WHY WORRY? CHAPTER XIX
HOME TREATMENT (CONTINUED)


Relieve worry and obsession with OCD Rescue
WHY WORRY?
BY: GEORGE LINCOLN WALTON, M.D.
CONSULTING NEUROLOGIST TO THE MASSACHUSETTS GENERAL HOSPITAL

XIX.

HOME TREATMENT (CONTINUED)

Happiness and success in life do not depend on circumstances, but on
ourselves.

--Sir John Lubbock

The obsession to "arrive" is a fertile source of fret and worry. This habit of mind leads to frantic and impatient labor and blocks our pleasure at every point. The person who plays a game only to see who wins loses half the benefit of the recreation. Here are two ways of walking the half-mile to and from my office:

Suppose I start out with my mind on my destination, thinking only of what I shall do when I get there, and how I shall do it. This thought influences my whole body. I am all "keyed up," my muscles are tense, my breathing, even, is constricted and the walk does me comparatively little good.

Suppose, now, I decide I am making a mistake, and determine to live in the present. General relaxation follows, I take a deep breath, and begin to notice my surroundings. I may even observe the sky-line of the buildings I have passed daily for years without knowing they had a sky-line; my gait becomes free and life takes on a different aspect. I have taken a long step toward mental tranquility as well as gaining "power through repose."

One of the hardest obsessions to overcome is the unduly insistent habit of mind regarding orderliness and cleanliness. It is not undue to desire and practice a reasonable degree of these virtues, but when it gives one a "fit" to see a picture slightly off the level, and drives one "wild" to see a speck of dust, it is time to modify the ideal. This is the frame of mind which encourages worry over trifles. If one really wishes to lessen worry he must cultivate a certain degree of tolerance for what does not square with his ideas, even if it does violence to a pet virtue..

The careful housekeeper may object that so long as she can regulate her household to her liking, the habit of orderliness, even though extreme, causes her no worry. But it is only the hermit housekeeper who can entirely control her household. And further, the possessor of the over-orderly temperament, whether applied to housekeeping, business, or play (if he ever plays), is bound sooner or later to impinge his ideas of orderliness upon the domain of other peoples' affairs, in which his wishes cannot be paramount. In this event, at least, he will experience a worry only to be allayed by learning to stand something he does not like.

Worry about the mental condition is disastrous. The habit should be cultivated of taking the mind for what it is, and using it, wasting no time in vain regrets that it is not nimbler or more profound. Just as the digestion is impeded by solicitude, so the working of the brain is hampered by using the energy in worry which should be devoted directly to the task in hand. Children frequently worry because their memory is poor. It should be explained to them that in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred apparent lack of memory is only lack of attention, and they should be urged to cease distracting the attention by wandering in the fields of idle speculation or in making frantic leaps to surmount imaginary obstacles.

It is important for parents of morbidly sensitive and over-scrupulous children, with acute likes and dislikes, to discourage the tendency of the child to become more and more peculiar. Sensitive children are inclined to worry because they think others do not care for them or want them round. If such children can be led to take a bird's-eye view of themselves, they may be made to realize that others crave their society according as they are helpful, entertaining, sympathetic, or tactful, because they instil courage and give comfort. They should be urged, therefore, to cultivate these qualities instead of wasting their energy in tears and recriminations; and they should be encouraged to practice such of these traits as they can master instead of becoming moody in society, or withdrawing to brood in solitude, either of which errors may result in producing on the part of others a genuine dislike. In other words, teach them to avoid enforcing too far their ego on themselves or their environment.

Parents must also remember that over-solicitous attention on their part is bound to react to the disadvantage of the child. The story is told of Phillips Brooks that, when a child, he put a newly sharpened pencil into his mouth further and further until it slipped down his throat. He asked his mother what would happen if anyone should swallow a pencil. She answered that she supposed it would kill him. Phillips kept silence, and his mother made no further inquiry.

This incident would indicate that Phillips Brooks had already, as a child, attained a mental equipoise which the average individual hardly achieves in a lifetime. The story appeals to me no less as evidence of self-control on the part of the mother; and I like to imagine that she suppressed the question a startled parent naturally would ask, realizing that no amount of worry would recall the pencil if he had swallowed it, and that nothing was to be gained by overturning the household, or by giving the boy an example of agitation sure to react to the detriment of the mind unfolding under her supervision. Unless, therefore, the facts of this story have become distorted by imagery, it shows exceptional heredity and unusual training.

Not every one can claim such heredity, and not every one can look back on such training; but it is not too much to say that every one can so direct his thoughts and so order his actions as gradually to attain a somewhat higher level of self-control than either his mental endowment or his early training would have promised. For mental training is no more limited to feats of memory, and to practice in the solution of difficult problems, than is physical training comprised in the lifting of heavy weights in harness. In fact, such exercises are always in danger of leaving the mental athlete intellectually muscle-bound, if I may use such an expression; whereas the kind of training I have in mind tends to establish mental poise, to improve the disposition, to fit the mind (and indirectly the body) better to meet the varied exigencies of daily life, and to help the individual to react in every way more comfortably to his surroundings.

I have only hinted at the detailed suggestions by which the worry habit and allied faulty mental tendencies may be combated. The obsessive who is able to alter his ideals and systematically pursue the line of thought here sketched will himself find other directions in which control can be exercised. It is true that no one is likely to reach any of the extreme degrees of incapacity we have considered unless he is naturally endowed with a mind predestined to unbalance. At the same time any of us who have a nervous temperament ever so slightly above the average of intensity will do well to check these tendencies as far as possible in their incipiency, realizing that no physical evil we may dread can be worse than the lot of the confirmed hypochondriac or the compulsively insane.

Perhaps I have dwelt too much upon the extreme results of morbid mental tendencies, and too little upon the ideal for which we should strive. This ideal I shall not attempt to portray, but leave it rather to the imagination. Suffice it to say that the ladder by which self-control is attained is so long that there is ample room to ascend and descend without reaching either end. Some of us are started high on the ladder, some low; but it is certainly within the power of each to alter somewhat his level. We can slide down, but must climb up; and that such commonplaces as are here presented may help some of my fellow worriers to gain a rung or two is my earnest wish. Even when we slip back we can appreciate the sentiment of Ironsides:

  "Night after night the cards were fairly shuffled
    And fairly dealt, but still I got no hand.
  The morning came, but I with mind unruffled
    Did simply say, 'I do not understand.'

  "Life is a game of whist; from unseen sources
    The cards are shuffled and the hands are dealt.
  Vain are our efforts to control the forces,
    Which, though unseen, are no less strongly felt.

  "I do not like the way the cards are shuffled,
    But still I like the game and want to play,
  And through the long, long night with mind unruffled,
    Play what I get until the dawn of day."

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