At the beginning of the week my brain felt like this heated aquarium filled with fat, sluggish tropical fish. Now it’s Wednesday and all the water is gone. It is an empty aquarium brain.

I’m about to start reading Middlemarch for class. I have all afternoon and all night to read 122 pages: 12–14 hours if I need that long. When I was younger I could read a 500-page novel in a night.

I open the book. I know it is dense and difficult and has many characters and story lines. Even though I’ve read and enjoyed longer, equally difficult books in the past, I am afraid I won’t understand this one. I know I won’t.

It takes me 12 hours to read 78 pages. Reading requires an exhausting amount of concentration; I spend six minutes on a single page, reading slowly, getting to the bottom and realizing I have no idea what I just read, and then rereading it at an even slower pace. I am drawn in by Dorothea and Dr. Causabon’s subplot, but reading is exhausting me and stressing me out so much that I have to take frequent breaks, during which I find myself unable to move or think complete thoughts. The only thing that momentarily lifts my paralysis was having to go to the bathroom.

Thursday I have all afternoon to read “Song of Myself.” I try to read the first line but can’t. I feel everyone I’ve ever met reading my mind and seeing that I’m not up to this task. It makes me uneasy that they can so clearly see something that my ego has so far prevented me from acknowledging. I just stare at things and lie down. I’m lazy. And I’m hardly literate. I freak out. Others have already seen me, figured me out, and moved on. I’m the one having trouble doing the same.

Friday morning I feel worse. Friday afternoon, at my brother’s suggestion, and even though nothing’s too serious, I call counseling and get an appointment to see a tall, thin middle-aged woman in a long floral skirts and a fleece vest. She speaks in a gentle voice, and is nice to talk to even though, based on the two conversations I’ve had with her so far, I don’t think she completely understands.

In my mind she does not exist anywhere but in that office, at 10 AM on Tuesday, where she sits frozen until I arrive for my appointment. ♦