When I Was A Kid With Untreated Anxiety, "Dune" Taught Me Coping Skills

    Me, changing for gym class: I must not fear; fear is the mind killer....

    I was first diagnosed with an anxiety disorder in my early 20s, but looking back, anxiety had been with me for a long, long time. But because of when I grew up, neither I nor my parents really understood what I was going through.

    Young woman biting her nails

    When I had my first panic attacks in the summer between sixth and seventh grade, mental health awareness was almost nonexistent. I didn't have any idea what the heck was going on. So I didn't say anything about it to anyone; I just didn't have the words.

    Luckily for me, that same summer I read Frank Herbert's Dune, which in a weird way became my first self-help book.

    The author reading in a tree, age 11

    Early on in the novel, Dune gave me the gift of the Bene Gesserit litany against fear, which I grabbed onto immediately.

    The movies really emphasize the whole "must not fear" and "mind killer" thing (I get it — it's catchy), but this line means the most to me: "I will permit it to pass over me and through me."

    Woman meditating

    I remember being in junior high and chanting this litany in my head as I looked for a seat on the bus, while changing for gym class (ugh, the worst), and before standing up to give a class presentation.

    Having the Bene Gesserit litany in my head gave me a safe way to feel big feelings. It gave me courage to face anxiety-provoking situations. And it gave me something to think about besides how hot and sweaty I felt all of a sudden. 

    I'm not alone in finding comfort in Dune. Since the movie brought more attention to Frank Herbert's work, I've found that many, many others feel the same way that I do. Even famous authors like Michael Chabon.

    Retweet if at least once in your life you have successfully employed the Bene Gesserit litany against fear.

    Twitter: @michaelchabon

    This has more than 700 retweets, btw.

    It's helped people handle day-to-day challenges, like final exams.

    I actually got accused of cheating once, on a syntax final, because I had written the litany against fear on the inside of my hand to try to calm myself down before the test, is the kind of hopeless nerd that I am

    Twitter: @gin_n_chthonic

    And I especially relate to this tweet as someone who has relied on the litany at the dentist.

    OK, now that Dune is popular again who else habitually repeats the Litany Against Fear while undergoing scary medical procedures or is it just me >_> Dr: "this'll just be a pinch" Me: "I must not fear. Fear is the mindkiller..."

    Twitter: @KatNicoleB

    It's even been present with people during some of their most difficult moments.

    Top nerd thing I've ever done is read out the full Litany Against Fear to my mom just before she passed. It was a pretty powerful moment and prob something I'll remember forever

    Twitter: @KebabKunt

    In addition to the litany, I was also fascinated with the powerful women of Dune — especially Paul's younger sister, Alia (aka Saint Alia of the Knife). She appears in the second half of the book, and I'm so excited to see her onscreen in Dune: Part Two.

    These days, I am grateful to be in a better place with my anxiety. I have a lot more strategies that help me cope, and medication and therapy have also made a huge difference. But most importantly, broader awareness and acceptance of mental health issues have shown me that I don't need to be ashamed of my diagnosis.

    Person pulling a tangled thread of thoughts out of a woman's head

    Now I'm curious: Has fiction ever helped you with your mental health? Tell me all about it in the comments!