil to death.
(Unless it’s rescued by whatever the frog version of the knight in shining armour is.)
Remembering this story got me thinking about how suffering from chronic pain can be a bit like being a boiled frog…
For the froggy types among us, pain often starts as a gentle hum… we notice there’s something ‘wrong’, but the discomfort levels aren’t bad enough to warrant too much attention or activity.
Over time, we might notice things getting… um, well… hotter. We take medication, visit a few doctors, submit to poking and prodding and needles and tests. Nothing really helps in the long run. Because we’ve become sensitised to the pain, we don’t notice the increasingly intense heat as we continue to bob in our pot.
Months may pass. More tests and visits. Different doctors, different kinds of doctors and multiple healing types may feature. Maybe even an operation, depending on the source of pain. Relief comes and goes, but ultimately, the water in the pot bubbles gently.
Without even really noticing, we start compensating for the pain. We live life differently. Gradually, we stop doing things we once loved. We start watching more and participating less. Not so anyone would really notice initially, but eventually… It’s undeniable, even to ourselves. The pain has seeped in and under and around and it’s taken over more of our lives than we’d like to admit. The pain has indeed become chronic, even if we aren’t familiar with that label.
As soon as we notice how hot the water has become, we suddenly experience a whole new level of discomfort. We become grumpy and irritable and anxious. Fear levels start to rise. Depression hits. Hopelessness. Helplessness. Now not only do we have the original pain, but we also have a great big emotional layer to contend with.
The truth is, it doesn’t have to be like this. An excruciatingly hot death is avoidable. In fact, the whole pot is avoidable if we’re willing to take a different approach to our experience of pain.
When we start noticing our bodies, really noticing them and the signals they send us, we can change our experience of pain. When we pay attention to what’s happening within us and around us, we can adapt and respond before we get anywhere near boiling point. Gradually, as our awareness grows, we can learn to spot dangerous pots, even if they look like innocent pots initially.
And the moral of the story?
You don’t have to live in pain. Chronic pain doesn’t have to be a life sentence. There is life beyond chronic pain that doesn’t involve pots of boiling water and you don’t have to be a boiled frog.
If you think you might be boiling slowly in a pot and you want help getting out before it’s too late, please reach out. I’d love to help you turn the heat down.
Disclaimer: No frogs were boiled in the telling of this story.
Health warning: Please don’t try this at home!