You can’t move. In bed, alone, and the day passes by. Arms too heavy, head too heavy, so just lie there. Just continue to exist. For today, that’s a win. And repeat. You’re beyond wanting food. You think of fading, and it seems possible, probable, and not too terrible. In any event, you cannot move. Sometimes your body moves – it curls in on itself and everything heaves with silent screams and tears, and always there is that ache. In your head thoughts repeat, again, and again, and time passes. You know this is a bad place, but now that you’re in you don’t know how to get out.

Maybe one day things are a little lighter. Maybe one day you get a call and maybe you answer it. Maybe one day you can and do say to someone, “help me, just a little” and then things start to change. You talk to people, because they talk to you. You start to move and slowly you feel the atrophy lift from your legs and hands. The looping thoughts are interspersed with other thoughts. For a long time, it’s still there, the ache. And then one day it’s not.

You won. You lived.

Things are familiar. There are thoughts you like. Yes to smiling, yes to eating, yes to walking in the sun. Yes to letting people help. Yes to reentering the world. Yes to relearning yourself. You remember bits about yourself, from before the time when you couldn’t move. You remember that you liked walking in the rain. You remember that you liked rainy days. You remember that you liked watching the rain from your window, with a blanket around your shoulders – the more rain the better – it made you feel like a witch or something, something good. You remember that you liked drinking tea. You remember that you liked drinking tea whilst reading a book. You remember that you liked reading books.

You know it’s been a long time, years even, since you read anything. You can remember, in those bad days, trying to read book in hand page open eye on page but nothing. Eyes would not move would not read. It freaked you out. Another thing you could not do.

But you do remember a time before the bad days. Things were different. Books were your thing. They were your pride and you would call yourself a voracious reader. A booklover, a reader proper, whatever. Books devoured. And loved. And craved. Read for understanding, and escape. Three a week, one a day, depending on how much time you could steal. That was you. Always. Before the bad days, that was you.

Now you’re relearning yourself. 400 odd books are still in your room. You kept buying them after your stopped reading them. Why hasn’t the hunger come back? Why aren’t you craving them like you used to? They look dead. Slabs. An obligation. Three a week, one a day seems like a lot, and it used to feel so easy. Where do you even start? An unknown? An old familiar? Maybe something even an idiot could get through? Pick one, open it up, turn the page, turn the page, and then there’s page one. Read. It feels like work. It’s not easy anymore. Everything is hard, everything else is not easy and relearning is effort real effort why this too why can’t this be normal? Remember that you won. It will get better. Of course it will be slow, you lost years, remember.

Books were a comfort. They shouldn’t be a pressure. Forget three a week, one a day. Pick one book. You have time. Read it slow. Read the page twice if you need too. Take a break. Make tea. Read another page. Read more tomorrow. You’re trying to be kind to yourself, like people say you should.

The first book you finish is The Island of Doctor Moreau. A skinny book. A silly book. Probably better as a movie. But it’s done. Then you read Paper Girls, Vol 1. A graphic novel, so maybe it doesn’t count, but maybe it does. Then nothing for a while. Then The Earthsea Quartet and in this you remember what it was like to read with addiction. In this you enter your secret reading world. A successful escape. Remember it. The Edible Woman. Weird but good. Then The Wings of the Dove . You love that one. You’ve found your secret world, and you go there like in the days before the bad days. Living is getting easier. Reading is getting easier. You’re almost a person proper now. It’s been a full year since you reentered the world. You say: please don’t count the books. You don’t count the books. Easy.

Words by Ruth Thomas, art by Shannon Fae

This article first appeared in print volume 88 edition 4 GIRL