A Letter of Hope

Dear Reader,

Every case of unsettled disease is different and each doctor and patient must work out the question together, but you ask me what helped me most. I found on the mental side, first, my power of control was not beneficial. I set about remedying it by inventing a game, in which, as I was intensely restless, I pitted my body and my mind against each other as two personalities. Part of the hours during which I had to rest I relaxed my body and made myself keep perfectly still, at first a minute by the watch; then I resolutely made up my mind to think of nothing that length of time and if I failed in either effort I gave a black mark. Gradually I increased each period and then combined the two exercises. I found this game quietly persisted in two or three times or more during the day helped me much in curing my inability to sleep at night.

They often repeated expression of my physician, “Think of nothing,” was a contradiction and an enigma to me at first, until I tried this little play and learned to hold my mind still as well as my body, and not to use much will power even in holding either mind or body still, regarding it as play. Often the will is even weaker than the body and needs rest, and when recovering from an illness needs to be used sparingly and with light effort, this effort should afterwards be gradually increased. A resting of the will and even mind makes the force accumulate and strengths the nerve forces. We do not win strength by useless and wandering thoughts and by worry more than all. I think every one will acknowledge that it is more often our thoughts and fears which keeps us awake than the intensity of pain alone. We suffer unnecessarily much more from not being brave of long duration of pain than from the actual pain of the moment. We continually cry, “How long is this to last?” while if we only bore the pain of the moment we would bear it better, separating and taking each moment by itself.

In unsettled prostration one’s senseof the relative values of large and small things is not correct. We magnify some small things and at times ignore large ones. I tried not to think whether things were large or small to me.

I found much help from doing little things,— even if I worked only for a few minutes at a time. Once a nerve specialist asked me what I did for exercise. I hesitated and replied, “Why, on pleasant days I work in my garden and window boxes and take as long walks as strength permits, and on rainy days I do some housework exercise, just little things.” “Good,” he said, “there is no truer story of human nature than that of Naaman in the Bible. If one substitute the word ‘nervous prostration’ for leprosy, it would read the same as hundreds of cases which come to me every day. I ought really to be honest with these persons and to say: ‘Give up your carriage, send away half your servants and do some real work. Sweeping and making beds bring into play as many muscles as gymnastic exercise’: instead I have to make up long prescriptions in which there is as little medicine a possible and long sets of gymnasium rules, otherwise these said well-to-do patients would never darken my door again.”

E. Worcester 1908

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