Sisterly Discourse with John's Wife Concerning John,
The Family Purse,
The Parable of the Rich Woman and the Farmer's Wife,
Little Things that are Trifles,
A Mistake on John's Part,
Must-haves and May-bes,
What Good Will It Do?
Shall I Pass It On?
"Only Her Nerves,"
The Rule of Two,
The Perfect Work of Patience,
According to His Folly,
Is Marriage Reformatory?
And Other Relations-in-Law,
A Timid Word for the Step-mother,
Children as Helpers,
Children as Burden-bearers,
Our Young Person,
Getting Along in Years,
The Gospel of Conventionalities,
Familiar, or Intimate?
Cheerfulness as a Christian Duty,
The Family Invalid,
A Temperance Talk,
A Parting Word for Boy,
Homely, But Important,
"ONLY HER NERVES."
There is a slang expression current among the irreverent youth of the present day, when referring to a man wise in his own conceit, to the effect that "what that fellow does not know is torn out." So I, quoting my juniors, begin my talk with the sentence--for the raciness of which I apologize--"What American women do not know about nervousness is torn out!"
Only this week in a city horse-car I watched the faces of my fellow-passengers,--women, most of them--with a pain at my heart. Oh, the tired, strained, impatient faces, and the eager, alert, and anxious expression that belong to the people of this new and free country! Some of these wretched mortals had babies with them,--babies whose fretful wails seemed but to voice the mother's expression of countenance. In an uneasy way the little mites would be shifted from one shoulder to another, or trotted in nervousness that reminded me irresistibly of the nursery rhyme which might be the motto of the American mother:
", out of breath, They trot the baby, most to death, Sick or well, or cold or hot, It's trottery, trottery, trottery, trot."
Of all these women there was not one who sat still for three consecutive minutes. Heads were twisted to look at the name of the corner lamp-posts, glove fingers were smoothed, the folds of dress-skirts shaken out, hats straightened,--until I would fain have cried out in irreverent paraphrase, at sight of the unrest which I blush to confess made me conscious of my own nerves:
"Not one sitteth still--no, not one!"
That men have any patience with what they term "feminine fidgetiness," is but an evidence that they are better Christians than we of the gentler sex are willing to admit. For I think I am not making a sweeping assertion when I state that not one tolerably healthy man in five hundred knows what it is to have nerves such as are the birthright of his mother, sister, and wife. And yet how well the physician, poet, autocrat and professor, Oliver Wendell Holmes, knows and sympathizes with this weakness in us! He touches the truth in a direct way that wrings a sigh of familiar pain from many a patient soul.
"Some people have a scale of your whole nervous system and can play all the gamut of your sensibilities in semi-tones, touching the naked nerve-pulps as a pianist strikes the keys of his instrument. I am satisfied that there are as great masters of this nerve-playing as Vieuxtemps or Thalberg in their lines of performance. Married life is the school in which the most accomplished artists in this department are found. A delicate woman is the best instrument; she has such a magnificent compass of sensibilities. From the deep inward moan which follows pressure on the great nerves of right, to the sharp cry as the filaments of taste are struck with a crashing sweep, is a range which no other instrument possesses."
And again he speaks of the less serious affection of the nerves as: ... "Not fear, but what I call nervousness,--unreasoning, but irresistible; as when, for instance, one, looking at the sun going down, says: 'I will count fifty before it disappears,' and as he goes on and it becomes doubtful whether he will reach the number, he gets strangely flurried, and his imagination pictures life and death and heaven and hell as the issues depending on the completion or non-completion of the fifty he is counting."
If a man can describe it all so well, what could a woman do? I fear that her description would be too graphic to be read by us, her sisters.
Many people have a way of saying of a sufferer:
"There is nothing the matter with her. She is only excessively nervous."
This "only" is a very serious matter. There is no illness more difficult to treat and more trying to bear than nervous prostration. It is a slowly advancing malady which is scarcely recognized as serious by one's friends until the tired mind succumbs and mental aberration is the terrible finale of the seemingly slight indisposition.
My readers may wonder why I dwell upon a subject that baffles even the most eminent physicians in the country. It is because I feel that each of us women has in herself the only check to the nervousness which we all dread. We, as Americans, cannot afford to trifle with our unfortunate inheritance, but must use every means at our command to subjugate the evil instead of being subjugated by it. Too many women, especially among the lower classes, think it "pretty" to be nervous. The country practitioner will tell you of the precious hours he loses every week in hearkening to the recital of personal discomforts as poured into his professional ears by farmers' wives. And the beginning, middle, and end of all their plaints is "my nerves." Anything, from a sprained ankle to consumption, is attributed to or augmented by these necessary adjuncts to the human anatomy.
Not long ago I was talking to the ignorant mother of a jaundiced, colicky child of two years of age.
"What does she eat?" I asked.
"Well, she takes fancies, and her latest notion is that she won't eat nothin' but ginger-nuts and bananas. So she mostly lives on them. Sometimes she suffers awful."
"Oh, no!" patronizingly. "She inherits all my nervous weakness. Her nerves get the upper hand of her, and she turns pale and shivers all over, and then she looks as if she would go into the spasms."
"But," I suggested, "don't you think that is caused by acute indigestion?"
"No, ma'am. You see I know what it is, havin' had it so bad myself. The nerves of her stomach all draw up, and cause the shakin' and tremblin'."
Suggestions as to the modification of the little one's diet were useless. Indigestion was unromantic (in the mother's judgment), and "nerves" were highly aristocratic and refined.
I am happy to note that the girl of the rising generation is learning that to succumb to weakness is not a sign of ladyhood. She does not jump on a chair at sight of a mouse, scream when she meets a cow in a country road, or cover her face and shudder at mention of a snake. She is proud of being afraid of nothing, of having a good appetite, and of the ability to sleep as soundly as a tired and healthy child.
It is not then to her, but to ourselves, that we mothers have need to look. We are too often the ones who give way to hysterical tears or to sharp words, or perhaps to unjust criticism, all of which we attribute to nervousness. Our more frank girl, if affected in the same way, would bluntly acknowledge that she was "as cross as a bear." Let us quietly take hold of ourselves and ask ourselves the plain question, "Are we nervous, or cross?" If the latter, we know how to remedy it. A well person has no right to be so abominably bad-tempered or moody that he cannot keep people from finding it out. If you are nervous, there is some reason for it. Perhaps you did not sleep well last night; perhaps you are suffering from dyspepsia; but in any case will-power will do much towards lessening the trouble. If you are ill, it may cause a struggle greater than your nearest and dearest can imagine to repress the startled ejaculation at the slamming of a door, or the angry exclamation when your bed is jarred. But you will be better, not worse, physically, for this self-control. The woman, who, though tortured by nervousness sets her teeth and says, "I will be strong!" stands a better chance of speedy recovery than does she who weakly gives way to hysterical sobs a dozen times a day. Your nerves should be your servants, and, like all servants, may give you much trouble, but as long as you are mistress of yourself you need not fear them. Once let them get the control over you, and you are gone. There is no tyrant more merciless than he who has hitherto been a slave.
May I add one word to those whom we, in exasperation, are apt to call aggressively strong? If you, yourself, do not know what nervousness is, pity and help the poor sufferer in your family who never knows during day or night what it is to be without what you consider "the fussiness that sets you wild." If this mother, or aunt, or sister, does control herself, remember that she is stronger than you, as the man who successfully curbs the fiery steed is more to be commended for courage than he who holds the reins loosely over the back of the safe farm-horse who does not know how to shy, kick, or run.