Sources: Nerves And Common Sense
HERE are two true stories and a remarkable contrast. A nerve
specialist was called to see a young girl who had had nervous
prostration for two years. The physician was told before seeing the
patient that the illness had started through fright occasioned by
the patient's waking and discovering a burglar in her room.
Almost the moment the doctor entered the sick room, he was accosted
with: "Doctor, do you know what made me ill? It was frightful." Then
followed a minute description of her sudden awakening and seeing the
man at her bureau drawers.
This story had been lived over and over by the young girl and her
friends for two years, until the strain in her brain caused by the
repetition of the impression of fright was so intense that no skill
nor tact seemed able to remove it. She simply would not let it go,
and she never got really well.
Now, see the contrast. Another young woman had a similar burglar
experience, and for several nights after she woke with a start at
the same hour. For the first two or three nights she lay and
shivered until she shivered herself to sleep.
Then she noticed how tightened up she was in every muscle when she
woke, and she bethought herself that she would put her mind on
relaxing her muscles and getting rid of the tension in her nerves.
She did this persistently, so that when she woke with the burglar
fright it was at once a reminder to relax.
After a little she got the impression that she woke in order to
relax and it was only a very little while before she succeeded so
well that she did not wake until it was time to get up in the
The burglar impression not only left her entirely, but left her with
the habit of dropping all contractions before she went to sleep, and
her nerves are stronger and more normal in consequence.
The two girls had each a very sensitive, nervous temperament, and
the contrast in their behavior was simply a matter of intelligence.
This same nerve specialist received a patient once who was
positively blatant in her complaint of a nervous shock. "Doctor, I
have had a horrible nervous shock. It was horrible. I do not see how
I can ever get over it."
Then she told it and brought the horrors out in weird, over-vivid
colors. It was horrible, but she was increasing the horrors by the
way in which she dwelt on it.
Finally, when she paused long enough to give the doctor an
opportunity to speak, he said, very quietly: "Madam, will you kindly
say to me, as gently as you can, 'I have had a severe nervous
shock.'" She looked at him without a gleam of understanding and
repeated the words quietly: "I have had a severe nervous shock."
In spite of herself she felt the contrast in her own brain. The
habitual blatancy was slightly checked. The doctor then tried to
impress upon her the fact that she was constantly increasing the
strain of the shock by the way she spoke of it and the way she
thought of it, and that she was really keeping herself ill.
Gradually, as she learned to relax the nervous tension caused by the
shock, a true intelligence about it all dawned upon her; the
over-vivid colors faded, and she got well. She was surprised herself
at the rapidity with which she got well, but she seemed to
understand the process and to be moderately grateful for it.
If she had had a more sensitive temperament she would have
appreciated it all the more keenly; but if she had had a more
sensitive temperament she would not have been blatant about her