In his early life, Ellis was faced with a major physical disability, chronic nephritis, or inflammation of his kidneys, which plagued him and led to hospitalization. This experience helped him to develop ways to overcome anxiety. He also suffered from severe migrainelike headaches, which persisted into his forties. Active and energetic by nature, he gradually learned that the best way to cope with any problem, physical or emotional, was to stop "catastrophizing" and to do something to correct it.
As Ellis points out in all of his work, when faced with adversity, we had better realize that we have a real choice, either to think rationally or irrationally about the problem. The first option leads to healthy consequences - healthy emotions such as sorrow, regret, frustration, or annoyance, which are justifiable reactions to troubling situations. The second option leads to unhealthy emotions, such as anxiety, depression, rage, and low self-acceptance. When we recognize irrational beliefs as such, we can then use our reason to dispute their inaccuracy. Ellis goes on to describe how these techniques helped him to cope with many other adult emotional problems, including failure in love affairs, shame, anger, distress over his parents' divorce, stress from others' reactions to his atheistic conversations, and upset due to his attitudes about academic and professional setbacks. When he was close to ninety years of age, his rational philosophy helped him cope with a near-fatal illness.
Honest and unflinching yet always realistic and forward-looking, Ellis demonstrates how to gain and grow from life's challenges through rational thinking.