When I was a child, a book was never far from my hand.

I would read every day, sometimes solidly all day. This continued well into my teens, but then something happened. Or, to be exact, two things.

My mental  health stopped me enjoying reading. 

Is there a right way to read?

Should I absorb all the information on a first pass? If I did it the right way would I be able to recite it nearly word for word? Or should I speed read? Getting through many books is surely a good thing? But what if I don’t remember what was written perfectly? And what if I’m not reading the right books? Should I be reading the classics? I like YA, but I’m told it’s bad for me. Maybe I shouldn’t read poetry, either? It’s too niche. But that’s ridiculous, because it’s classic. And I enjoy it. But still…and maybe I should read the books everyone else reads? But if I read the books everyone else reads, I won’t have anything to contribute. And how will I contribute if I don’t know the books perfectly? I should memorise quotes. So I have to read slowly. Maybe if I read several books at once…

If that was exhausting to read, it most certainly was exhausting to live. It is what anxiety in my 20s did to my thought process so that it made just picking up a book feel almost poisonous. When anxiety wasn’t robbing me of this pleasure, depression would so demotivate me that it was hard to even engage with what was written. Couple that with crippling brain fog–where it becomes difficult to focus for any length of time–and on most days it was torture even trying to read.

A second factor also inhibited my reading for pleasure.

Writing for a living killed my passion for reading. 

When you’re digesting news stories in rapid fire and reading, reading, and reading some more about various issues, sometimes trying to decipher the intricacies of policy documents and political campaigns, you get tired. I chose to be a freelancer because it meant I could develop my writing skills, and that did happen. The cost was that I had less time to read, and I also had less desire to read because I had spent an entire day already reading not for pleasure but for other purposes.

It became increasingly difficult to motivate myself so that, in my mid-20s, I think I barely read five books a year. That is devastating considering I am capable of reading a 200+ page book in a day without too much effort. I began to despair that the passion of my life, books, were gone forever. I would still buy them, I would still sometimes crack their spines, but I rarely finished a read, and if I did it had been such hard work I can’t say I enjoyed it.

Photo credit: Ben White.

So where am I now?

If I’m honest, I can’t claim that I’ve totally fixed the problem. I’m still working on it. I’d like to do a follow-up post to this about specific actions that have helped me, and what things I’m looking to try, so check back for that within the next week.

For the time being though, I can say that with hard work and effort to reign in my mental health problems, I’ve been able to find room to love reading again.

I’ve also cut myself some slack:

Holding myself to who I used to be robs me of who and what I am now. Click To Tweet

I’m a full-time writer who also has a number of hobbies, like playing the flute, drawing and exercising. I can’t expect to be able to read like I used to–and that’s OK. Part of the mantra for my recovery has been finding ways to accept that I am beautifully limited. We all are.

Fortunately, through this act of self-compassion I’ve been able to truly enjoy sitting down with a book again, and am now eagerly awaiting the hour I have just before bed that is my pleasure reading time.

Over to you

Do you have any tips on trying to fight barriers to reading? Have you overcome reading dry spells? Let me know in the comments as I’d love to read some of your tips.