I recently came across an excellent post over at Bringing Along OCD. This article really hit home for me because I suffer from what the author refers to in that article as “Reading OCD”. This is not a legitimate, medically-recognized term, but rather it seems to be one of the many possible manifestations of OCD, otherwise known as obsessive-compulsive disorder.
I’ve known for a few years now that I have some “quirks”. While I don’t have to turn the lights on and off 10 times before I can leave a room, I do have a slight fixation with even numbers. This manifests itself in strange ways. For example, my husband always makes fun of me because, when I use the preset radio buttons in my car to change the radio station, I have to press the button either 2 or 4 times. I cannot press it 1 or 3 times or any other odd number of times. Strange, yes. But this is a relatively minor thing that doesn’t have a significant effect on my life.
Then there’s reading. When I read a book, I am at my most obsessive-compulsive. I have great difficulty in reading a single paragraph, sentence or sometimes even a single word just once. I have to go back and read it at least twice, sometimes more, to be absolutely certain I’ve understood everything. I also like to check that punctuation has been used in the appropriate places (I have a feeling I would make a phenomenal editor!). When I turn a page, I have to read the title and author text, as well as each of the page numbers. On my Kindle, I have to flip back and forth between pages multiple times to ensure that my Kindle didn’t accidentally skip over a page.
The article on Bringing Along OCD states that most people who suffer from Reading OCD generally experience this issue more when reading important material such as schoolwork. This makes sense, since the more important the material is, the more important it is to understand whatever it is that you’re reading. I have the opposite problem. My OCD likes to rear its ugly head when I am reading books for pleasure. Sometimes, when I get to a really good part in a novel, I will fly over it to find out what happens next, but afterward I still have to back up and start over from the beginning to ensure that I didn’t miss anything.
I don’t recall when this first started, although I do know that I didn’t have this problem in my teenage years. I suspect it developed when I resumed reading for pleasure a few years ago. It currently takes me about a week and a half to read a book of average length. I suspect that, without Reading OCD, I would normally be able to finish that same book within 3 or 4 days. So it takes me roughly 3 times longer than it should to read a book. This is a significant chunk of time and reduces the number of books I can finish in any given year.
One technique that I use to try to mitigate this problem is to put a bookmark over the parts that I have already read. Unfortunately, this doesn’t usually work for me all that well, as I lack the discipline necessary to not cheat and look back over sections that I have already read. Even when I do resist that urge, I still find myself reading super-slow so that I can absorb everything, because I know that I won’t allow myself to go back over it again.
I also try to tell myself that the world is not going to stop spinning if I don’t re-read that last paragraph, and that I will be able to read so many more books in my lifetime if I just get over it, but this strategy doesn’t seem to do much for me either.
In thinking about this problem some more, I can’t help but draw comparisons between myself and people who suffer from anorexia. While I am well aware that anorexia is a far cry from having reading difficulties, I do think that there are some commonalities between the two. Anorexics are often told that if they want to overcome their disorder they should “just eat”. I have to admit, I’ve thought this same thing myself. But now, knowing how difficult it is for me to force myself not to re-read the same paragraphs over and over, or to “just read”, I feel as though I have a better appreciation for what people who suffer from anorexia and other eating disorders go through, and how impossible it is for them to “just eat”.
I’m sorry to say that I haven’t yet found a solution to my reading challenges. I have a feeling it’s going to take a lot of discipline to push through and overcome it. I just hope that it doesn’t require more than I’ve got.
Do you suffer from “Reading OCD”? What methods do you use to cope that have worked for you?