When OCD Took Away My Ability to Read
When I was 17, I began to lose the ability to read. By 19, it was gone completely. But by 21 I had regained it almost completely.
If I gave you five guesses as to why I spent a good chunk of high school and college unable to read, I bet that most wouldn’t be able to guess why. Vision problems? Concussion? Brain damage?
Nope. It was obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). I lost the ability to read for several years of my young adult life because of OCD.
I’ve always been a perfectionist and straight-A student who worried a great deal about grades. Because of this, when I 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, reading became very stressful with all of these rituals. And, as often happens 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 for fun in years, despite being an avid reader as a child.
But today isn’t for talking about how OCD stole my ability to read. Today is about celebrating that I can now 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 this ability so fully. Several months ago, I wrote about my process of trying to regain my reading ability by spending countless hours exposing myself to books. Since then, I have continued to practice reading and, especially, practice 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! 50! That is just shy of averaging out to a book a week for a year.
I no longer get quite as emotional upon finishing a book as I used to, 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 it is something that will always make me feel incredibly grateful.
This also serves as a continual reminder to me that no matter how stuck I 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 10 favorite books I’ve read this past year (in no particular order):
1. “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children“ by Ransom Riggs
2. “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time“ by Mark Haddon
3. “Water for Elephants“ by Sara Gruen
4. “Room“ by Emma Donoghue
5. “The Phantom of the Opera“ by Gaston Leroux
6. “Lord of the Flies“ by William Golding
7. “Animal Farm“ by George Orwell
8. “Flowers for Algernon“ by Daniel Keyes
9. “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks“ by Rebecca Skloot
10. “The Handmaid’s Tale“ by Margaret Atwood
Here’s to hope,
Follow this journey on MyOCDVoice.