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The Habit Of Illness

Categories: Uncategorized
Sources: Nerves And Common Sense

IT is surprising how many invalids there are who have got well and

do not know it! When you feel ill and days drag on with one ill

feeling following another, it is not a pleasant thing to be told

that you are quite well. Who could be expected to believe it? I

should like to know how many men and women there are who will read

this article, who are well and do not know it; and how many of such

men and women will take the
hint I want to give them and turn

honestly toward finding themselves out in a way that will enable

them to discover and acknowledge the truth?

Nerves form habits. They actually form habits in themselves. If a

woman has had an organic trouble which has caused certain forms of

nervous discomfort, when the organic trouble is cured the nerves are

apt to go on for a time with the same uncomfortable feelings because

during the period of illness they had formed the habit of such

discomfort. Then is the time when the will must be used to overcome

such habits. The trouble is that when the doctor tells these victims

of nervous habit that they are really well they will not believe

him. "How can I be well," they say, "when I suffer just as I did

while I was ill?" If then the doctor is fortunate enough to convince

them of the fact that it is only the nervous habit formed from their

illness which causes them to suffer, and that they can rouse their

wills to overcome intelligently this habit, then they can be well in

a few weeks when they might have been apparently ill for many

months--or perhaps even years.

Nerves form the habit of being tired. A woman can get very much

overfatigued at one time and have the impression of the fatigue so

strongly on her nerves that the next time she is only a little tired

she will believe she is very tired, and so her life will go until

the habit of being tired has been formed in her nerves and she

believes that she is tired all the time--whereas if the truth were

known she might easily feel rested all the time.

It is often very difficult to overcome the habit which the nerves

form as a result of an attack of nervous prostration. It is equally

hard to convince any one getting out of such an illness that the

habit of his nerves tries to make him believe he cannot do a little

more every day--when he really can, and would be better for it. Many

cases of nervous prostration which last for years might be cured in

as many months if the truth about nerve habits were recognized and

acted upon.

Nerves can form bad habits and they can form good habits, but of all

the bad habits formed by nerves perhaps the very worst is the habit

of being ill. These bad habits of illness engender an unwillingness

to let go of them. They seem so real. "I do not want to suffer like

this," I hear an invalid say; "if it were merely a habit don't you

think I would throw it off in a minute?"

I knew a young physician who had made somewhat of a local reputation

in the care of nerves, and a man living in a far-distant country,

who had been for some time a chronic invalid, happened by accident

to hear of him. My friend was surprised to receive a letter from

this man, offering to pay him the full amount of all fees he would

earn in one month and as much more as he might ask if he would spend

that time in the house with him and attempt his cure.

Always interested in new phases of nerves, and having no serious

case on hand himself at the time, he assented and went with great

interest on this long journey to, as he hoped, cure one man. When he

arrived he found his patient most charming. He listened attentively

to the account of his years of illness, inquired of others in the

house with him, and then went to bed and to sleep. In the morning he

woke with a sense of unexplained depression. In searching about for

the cause he went over his interviews of the day before and found a

doubt in his mind which he would hardly acknowledge; but by the end

of the next day he said to himself: "What a fool I was to come so

far without a more complete knowledge of what I was coming to! This

man has been well for years and does not know it. It is the old

habit of his illness that is on him; the illness itself must have

left him ten years ago."

The next day--the first thing after breakfast--he took a long walk

in order to make up his mind what to do, and finally decided that he

had engaged to stay one month and must keep to his promise. It would

not do to tell the invalid the truth--the poor man would not believe

it. He was self-willed and self-centered, and his pains and

discomforts, which came simply from old habits of illness, were as

real to him as if they had been genuine. Several physicians had

emphasized his belief that he was ill. One doctor--so my friend was

told--who saw clearly the truth of the case, ventured to hint at it

and was at once discharged. My friend knew all these difficulties

and, when he made up his mind that the only right thing for him to

do was to stay, he found himself intensely interested in trying to

approach his patient with so much delicacy that he could finally

convince him of the truth; and I am happy to say that his efforts

were to a great degree successful. The patient was awakened to the

fact that, if he tried, he could be a well man. He never got so far

as to see that he really was a well man who was allowing old habits

to keep him ill; but he got enough of a new and healthy point of

view to improve greatly and to feel a hearty sense of gratitude

toward the man who had enlightened him. The long habit of illness

had dulled his brain too much for him to appreciate the whole truth

about himself.

The only way that such an invalid's brain can be enlightened is by

going to work very gently and leading him to the light--never by

combating. This young physician whom I mention was successful only

through making friends with his patient and leading him gradually to

appear to discover for himself the fact which all the time the

physician was really telling him. The only way to help others is to

help them to help themselves, and this is especially the truth with


If you, my friend, are so fortunate as to find out that your illness

is more a habit of illness than illness itself, do not expect to

break the habit at once. Go about it slowly and with common sense. A

habit can be broken sooner than it can be formed, but even then it

cannot be broken immediately. First recognize that your

uncomfortable feelings whether of eyes, nose, stomach, back of neck,

top of head, or whatever it may be, are mere habits, and then go

about gradually but steadily ignoring them. When once you find that

your own healthy self can assert itself and realize that you are

stronger than your habits, these habits of illness will weaken and

finally disappear altogether.

The moment an illness gets hold of one, the illness has the floor,

so to speak, and the temptation is to consider it the master of the

situation--and yielding to this temptation is the most effectual way

of beginning to establish the habits which the illness has started,

and makes it more difficult to know when one is well. On the other

hand it is clearly possible to yield completely to an illness and

let Nature take its course, and at the same time to take a mental

attitude of wholesomeness toward it which will deprive the illness

of much of its power. Nature always tends toward health; so we have

the working of natural law entirely on our side. If the attitude of

a man's mind is healthy, when he gets well he is well. He is not

bothered long with the habits of his illness, for he has never

allowed them to gain any hold upon him. He has neutralized the

effect of the wouldbe habits in the beginning so that they could not

get a firm hold. We can counteract bad habits with good ones any

time that we want to if we only go to work in the right way and are

intelligently persistent.

It would be funny if it were not sad to hear a man say, "Well, you

know I had such and such an illness years ago and I never really

recovered from the effects of it," and to know at the same time that

he had kept himself in the effects of it, or rather the habits of

his nerves had kept him there, and he had been either ignorant or

unwilling to use his will to throw off those habits and gain the

habits of health which were ready and waiting.

People who cheerfully turn their hearts and minds toward health have

so much, so very much, in their favor.

Of course, there are laws of health to be learned and carefully

followed in the work of throwing off habits of illness. We must

rest; take food that is nourishing, exercise, plenty of sleep and

fresh air--yet always with the sense that the illness is only

something to get rid of, and our own healthy attitude toward the

illness is of the greatest importance.

Sometimes a man can go right ahead with his work, allow an illness

to run its course, and get well without interrupting his work in the

least, because of his strong aim toward health which keeps his

illness subordinate. But this is not often the case. An illness,

even though it be treated as subordinate, must be respected more or

less according to its nature. But when that is done normally no bad

habits will be left behind.

I know a young girl who was ill with strained nerves that showed

themselves in weak eyes and a contracted stomach. She is well

now--entirely well--but whenever she gets a little tired the old

habits of eyes and stomach assert themselves, and she holds firmly

on to them, whereas each time of getting overtired might be an

opportunity to break up these evil habits by a right amount of rest

and a healthy amount of ignoring.

This matter of habit is a very painful thing when it is supported by

inherited tendencies. If a young person overdoes and gets pulled

down with fatigue the fatigue expresses itself in the weakest part

of his body. It may be in the stomach and consequently appear as

indigestion; it may be in the head and so bring about severe

headaches, and it may be in both stomach and head.

If it is known that such tendencies are inherited the first thought

that almost inevitably comes to the mind is: "My father always had

headaches and my grandfather, too. Of course, I must expect them now

for the rest of my life." That thought interpreted rightly is: "My

grandfather formed the headache habit, my father inherited the habit

and clinched it--now, of course, I must expect to inherit it, and I

will do my best to see if I cannot hold on to the habit as well as

they did--even better, because I can add my own hold to that which I

have inherited from both my ancestors."

Now, of course, a habit of illness, whether it be of the head,

stomach, or of both, is much more difficult to discard when it is

inherited than when it is first acquired in a personal illness of

our own; but, because it is difficult, it is none the less possible

to discard it, and when the work has been accomplished the strength

gained from the steady, intelligent effort fully compensates for the

difficulty of the task.

One must not get impatient with a bad habit in one's self; it has a

certain power while it lasts, and can acquire a very strong hold.

Little by little it must be dealt with--patiently and steadily.

Sometimes it seems almost as if such habits had intelligence--for

the more you ignore them the more rampant they become, and there is

a Rubicon to cross, in the process of ignoring which, when once

passed, makes the work of gaining freedom easier; for when the

backbone of the habit is broken it weakens and seems to fade away of

itself, and we awaken some fine morning and it has gone--really


Many persons are in a prison of bad habits simply because they do

not know how to get out--not because they do not want to get out. If

we want to help a friend out of the habit of illness it is most

important first to be sure that it is a habit, and then to remember

that a suggestion is seldom responded to unless it is given with

generous sympathy and love. Indeed, when a suggestion is given with

lack of sympathy or with contempt the tendency is to make the

invalid turn painfully away from the speaker and hug her bad habits

more closely to herself. What we can do, however, is to throw out a

suggestion here and there which may lead such a one to discover the

truth for herself; then, if she comes to you with sincere interest

in her discovery, don't say: "Yes, I have thought so for some time."

Keep yourself out of it, except in so far as you can give aid which

is really wanted, and accepted and used.

Beware of saying or doing anything to or for any one which will only

rouse resentment and serve to push deeper into the brain an

impression already made by a mistaken conviction. More than half of

the functional and nervous illnesses in the world are caused by bad

habit, either formed or inherited.

Happy are those who discover the fact for themselves and, with the

intelligence born from such discovery, work with patient insight

until they have freed themselves from bondage. Happy are those who

feel willing to change any mistaken conviction or prejudice and to

recognize it as a sin against the truth.