If I gave you five guesses as to why I spent a good chunk of high school and college unable to read, I would bet that most wouldn’t be able to guess why. Vision problem? Concussion? Brain damage?
Nope. It was OCD.
I lost the ability to read for several years of my young adult life because of obsessive-compulsive disorder. I’ve always been a straight-A, perfectionistic student who worried a great deal about grades. Because of this, when I would read textbooks or novels for school I gradually became more and more honed in on the details. I began to reread sentences, paragraphs, and eventually pages because I feared I had missed information. I would read at a painfully slow pace, underlining nearly every word in an intricate system of symbols. Not surprisingly, with all of these rituals, reading became very stressful. And as usually follows when something is stressful, I began to avoid reading. I would put off reading for school because I knew it would be a long, tense process. Moreover, I hadn’t read a book just for fun in years, despite being an avid reader as a child.
But today isn’t for talking about OCD stealing reading. Today is about celebrating that right now on July 13, 2016 I can read again. I can read at a reasonable pace for school, and I can read other books in my free time. Even as I write this, I still find it hard to believe that I have regained reading so fully. Several months ago I wrote about my process of trying to regain reading by doing countless hours of exposures. Since then, I have continued to practice reading, and especially not ritualizing.
Today is a special day to celebrate because it was one year ago that I finished my first book, after so many years of not being able to read. Since then, in the past 365 days, I have read (drumroll please)…….. 50 books! Fifty! That is just shy of averaging out to a book a week, for a year.
I no longer get quite as emotional when I finish a book as I originally did, but this fact is something that still makes my heart beat a little faster. Reading was a huge part of my identity as a child and young adult, and having this stolen was traumatic. But to have regained this is something that will always make be feel incredibly grateful.
This also serves as a continual reminder to me that no matter how stuck I ever feel in a ritual, it can get better. Though I still have some other obsessions and I still have bad days, this is proof that things can change. We all need something to remind us there is hope, and for me reading remains that something.
To celebrate my one year book-versary here are my favorite ten books I’ve read this past year!
(in no particular order)
- Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs
- The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, by Mark Haddon
- Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen
- Room, by Emma Donoghue
- The Phantom of the Opera, by Gaston Leroux
- Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
- Animal Farm, by George Orwell
- Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes
- The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot
- The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
Here’s to hope
For my fellow book nerds, here are all 50 books.
P.S. Most of these books came from independent bookstores or used bookstores!