For three years of my life I was looking into the deepest of pits and seeing nothing but the infinity of darkness staring back at me. Nobody really tells you how mental health can change or control your life. I didn’t understand it until it happened to me. I had been a reader since I was a child and had always been able to occupy myself between the pages of a good book, but when I went to university the agoraphobia I have been battling since my early high school years overtook my life with a vengeance. I lost interest in everything I loved, I couldn’t even bring myself to step onto the train to get to school most days. I lost myself. On one of the rare days when I actually made it in to university I passed Waterstones on the way back to the train. A book in the window caught my eye. It was called Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella. Its cover showed a girl with big sunglasses on, standing in front of a backdrop of green and yellow stripes. I have no idea why the book stopped me in my tracks. It was obviously contemporary and far from the typical books I would read (I’m a total fantasy lover). I went in, picked up the book and bought it without finding out what it was about. When I got on the train I started reading it and was astounded to find that it was about a girl battling with the very same things I was facing every day. I finished the book that night. Finding Audrey became an obnoxiously green and yellow striped bright light that began to bleed into my consciousness every time I felt the darkness trying to overtake my head and stop me in my tracks. It pushed me to pick up another book, to see if I could replicate the pocket of sanity and safety that Finding Audrey had created. I started to read at least three books a week, the words running together and occupying my mind and becoming a safety net that stopped me falling back into the pit of darkness that had been my home for so long. Reading didn’t just help me find myself in the characters I fell in love with, although that was how my experience began, it also taught me that I could become who I wanted to be. I read about characters who started out lost and found themselves through heartache and challenges and seemingly impossible odds. Reading showed me I could conquer whatever was standing in my way, it showed me that whatever I was facing wasn’t an enemy, it was a part of me I just had to learn to embrace before I could step forward. Reading might not have literally saved my life or ‘cured’ me, I still battle for my sanity every day. But reading gave me a life that I could never have imagined. It helped me finish my degree. It helped me start writing again. It gave me back my sense of self and connected me with hundreds of people around the world who love the same things I do. My love of reading was kickstarted again by that candy-stripe cover in a shop window, and that same love of reading has allowed me to continue my own story in the light of a world of possibility and opportunity that, without the thousands of words I have read since that day, I would never have seen was right in front of me.
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