How I Overcame My Reading OCD

Gen's drawing with watermark

a custom illustration by my amazing friend, Gen

By far the most common question I get to my blog email is how did you overcome your reading OCD? I’ve written about this flavor of OCD a couple times on my blog before (For the love of books (Reflections on OCD and reading) and Progress is Possible: An Update on Reading), but I’ve never gone into detail about the process of tackling it. Another email asking about it this week inspired me to write this so hopefully others can regain their love of reading just like I did.

First, what is reading OCD? For me the obsession focused on worrying that I hadn’t fully understood or memorized something I read. This was particularly a problem when I was reading something for school. This led to repetitively rereading passages and sentences over and over. It also led to avoiding reading because the whole process of reading was so stressful.

To overcome it I used exposure and response prevention therapy, or ERP, just like I did to tackle all of my other obsessions and compulsions. I did this with the help of a professional trained specifically in ERP, which I highly recommend. If you aren’t able to find a professional or cannot afford to see one there are several great books about it, such as Freedom from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: A Personalized Recovery Program for Living with Uncertainty, by Jonathan Grayson, but I still recommend doing ERP with a trained professional above all else. (For help finding a professional trained in ERP visit https://iocdf.org/find-help/.)

Long story short ERP is about gradually facing your fears and sitting with the anxiety while it comes down on its own without doing any compulsions. Sounds hard? It sure is, but it works, and the key is it gets easier the more your practice. Pretty soon you habituate to the discomfort of the anxiety and your anxiety comes down rather quickly.

So what exposures did I do for reading OCD? Here are some specific examples of things I did.

  • Covering what I had read with a piece of paper, so I physically couldn’t reread
  • Reading with a (gradually decreasing) time limit and stopping when time was up whether or not I finished the reading
  • Speed reading and then being verbally quizzed on what I read
  • Purposely skipping sentences and eventually paragraphs of what I was reading
  • Doing exposures first with low stakes reading and working up to higher stakes school reading
  • Reading often, rather than avoiding, so I got lots of practice and being extremely diligent about not letting myself reread

As I mentioned, ERP is incredibly tough, but it is also incredibly effective and worthwhile. I’m so grateful I have regained the ability to read normally both for pleasure and for school. Take it slow, and be proud of progress, no matter how small it might seem. Baby steps get bigger, and things can get better.

Morgan

books

My top 5 books read in 2017

Advertisements

20 thoughts on “How I Overcame My Reading OCD

  1. Oh wow. I just did a Google search for reading OCD and got this result. What a revelation. This issue has just about ruined my professional life. I struggled through undergrad by forced-skimming (and partial absorption of dense, difficult material) but mostly through discussion and writing. But when I got into law school, this problem totally–like catastrophically–landed on me in a way I’d never experienced, and my anxieties around reading have never really gone away. My career has been basically sidelined because I just can’t do the work a legal professional needs to do, reading-wise.

    My trouble, based on your description of the therapy, is that–because I am so fixated on my anxieties about my reading, while I’m reading–I would end up with sub-zero comprehension if unable to re-read. I don’t know how I could possibly do that. I miss it ALL the first time through!

    Liked by 2 people

    • This makes me glad I posted it. You’re certainly not alone! Are you currently in treatment? The key is you start with small exposures and work your way up. So, maybe the first time you can read three times, then two, then one. You gradually get comfortable missing some of the information.

      Like

  2. Hello Morgan,

    Great info.
    Too much useful
    I,m a 12th student and cracking my entrance for medicine
    I was so depressed about my ocd and re reading
    But i got you texts and got a great inspiration from you and I will try your erp in my reading
    Thank you Morgan for this help

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Hi, Morgan. I cannot thank you enough forma this post (and the previous ones on the same subject). I’ve struggled with reading OCD since I was 13-14 (I’m in my 40s now). Of all the things OCD has robbed from me, reading and watching movies are by far the dearest to my heart. Your story has inspired me to try (once again) to fight the bully. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks for the article. I have been having issues with reading since my childhood thanks in part due to the OCD pattern of thinking, it has continued for more than a decade and I have only used avoidance as the coping mechanism. My issues with reading are as follows .

    i try to rush into reading so as to complete the reading material than actually focus on reading itself
    Within few minutes, I start developing doubts as to whether I am reading the right material( there must be a shorter more Concise material) . Am I wasting time reading things not necessary ? Should I first find out the right material to read?
    I have read the material once but I still don’t retain the stuff I read. Am I reading it the wrong way? Should I read slowly ? But what if I end up getting so immersed that I waste time reading stuff which is not needed

    4 if in case I finish reading ( which is not the case nowadays since it’s become worse) , I get seriously angry if I don’t remember the stuff I read. I begin to question my reading process .

    5 then I harbour doubts over whether I can indeed do the task at hand properly. Should I give this up and try something else ?

    Things have become so bad nowadays that I can focus at the most for five minutes together. By the time it’s over, I am exhausted and resort to watching videos or some activity to relax myself.

    I wanted to share my reading issues but am working on it. Not sure when I will be able to change.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I can identify big-time. And the worst part is that, most of the time, it’s not just a hallucination, it’s totally true that I’m reading aimlessly and wasting effort. Proper reading involves active thinking that integrates the new information into my existing mental models of information. Most of the time when I read, I’m not doing that. I’m thinking “I don’t have a mental model to put this information into,” or in common language, “I don’t even understand what this is talking about.” And I feel that way SO MUCH OF THE TIME.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This is a great post and while reading hasn’t been much of an issue for me, I can definitely relate to how you used ERP to get something back in your life that you love. I had to do ERP like that with Hit & Run ocd, among several other fears. Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi, Morgan. I am currently a rising 8th grader, and over this summer I have developed a reading OCD. I don’t have health insurance, and my family doesn’t have the money to pay the raw price for therapy. Also, they won’t pay for any books, as they think that I don’t have OCD. Is there anything you can do to help me? I’m really nervous that this will affect my grades for the 8th grade school year.

    Like

  7. The 2nd paragraph of this article perfectly describes my situation. I can also identify with “Rain”‘s comment above and also the last part of finally getting exhausted in short time and then loose interest in reading. How I miss the days when I was the normal “me”. The more you graple with “fixing” your reading process, the more you “feed” into (empower) that ‘belief’ that it needs fixing, and worse the problem becomes. Its a vicious cycle. And thinking/analysing about fixing it can only empower it and never fix it. But I simply cant help but ‘think’ about it automatically as I struggle with it everyday. and has become such a big handicap for me. Only way of solving it may be to pretend its not happening even when it is actually happening, not pay any attention to it, dont satisfy the compulsion and dont re-read and eventually it would get better. I am not sure if its the same as ERP but its extremely difficult to stick to it.
    I have been living with this for years and it has impacted my career and potential in a big way. I was so frustrated and dejected and I came across this article and I am so relieved that people can identify what I am going through !

    Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s