When Reading Hurts

Steph Matthiesen
Nov 1 · 3 min read

I hate reading.

There, I said it.

I’m a writer who hates reading. It’s a paradox that breeds guilt in my chest. How am I supposed to improve my craft without reading? What kind of a writer am I if I don’t even like to read?

But it wasn’t always this way.

When I was a kid, I devoured books. I couldn’t find enough words to keep my imagination fed and happy. You’d often find me reading three or four books at a time, carrying them with me through the school hallways in my slouchy backpack like a mother kangaroo.

So what changed? How did I go from being a bookworm to a book-avoider?

The answer is just three words long:

Attention Deficit Disorder.

It’s a parasite that takes many forms. Not everyone who suffers from attention deficit disorder bounces off the walls or yells “Squirrel!” during conversations. In my youth, it manifested itself in hyper-focus, overachievement, top-notch grades, and a total disregard for social connections.

Yep, I was that kid. Instead of socializing, I sat in the corner. Reading. Engrossed in my own world.

Eventually, high school got me out of my shell — and while my social life and mental health improved, the face of my undiagnosed ADD changed dramatically.

My high school classes became very difficult. I couldn’t hear my teachers through the dulling fog that had eaten my brain. I’d stay up until 3 am trying to do my homework, but somehow failing miserably every night. I was getting an average of 3 hours of sleep, with no results to show for it.

And I couldn’t read.

I tried. I stared at the pages and begged the words to please make sense. But they just stared back, unfazed, unblinking. I felt mocked. This thing I had once loved was suddenly out of my reach.

It hurt. So I gave up. I avoided reading anything longer than the back blurb of a cereal box. I couldn’t handle the disappointment and frustration.

And ten years, two medications, and one English degree have not managed to rid me of this anxiety.

But I’m fighting it.

Medication has objectively helped my ability to focus. The anxiety, however, is still carved into my very skull. And while it still looms over my every move, I’m learning to manage it.

I yell at it. I tell it no one likes it. And sometimes, if I feel bold, I push it out of the way and run into the arms of the words on the page.

I have been slowly making my way through a book of short stories by Neil Gaiman. His words have been like a warm potion, strengthening me for the next skirmish with anxiety. And I think that little by little, I’m winning the war.

So yes, my gut still hates reading — but with every short story, every small bite of words, my mind is learning to love it once more.