Fear Is Not The Mind-killer. Grief Is.

Frank Herbert got it all wrong. The Bene Gesserit sisterhood in Dune taught us all that Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.

Paul used the mantra as he approached Shai Hulud and other challenges. Many other characters also used the litany to overcome obstacles and roadblocks.


And until this past April, I would have agreed. Because during my anxiety episodes over the past few years, we’ve figured out that I am motivated by fear and that fear has begun to manifest itself in impulsive behaviors, generalized anxiety, panic, rage, depression, and a handful of other compulsions.

I joked that Fear from Inside Out was my spirit animal, and my wife suggested it was likely Anger instead.

Fear and Anger - Inside Out - Disney Infinity

And for the most part, that’s held true. Whenever I am truly afraid, my issues manifest as Anger and then branch out from there.

But rarely — except in my most depressive states following a hypomanic episodes — do I completely and totally shut down. Rarely does fear actually become a mind-killer.

Grief on the other hand…

In April, I ran the Star Wars 5k, 10k, and Half-Marathon at Walt Disney World. It was amazing. I started training seriously in January and by the time race day arrived, I’d already put in more miles than I had in the previous two years combined.

I ran the races, earned my medals, and just generally had a blast. It was a spectacular weekend all around. (Outside of the 2am wake-up calls to make it to the corrals on time. Those weren’t so spectacular.)

That picture was taken on Sunday, within an hour or so of crossing the half-marathon finish line. The next day, my wife and I drove to Palm Beach to see some friends and meet their delightful twins for the first time.

The next day I found out the tests my mom had gone in for had come back poorly. She wouldn’t tell me any details over the phone, just that the doctors had found something, and it wasn’t good. I got this news about halfway through the drive home, and I had to wait until Thursday to see her in person.

She was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer that was so far gone that it had metastasized into her bones. It was everywhere, they sad, but was most specifically concentrated in sternum, right femur, rib cage, and all along her spine.

This was the beginning of my grief. This was when I learned that Herbert had it all wrong. The fear and the anger I had experienced and shut down from were nothing in comparison to this.

I retreated. I played video games almost non-stop. jRPGs specifically. I fulfilled any and all of my obligations and responsibilities perfunctorily. Then it was back to my games. I spent the better part of the next two months sitting on my couch with a 3DS or a Switch in front of my face. 

I barely interacted with my wife. Or with my friends. I stopped running and exercising. In fact, since the day I ran the half-marathon, I’ve run a total of 2 miles. To this day. I ate poorly. I stress-napped midday, every day.

The bare minimum was all I could afford to give anything.

Then my mom died…

That was all before she died. Right at two months from her diagnosis, my mom died, and the grief fully took over. The only saving grace was that I knew how I had reacted to the grief of my dad dying in 2012, so at least there was precedent I could follow.

And that pretty much held true. So now, here I am just a little over 3 months out from her death, 5 months from the beginning of all this, and I am empty.

That is why I say that grief is the mind-killer, not fear. Why grief is the little-death that brings total obliteration, and fear is not.

I see my counselor every couple of weeks and have since the beginning of the year. I meditate. Partake in my hobbies and do my job. My wife and I spend quality time together every day. My dog and my cat are proof that there really is pure goodness in the world.

But I can’t seem to care. Because this grief has obliterated the ability for me to care.

Motivation is gone. Focus is gone. Emotions that I once felt so intensely have faded away. There are moments of anger. Moments of fear. Moments of panic and anxiety and depression.

Don’t get me wrong: there are moments of joy and happiness, too. Moments of love and connection.

But for the most part, it’s just numbness and emptiness. And it’s grief’s fault.

The Worst Part

But do you want to know the worst part of it all? (Well, outside of my mom dying, that is.) The worst part is that I can see all of this happening. I am 100% aware of what is going on with my body and my mind, and I am still completely and thoroughly unable to make better choices.

For example, in late July, my wife and our friend went to a new restaurant in town. We were hungry, but it hadn’t been too long since I’d eaten a couple sushi rolls. But it was dinner time, and we had been working hard all day. When the server came around, I made a conscious choice for my dinner to be blueberry pie, blueberry cheesecake, and red velvet cake.

Yep, three desserts for dinner when I’d had two spicy tuna rolls maybe 2 hours before. I saw what I was doing. Talked with the others about the choice being…ummm…less-than-ideal. And I did it anyway.

I will see the weather is nice and the sun is out. I convince myself to go outside for a run. But by the time I get to the other end of the house to get dressed, I sit down choose to play a mobile game like Marvel Strike Force or Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes instead. 

My clothes stopped fitting, recently. Even clothes I bought last fall when I had gained weight from the anxiety. Instead of getting back out there and running and eating well, I bought a new fall wardrobe at Target. New jeans, new shirts, even new and larger underwear. Because why not?

Lately, I will be in the middle of a TV show and turn it off and just stare at the silent, blank screen because that’s easier than following a narrative. Same for audiobooks or podcasts or YouTube videos. I actively choose silence over stimulation.

I love Twitter and Discord and Slack, but even keeping up with discussions there takes more effort than I tend to want to give.

Grief has obliterated my mind. I am not afraid of anything. I am not in fight-or-flight mode. I am in whatever is the exact opposite of that. Maybe just straight-up depression? I don’t know. Maybe.

I thought that maybe re-starting the Geek Fitness podcast would help. Maybe having that would motivate me to get off the couch and back out into the sun. It didn’t.

But There’s a Reason

This is not a depressive phase following a hypomanic episode. It’s not a brain chemistry thing. My mom died, and the grief has hit me hard.

I got a pamphlet from the hospice company that worked with my mom, and it was the “at this point in your grief, you may be experiencing some of these” and then listed a bunch of bullet points.

After reading them, I sat the pamphlet down, looked at my wife and said, “Yep. I’m grieving.” Because they were all me. All of them. 

Like Rebecca in Season 3 of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, she wasn’t 5 of 9. She was 9 of 9. (Sorry to be vague, but spoilers, and you know the reference if you know it.) So was I.

It’s hard for me to wrap my mind around that still being the case because 3 months after my dad died, I was on a bike every day, running, eating well, and losing the last 50 lbs I needed to hit having lost half my body weight.

That Was Then, and This is Now

And that’s all there is to it. I am a different person than I was almost 7 years ago. Not only has my body aged and become more decrepit, I am on 3 different anxiety and depression medicines (and thank God — I can’t imagine how I’d be if I didn’t have a regimen that works), and the past year has simply been one of the hardest of my life for a number of reasons.

So no. I’m not out on a bike. I’m not running. And honestly, sometimes it feels like I am barely hanging on by a thread and all I want to do is lie in the floor and hug my dog.

So that’s what I do. I hug my dog, and I pet my cat. I spend time with my wife, and I do my job. I juggle as many balls as I can keep in the air, and I have to be okay with letting as many fall as have to fall.

For a person like me, that’s very hard. I am responsible. I am active. I am dependable. I care.

Except that I don’t. That I can’t. That right now, the best you can expect out of me is that I am here. That I am breathing and (sometimes) upright.

I wish I could say that’s enough, but it’s not. However, it is where I am. I don’t like it. The people around me don’t seem to like it. And I am sorry for that — or at least I want to be. As it stands, it’s a solid meh, it is what it is from my corner for roughly everything.

Intellectually, I know things will get better

They have to. But that’s why I say that grief is the mind-killer. Because even though I know that things get better, I don’t trust that they will. I’m a smart person. But I can’t see the end of this. I can’t find a logical path to help me find my way out of this situation.

I don’t know if that’s because there’s not one (because of it being an emotional doldrum) or because I simply can’t process there being one. 

I think it’s the latter. Because there are things I can do.

  • I could work out a nutrition plan and do healthful, nutritious meal prep.
  • I could take the 30 minutes before my wife gets home every day to cook dinner and/or grocery shop
    • Doing so would boost my mood and body with vitamins and minerals, as well as get me out of the house.
  • I could set up a training regimen for the Hot Chocolate 15k I’m already signed up for in February.
    • I have empirical proof of that exact thing having worked for me in the past. 
  • I could schedule out my time during the day so that I have specific blocks of time to work on my side projects and better prioritize my responsibilities.

But I am not going to do any of that. Because grief is the mind-killer. And even as I typed that stuff out, I know I am not going to do any of it.

I probably will eventually. But right now? No. I’m just not going to.

I’m not even going to justify that as being okay. Because it probably isn’t. But it’s how things are. And it’s something that for the moment makes more sense in my grief-addled brain than the alternative.

So that’s why I say grief is the mind-killer. Not fear. Fear, I can deal with. Fear caused me to take action, one way or another. Grief, though, brought me to the the precipice and tossed me right into the abyss.

Eventually, with y’all’s help, I will find my way back out. I have before. But right now, I’m just going to float for a while. And fall. And sink. And float some more. 

I know this is not a happy-ending post. Honestly, it’s pretty grim and heavy. But there is hope. The full text of the Bene Gesserit litany reads like this: 

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

Replace the word fear with grief, and I know I will come out the other end of this okay. I will eventually face my grief. I will eventually permit it to pass over and through me (rather than stopping and latching onto it as I am now doing). Where the grief has gone, there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

But that’s not right now.

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