There’s an old myth about throwing a frog into a boiling pot of water. Cruelty to our hopping green friends aside, the story goes that if you throw a frog into boiling water it will immediately sense the danger and jump out to safety. However, if you put the frog in the water when the temperature is comfortable, letting it slowly heat up, the frog will fail to recognize that it is being boiled alive until it is too late to save itself.

It’s false; I’ll say it right off the bat so you don’t get any ideas, but there’s still something we can learn from the myth. We’re all frogs in our own ways, hopping casually from pot to pot as we tackle the different seasons of our lives. Sometimes we identify situations as dangerous or harmful right away. Sometimes we land in cool waters that quickly get hot and we move along before we get hurt. The most perilous situations can be those in which we enjoy the climate without recognizing the ways we are slowly letting ourselves get burned.

Four years ago I began to experience symptoms of what I would later allow to develop into clinical depression. It began as something minuscule. It manifested itself as bad moods, a lack of desire for things I usually enjoyed, and a general feeling of pointlessness. It was never something I thought interfered with the big picture of my life so I wrote it off as “being in a funk” and something I just needed to get over. I was a frog in water that did not feel harmful. I had no history of anything like this existing. But like an active volcano in Los Angeles, “There’s no history of anything until it happens…then there is.”

I allowed the temperatures to slowly rise while working tirelessly to convince myself and others that everything was fine.

I don’t remember when I realized how hot the water was, but it felt like the part of a mystery film where all the dots suddenly connected. A disheartening “Aha” moment where I realized the killer was the good guy the whole time. Dropping grades, deteriorating relationships, quitting the rugby team, never wanting to be around people — the laundry list of things going wrong would stick out to anyone who glanced at the script for a split second. I remember being told, being begged, to get help. I remember knowing the people trying to rescue me had no idea what they were talking about. I remember shutting these people out and destroying relationships I have yet to rebuild. I remember subversively crafting excuses but having this feeling in the back of my mind that I was lying to everyone around me…and I remember ignoring it.

Spoiler alert: the rest of that script goes well for the main character, in case you’re wondering. It’s still being written, of course, but the saving grace has been stepping back now and then to look at the thermometer. I got the help I needed. It took the courage of true friendship to yank me from that pot of scalding water, and I’m indebted for the burns those hands endured in saving me. If they hadn’t? I can’t say for sure. Maybe the dots never would have connected. Maybe the water would have boiled away entirely.

Look, everyone knows boiling water if they’re thrown into it, but slowly rising temperatures can sneak up on us. Not being aware doesn’t make you stupid. Recognizing you need a change or need to seek help doesn’t mean you’re weak. It isn’t limited to our psychological states either. Relationships, careers, passions, it’s all subject to get overheated without care and attention. What about you? Are things really as cool as they seem?

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