Does OCD Interfere with your Reading?

Today, I’m going to address a specific manifestation of OCD. If you don’t suffer from this particular symptom, I encourage you to read this post anyway, to see if you might be able to adapt it to your own version of OCD.

My form of OCD made reading very difficult because I was compelled to re-read the words at the end of a page before I could turn the page. Typically, it wouldn’t feel quite right and I’d go back and read them again, try turning the page again, and so forth. Sometimes, I couldn’t move forward at all in a book, and I’d have to put it down.

Here’s a strategy to try if you have anything similar impeding your enjoyment of reading. Make a decision beforehand to read without OCD rituals and practice on something quick and simple, like cartoons in a magazine, or a short section of a book that’s maybe just a few pages long.

I’m not telling you to resist the OCD once it’s taken hold; I know that can be nearly impossible. I’m suggesting that you practice short, intentional OCD-free reading. Here’s why:

Have you ever been driving to work, home or some other frequently visited location and you suddenly become aware that your subconscious mind has been driving? You “wake up” and think, “How did I get here? I was just daydreaming….” Thank goodness for your subconscious mind and muscle memory keeping you safe while you were off thinking about dandelions, your job or world peace.

Now, let’s say that you find yourself half-way to your destination but today you had intended to take a different route that would have brought you past a muffin shop. Well, it’s too late now! There are no easy side-streets to get you to the muffin shop. No muffin for you. You can try again tomorrow.

It’s not you subconscious mind’s fault. It just followed the path you’ve always taken. You simply did not give it different instructions before it started driving you places. So, while it may be impossible for you to get of your usual route and drive to the muffin store today, the next time, you can take the wheel from your subconscious mind at the start of your trip and drive to get muffins on the way to work.

Your OCD is a response to a stimulus or a need. Perhaps it gives you a boost of serotonin that calms your anxiety. Taking a path free of OCD can also give you rewards that will help to reinforce this new path: feelings of accomplishment, control, safety and freedom from fear.

The same is true of any unhealthy or unwanted habit: drugs, excessive social media, eating disorders, porn addiction…. You have well-worn paths in your brain to address your needs, and without a conscious effort, your subconscious mind will take you down those familiar paths. If you are forging a new, healthier path to meet your needs, every time you practice it, even for a short period of time, it will become easier to drive down. Eventually, the original path will start growing weeds and the new path will be more natural for your subconscious mind to take. You may find yourself driving by the muffin shop without any special effort.

It’s not a decision of the subconscious driver, it’s a conscious decision to train the subconscious driver. And, it’s not a quick fix. You can have a successful 5-minute read and the next time slip back into that old, familiar path. Just know that with practice, you can change. Each time you are successful, take a moment to celebrate that success and dwell in the positive feelings it produces. That will help to reinforce the message to you subconscious brain that this is the way you want to go. Try it. And try it again.



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Essays, stories & poetry about OCD, culture and society, by Eric