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    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
    Aleksei Morozov / Getty Images/iStockphoto

    I'm what they call a "geriatric millennial." When I was a kid, there was nowhere near the level of awareness of mental health issues that people have today. 

    These days, young people with anxiety can see their experiences reflected on social media, in TV shows and movies, and in young adult novels. There's still a long way to go, especially when it comes to making mental healthcare accessible and affordable for all, but the conversation around mental health has really changed.

    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.

    Hulu / Via

    The panic would usually come on at night, when I was trying to sleep. My heart raced, I started shaking and got unbearably hot, and I was sure I was about to die. It was really intense, and not knowing what was happening made it even scarier. I became afraid of going to bed, and I would stay up late binge-watching Nick at Nite and drinking Sleepytime tea to stay calm. 

    I'd never seen or heard anyone talk about panic attacks or anxiety disorders, so I didn't know how to understand or communicate what was happening. And I was afraid that something was deeply wrong with me, something too shameful to mention. I would tell my parents that I had trouble sleeping and complained most mornings about feeling too nauseous to eat breakfast. My parents took me to the doctor once after I refused to eat for days on end because of the nausea. The doctor found nothing physically wrong, so I had to force myself to eat to feel better.

    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
    Megan Liscomb/BuzzFeed

    Is Dune an odd choice for an 11-year-old girl? Probably! It's a 400-plus-page science fiction epic full of political, social, and religious themes that I'm certain flew right over my head. 

    But I was kind of a weird kid. My hobbies were reading in my room and reading in trees (see above), so the big, heavy hardcover edition of Dune that I stumbled upon at my local library presented a tantalizing challenge: a real grown-up book that wasn't too far off from the kinds of YA sci-fi and fantasy novels I loved.

    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
    We Are / Getty Images

    It's like Mindfulness 101 — I am not my thoughts. I can watch my thoughts go by. So many things that I've read, heard, or been told will help me with my anxiety over the years are just another version of this idea. 

    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.

    Universal Pictures / Via

    Like Alia, I didn't exactly fit in as a kid. But unlike me, Alia was totally unbothered about it. She knew exactly who she was, and she seemed completely unafraid to own her power. It's a little embarrassing to admit, but sometimes I would actually pretend to be her to see what that kind of confidence in my own weirdness would feel like. Spoiler: It felt incredible. 

    (Note: I didn't read far enough into the series to get to her death, and TBH I'm glad. In my head canon, Alia lives forever!)

    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
    Ponomariova_maria / Getty Images/iStockphoto

    Needing to take extra care with my mental health is just part of who I am, like having freckles or being double-jointed. I know now that it doesn't make me any less capable, strong, intelligent, or worthy. Finally getting the words to talk about my anxiety and understand it changed my life. But before I could get there, Dune gave me a life raft by teaching me to how to let it pass through me.

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