Good Servant, Bad Lord

I had never read anything by Ursla K. Le Guin when she passed recently. So I decided to remedy this by reading a highly recommended (by the internet) book of hers that was also available in the UCLA library. I landed on The Left Hand of Darkness. (Honestly it didn’t totally do it for me as book, but I want to give some of her short stories and the Earthsea series a try before I throw in the towel.) However, one line in the book really stuck out to me.

“Fire and fear, good servants, bad lords.”

There’s of course a bit to unpack about the notion of a “good servant.” Fear has persisted as a body’s reaction to a potentially dangerous situation. It can motivate caution, fast action, and other useful responses in appropriate circumstances. But I want to focus on the notion of a “bad lord.”

As someone with anxiety, my life has been field with tremendous amounts of fear. And it took me a long time to come to grips with the fact that fear caused by my anxiety was controlling my life. Realizing that and facing it came in steps. As a child it meant learning how to breathe and recover more quickly from a panic attack. In college, it was trying out therapy and mindfulness. During grad school it’s been about having a regular therapy routine and adding medication.

Friends who know me well (or honestly even some twitter followers), won’t be surprised to learn that almost missing a board game night was part of my decision to try anxiety meds. I had been struggling with some chronic and unsolved health issues. (They have since been solved and addressed.) I was supposed to go to a weekly board game night, but was having some pain associated with my health issues. I could reason out that the pain was probably because I hadn’t eaten in a few hours, hadn’t slept well that night, etc. The logical part of my brain knew my symptoms were easily explained and could just be monitored. However, anxiety brain kept telling me, “but it could be a serious thing(tm) so you better go to urgent care right now instead of the thing you’ve been looking forward to all week.”

Talking to the NP who saw me at urgent care, I cried and apologized for probably wasting her time. I told her what I knew was likely going on but that I was so worried what else it could be. She was so kind in her patience and understanding. She validated why I felt scared and affirmed that I wasn’t waste anyone’s time. But she also talked to me about how anxious I was and how high my blood pressure was. She saw what a hold anxiety was having over my life and was telling me that it didn’t have to be that way. I didn’t have to let it be my lord.


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