Symptoms include chronic stomach upset, neuralgia, dyspepsia, undiagnosable spinal problems, chronic exhaustion, headaches, insomnia, melancholy and fatigue.
It became epidemic in the mid 19th century, especially among middle-class women and clergy. Today, most doctors would probably call it chronic clinical depression.
Why middle-class women and clergy?
Because they were the ones left behind by the mid-19th century industrial revolution.
Traditional women’s work, making soap, sewing clothes, things like that, had been “outsourced” to factories. Professions and business weren’t available to them. Factory work, while acceptable for the lower classes, was not a middle-class option. They had nothing to do.
Traditional clergy work, providing a connection between members of a parish and the almighty, serving as the focal point for a community’s life and meaning was being replaced by other social options. Encroaching explanations of the natural world by scientific advances made divine connection seem less essential. Movement westward began eroding the central place of local communities. Clergy, while still accorded outward vestiges of status, were functionally peripheral.
When you lie around all day feeling useless, superfluous and peripheral, you get neurasthenia. Pretty depressing.
Today, things aren’t much different.
The outcasts of downsized corporations, the workers laid off in favor of cheaper foreign labor, the legions of cogs working in dead-end jobs, whether flipping burgers or sorting email or mucking floors in factory farms — is it any wonder that sales of mood-enhancing pharmaceuticals are booming?
I’m not saying that people should stop taking their meds. If you need Prozac to get through the day, by all means, take the pills. Life can be pretty damn depressing sometimes. There’s no shame in getting some help.
I’m just saying that psycho-pills are a little like cold medicine. They make the symptoms more endurable — sometimes they’re the difference between living another day and calling it quits, and in that, they’re amazingly effective — but they don’t offer any kind of cure.
The cure for neurasthenia, as it turns out, isn’t medical. It’s not just thinking yourself out of it either. Positive psychology, despite all it’s scientific-sounding studies, is 99.44% bullshit.
The cure for neurasthenia is found in reversing it’s causes. It’s finding something bigger than yourself to engage in.