Some years ago an enterprising physician discovered that the whole human race was insane. This doctrine naturally drew forth from the public considerable indignation. We do not believe that we are insane. But the answer of the author was concise: “You cannot prove that you are sane, therefore you are insane!”
And a large number took his word and believed it. Nay; even now people are to be met who believe that everyone is insane. Nay – further! There are many persons who not only believe everyone to be insane, but believe that all physicians hold the same opinion!
And yet, if you ask one of these philanthropists if he thinks that he himself is insane: “Oh well – no; you see I am an exception. I do not mean to say that I am better than anyone else, but I am different from everybody that I know. No, I do not think that I am insane.”
Yesterday we were interviewing a gentleman “lodger” in an asylum, who had come to the conclusion that all the inmates of the house – nurses, patients, physicians and servants – were all insane, himself alone excepted. This is a common creed in lunatic asylums.
No, everyone is not insane. The doctrine is fallacious. But we all pass through phases in our lives when our minds are not capable of fully grasping every detail of the situation. In other words, we are all liable to nervousness.
What is nervousness? Think for yourself and try to answer the question. It is difficult, we admit.
Is not nervousness a state in which the mind does not rise to the situation? Is it not a condition of uncertainty? Is it not, as it were, a feeling that you know not what step to take next or what answer to give to a question? Is it not a conviction that you are out of place?
Indeed, it seems to us that nervousness is the expression of being mentally ill at ease.
Few persons realise what a terrible disease nervousness really is. It is one of the greatest annoyances of youth. It renders many girls utterly miserable when they first “come out”. It is most fearful suffering, and one which brings many girls to a life of misery.
There is but one other condition which troubles girls more than nervousness, and that is excessive blushing and blushing is but a physical expression of nervousness.
It is commonly held that the work of physicians is confined to the body, and that they have no knowledge of the troubles of the mind. It follows from this that the study of the mind has been grossly neglected by medical men, and even the simplest mental aberration will baffle many worthy practitioners simply because they consider that the mind is not their province. We can delay no further and must get on to consider the practical side of our task, the causes and treatment of blushing and nervousness.
We suppose that we must first mention the physical causes of blushing and nervousness. Many would consider these to be of the first importance. They are not. Blushing is a momentary relaxation of the minute blood vessels of the skin of the face, caused by an impression received by the brain. The vessels relax, they become distended with blood, and the face becomes red, hot and swollen. If this phenomenon lasts but a minute it is called a blush; if it lasts for a longer period it is called a flush. The former is usually due to mental causes, the latter invariably to physical conditions.
Blushing is the direct effect of a more or less powerful stimulus passing to the brain from one of the special senses. Flushing is the effect of a stimulus from one of the internal organs, usually the stomach. Anaemia, indigestion, constipation and various other ailments cause flushing, and very rarely they produce blushing. This is all we have to say of the physical causes of blushing and nervousness, except that people who are ill or run down are often irritable and nervous. But the illness is not the cause of the nervousness, it only paves the way for it to become manifest; it only reduces the force by which nervousness is normally overcome.
It is in the workings of the mind that we must seek the causes of nervousness. We are not all born with the same mental powers. Each inherits from her parents certain hereditary tendencies. We all know that insanity runs in families; so does nervousness; so does every kind of mental inclination, but only to a certain extent. We do not inherit the virtues, the vices, the powers or the mental shortcomings of our parents; we inherit a tendency to them – a tendency which may develop and reproduce in us the minds of our fathers. Or these tendencies may be modified or suppressed by education; or they may be overwhelmed by some individual peculiarity which we have not inherited from our parents, but which had its beginning in our own minds.
The mind of anyone is an individual in itself. It has its own passions and inclinations different from those of any other, but it must be educated. Each of us must have a solid basis of general knowledge ere she can use her mind. In other words we must all be educated. And in education, or rather in the lack of some portions of education, you will find the causes of blushing and nervousness. Nervousness is more common amongst the highly educated classes than amongst others. And yet you say that nervousness is caused by defective education! How can this be?
You have not got a true notion of education! You say education but you mean study; you confine the term to that part of education which is learnt at school and from books; you have fallen into the common error of the age by supposing that education is synonymous with schooling!
At school we learn to read, to write. We learn a little science, perhaps a smattering of art and the elements of a language or two. Is this all the education required by man? Is this sufficient food for the mind of man for threescore years and ten? Do you learn nothing else in your life than this little handful of unimportant subjects? No, you do not! Far more than nine-tenths of your education is gained without your knowing how; not without effort, but without your knowing that you are educating yourself.
Our forefathers had no books; they never went to school; they knew but little of art or science, and their technical skill was of the rudest. We call them barbarians, but why? They had their passions as we have them; they had their joys and their sorrows; they had their thoughts; they were educated. The viking of old was a man with a highly wrought mind. Though differing in details his education was the same as ours. It was the study of himself and his companions.
Let us glance a little into these defects of education which cause nervousness. From what has been said, the reader will perceive that the lack of knowledge of herself or her companion is the commonest cause of nervousness; this indeed is the case. The girl who leaves the nursery for the first time is shy and retiring; she cannot speak to anyone without confusion; she has no experience of life. A new episode has occurred and she cannot at once rise to the situation. She is not at home; she is nervous. And so if you think over the position in which you have been nervous, you will see that in the majority of cases your trouble was due to inexperience.
The girl who has never spoken to anyone except her own friends is nervous when she first speaks to a stranger. After she has been introduced to one or two persons her nervousness vanishes, for she has become used to her new situation. Who has not felt nervous when she first appeared in public? Who has not felt most unpleasant sensations when she first sang or played before an audience? Yet after her second or third appearance all traces of nervousness vanish, because now she is accustomed to her surroundings.
The warrior who will face death on the field without compunction may fly in terror if he hear the buzz of a moth. Or if he is unused to feminine society he will be completely cowered by a single woman. The scientist who has astonished the world with his inventions is yet too nervous to deliver a lecture to a half-dozen students, for he is used to his laboratory but is a stranger to the lecturer’s chair. These are examples of what may be called healthy nervousness. They are transient and can be overcome by the will. We will now talk of some more complicated causes of nervousness.
There are many girls (and we are sorry to say there are a great many of them) who between the ages of fifteen and twenty do nothing but loll on a sofa and read cheap novelettes and other wretched and unwholesome literature. These persons usually blush like beetroots when spoken to. They are always nervous and usually silly and rude. Self-consciousness is one of the greatest and most important causes of nervousness. The fear of “giving oneself away” is a very potent factor in the causation of nervousness. Some people confuse self-consciousness with self-conceit. But they are diametrically opposite conditions. The self-conceited girl believes herself perfect. She cannot make a mistake. What she says must be right. She has no fear of committing herself. Why should she ever be nervous? And she never is nervous. The self-conscious girl is the reverse. Not only does she know her shortcomings, but she takes an exceedingly gloomy view of everything. Truly she is always thinking about herself, but her thoughts are not flattering. She puts herself in the worst light and imagines that everyone else sees her in the same way. She imagines everyone is laughing at her. She is confused. She is nervous.
Not all girls are nervous or blush from the same cause, nor are they nervous in the same way nor in the same situations. Some girls blush only when in the company of strangers, others even when speaking to their greatest friends. Some blush or are nervous only when talking to persons of the opposite sex, others when talking to anybody.
We can divide the various kinds of nervous girls into the following groups.
- Girls who blush or are nervous when talking to strangers, but are not nervous among their friends.
- Girls who are nervous when talking to friends or strangers.
- Girls who are more nervous with their friends than with strangers.
- Girls who are not only nervous when talking to one person, but who are quite at home in a crowded room.
- Girls who are nervous in a crowded place even when they are talking to nobody, or when they neither know nor are known to anybody.
- Girls who are only nervous when talking to persons of the opposite sex.
- Girls who are nervous at all times and everywhere.
- Girls who are only nervous when they are run down in health.
- There are many other kinds of nervousness, but we cannot enter into the discussion of them here.
To everyone who glances down this table it will be apparent that the same explanation will not accord for all these conditions. Such diametrically opposite states as that of Nos.4 and 5 cannot be due to the same cause. We must therefore briefly describe the various mental states on which each form of nervousness depends.
The first case, girls who blush or are nervous when talking to strangers but are perfectly at home when talking with their friends, is one of the commonest of the eight types of nervousness. This is the purely natural result of inexperience. The very many girls who are exceedingly annoyed to find that they cannot be introduced to anybody without blushing or stammering or vainly trying to break a distressing silence, may be comforted by the assurance that ere many months are passed they will have become more accustomed to the very strange conditions imposed upon us by social usage and to abruptly starting a conversation with a person whom they have never seen before.
To some girls it may be a relief to know that young men are very much more bashful, more inclined to blush, and find much greater difficulty in starting a conversation to the first person to whom they are introduced than girls do. The news will certainly be well received by all girls suffering from this form of nervousness that a very short space of time will see the end of their annoyance.
The sixth division of nervousness, that condition in which girls are only nervous when talking to persons of the opposite sex, is only a mild form of the first and, like it, it is a very transitory state.
The second class of nervous girls is that in which the members of nervous when talking to friends as well as to strangers. This is the most numerous class of all. This form of nervousness is sometimes due to indigestion or other derangements of health. It is to this class that we shall more especially refer when considering the treatment of nervousness.
That form of nervousness in which the sufferer is perfectly at ease in the excitement of a crowded room but who cannot endure to talk with one person alone is a comparatively rare condition. It is typically met with in cases of nervous exhaustion. It is tolerably common in persons who have just recovered from some forms of depressing diseases.
The fifth class contains two very distinct groups of cases. There are many people who are distressed in a crowded place. Many persons who are not feeling up to the mark are often depressed and get a headache in a crowded place, even where there is no noise or conversation going on. This is a form of nervousness that is almost exclusively met with in elderly or middle-aged persons.
it is in the second of the groups of people who are nervous in large assemblings that we see the most advanced grades of self-consciousness. We have seen girls in drawing rooms, at concerts, and even in church, suffering from this malady (for though it appears as vanity or self-conceit, it is neither one nor other, but a true disease). They shift about, looking from one person to another, wondering what the various members of the assembly are thinking about them. If anyone happens to turn his glance in the direction of a girl with this form of nervousness, a regular outburst occurs; she blushes and perspires profusely, putting her hand up to her hat or fringe or rearranging some part of her dress, wondering what can be amiss, or she wipes her nose with her handkerchief, thinking that there must be a smut there to cause the unknowing agitator to turn round and look at her. It will never strike her that the unwelcome gaze of the stranger is purely accidental, or may be excited by the elegance of her dress or person. No, there must be something “funny” for anybody to turn round and stare at her like that!
The two last divisions of nervousness need but little comment. They are due to bodily ill-health and are part and parcel of physical weakness.
We must now turn to the most important and most difficult part of our task – the description of the means by which these various forms of nervousness may be overcome. We have several times mentioned that many forms of nervousness are commonly caused by ill-health and we may now state that all forms are rendered worse by any departure from physical health. It is therefore obvious that if the sufferer is anaemic or has indigestion, or any of the other ten thousand diseases to which we poor humans are subject, it is essential that the unhealthy state of her body should be cured ere she should try the special methods of treatment to cure herself of nervousness.
As nervousness is so frequently the result of a one-sided education and lack of experience, we would expect that persons who have secured a varied tuition would be less subject to nervousness than their less widely but perhaps more deeply educated sisters. And this we find to be the case. It is a knowledge of a wide scope of learning, of the little ins and outs of our very elaborate social customs, of a more or less superficial knowledge of current views and events, which will help a girl be at home in society rather than a deep knowledge of any one subject. This is the proper place to point out that the popular idea that nervousness is due to a feeble intelligence is totally untrue. It requires a considerable amount of mental power to be able to be nervous. Some of the greatest men in history have been conspicuously nervous.
The girl who rapidly falls in with social customs, who can join in conversations on the ordinary subjects of talk, and who can grasp and retain the little ways of society which she cannot fail to observe, need never fear of retaining any temporary nervousness she may have experienced when she first “came out”. Since experience is so antagonistic to nervousness, it follows that the pursuit of experience is a very necessary point in the treatment of nervousness. Of all ways of acquiring experience none can equal travelling; for the experience gained by moving from place to place is exceedingly varied, and it is this varied experience that is needed to cure nervousness. Often when nervousness is so intractable that it cannot be cured by other means, we advise the subjects to leave society for a year or two, to travel, if possible, or else to gain an insight into the ways and working of the world before again attempting to face the terrors of social life.
In many parts of this article we have maintained that self-consciousness was an exceedingly common and important factor of nervousness and blushing. If we could remove self-consciousness we could cure most, if not all, forms of nervousness. Suppose that a girl is self-conscious and she enters into conversation with another girl who is not self-conscious. The question is broached by the healthy-minded girl. She asks –
“Do you think that Mr Jones’ French poodle would look better if he were shaved?”
The nervous girl will undergo severe agitation as to what she ought to answer. “You see, if I say ‘no’ it may show that I do not know anything about dogs. In fact I must be very careful not to give myself away as an ignoramus”.
As a matter of fact neither of these girls knows much about dogs, perhaps neither would recognise a French poodle if she saw one. The questioner, still waiting for the simple reply which her question needs, looks into the face of her nervous companion and at once the latter’s wits desert her altogether. “Why did she look into my face? I must be looking very ugly today? I know my dress is old-fashioned but it is very rude of her to notice it!” etc., etc. This poor girl cannot bring her mind to bear on the subject of the conversation; she is eternally thinking of herself. If she would only think about what her questioner is talking of, instead of thinking about what her companion is thinking about her, she would no longer be self-conscious, no longer nervous.
The conversation concerning the French poodle has upset her altogether; she leaves her first companion and seeks another. But here she can boast no greater success. Perhaps she will brave a third effort at conversation, but it is all to no purpose; she is either too fearful of committing herself or saying something unseemly, or else she knows that her companion is secretly laughing at her. Utterly downhearted she eventually sits down in a corner and remains silently agitated for the rest of the evening.
What a terrible state is that of self-consciousness, and yet how common! And yet of the large number of persons who suffer from it how many try to overcome it? Because it is far easier to foster than to subdue these feelings is no reason for not making any attempt to quell them.
A very important piece of advice to give to all nervous girls is to avoid all trivial conversations, especially talking scandal. It is unfortunately a fact that nervous girls are often quite themselves when discussing the weaknesses of their friends and neighbours, but such conversation begets a distrust of their friends, and we have no doubt that the habit of talking against one’s neighbours is sometimes a direct cause of that form of nervousness in which girls cannot talk to their own friends without blushing. They know what their friends say about others behind their backs, and they fear that they too will be discussed in their absence. To such girls as these we may say, give over such worthless friends and try to know others who use their tongues to a more proper purpose, and never under any circumstances talk scandal yourselves.
Self-conscious girls must get out of the habit of revolving in their minds what answer to give a simple question. When you are talking socially, it is really of very little consequence whether your answer is correct or not. You should indulge in conversation with everybody whom you wish to know, and with whom your parents o guardians wish you to be intimate. You must not sit in a corner and mope because you thought that Miss Smith was criticising your dress when you were trying to converse with her. Be a woman and bravely attempt to join in conversation. It does not matter if you make mistakes. We are all human. We all make mistakes. But it would indeed be a funny world if we never attempted to open our mouths lest we should say what is indiscreet or fallacious. Remember that when you have once braved your inclination to sit down and be silent, half the battle is over, and you will soon grow to look with astonishment at your foolish behaviour of some weeks back. Since experience is the great cure for nervousness, gain all experience you can both by reading, by the study of the arts and sciences and by observation of the doings of others and the workings of this great world. Keep your eyes open and look around you. However limited your own circles may be, it still contains more to be studied than you can learn in your lifetime. Trivial literature, and especially cheap novelettes, should be avoided, for they give you a false notion of life and deal with silly and impossible predicaments.
There are doubtless many people who think that nervousness can be cured by diet, exercise and drugs. To such as hold this view we readily admit that when nervousness is caused by bodily ill-health or by lack of precautions to the laws of well-being, such is the case. But the true nervousness, seen so commonly in perfectly healthy persons, who rigorously follow all the laws laid down by physicians and general experience, is totally uninfluenced by physical treatment of any kind.
Blushing, which is one of the forms of nervousness, most frequently due to physical causes, is often to be cured by careful diet and other therapeutical measures. There is one drug which is often of use in this condition. Icthiol taken in 2 ½ grain doses will often help to cure blushing due to physical causes. No drug whatsoever is of use in “nervousness”.
We have now finished our account of nervousness. If it has been somewhat lengthy, it is nevertheless extremely brief when the gravity and complexity of the subject is considered. We have not described all forms of nervousness, nor do we expect to cure all persons suffering from those varieties that we have described. But we hope and trust that those who suffer from these most distressing ailments will derive some benefit from our task.