How Reading Issues Started Me on My Mental Health Journey

& How my Mental Health Journey Improved my Reading Issues

4 minute read

by Ianna Osborn

17-year-old freshman in college, daughter of the blog author

As a kid, I loved reading. I started reading books when I was four years old and would read every night. I was in the advanced reading program and read the most books out of my school every year. Owning every Geronimo Stilton book was my only personality trait in kindergarten. After finishing all of the Geronimo Stilton books, I spent my time reading Magic Treehouse, Junie B. Jones, and Dork Diaries. My favorite book of all time to this day is A Mysterious Benedict Society. It is about gifted children who went through tests to be recruited for a secret mission; I loved it because I imagined I was in the story too. I remember having to read Hatchet in school one year; this book made me realize I didn’t have to read silly kids’ books anymore. Sometimes I would pick out novels on my nana’s shelf for her to read to me- one I remember vividly is The Road to Agra, my nana’s favorite book from her teenage years.

Throughout middle school, not only my interest but my ability to read dwindled exponentially. I started homeschooling in the fifth grade and every reading assignment quickly became a chore. I think this shows where my anxiety struggles started- as my anxiety and depression grew larger, my reading abilities were shrinking. Homeschooling didn’t have a sense of urgency, either- I didn’t have due dates or consequences like I used to. I did enjoy a few books in middle school though, notably the Chronicles of Narnia, The Giver, and Where the Red Fern Grows. Reading wasn’t the easiest, but I was sure that it would get easier through time.

Eventually, it got so debilitating that I went to my psychiatrist

The book, Silence of the Lambs, is significant to me because it was the last
book I read because I wanted to for a long time. Soon after- around the beginning of high school- things really went downhill, I could barely read at all. “Reading” for me was scanning pages and pages and then realizing I retained nothing by the middle of the book then I’d give up. It was a lot harder for me than I can describe properly- I was the smart kid, and now I wasn’t- the perfectionist in me was tearing through my skull. Why couldn’t I do such a simple thing that everyone else can do? I was two years ahead in school and I still couldn’t do the easiest thing ever. I was struggling so much that my mom got frustrated with my struggles and decided not to make me read anymore. I did write some essays to count as an English credit, but I know I haven’t had proper reading experience because we both gave up on me.

Eventually, it got so debilitating that I went to my psychiatrist and took a four-hour long test to see if I had any reading disabilities. In an odd way, I was disappointed to see I wasn’t diagnosed with any of them- just anxiety- which didn’t really validate my struggles as I wanted it to. My anxiety was stronger than my interest in books- so that was where the overthinking and lack of concentration really shined. After diagnosis, I started regular therapy appointments; my only goal was to be able to read again. I was excited to go to therapy because I knew I had a lot of issues I never told anyone out of fear, so I used my opportunity, but I didn’t really expect it to help my reading- it didn’t make sense to me.

Therapy was interesting. I ended up going to a partial hospitalization program a couple of months after starting my mental health journey. This was after my therapist realized that I was struggling with more than anxiety and reading skills. Being there for three months helped my anxiety tremendously. It wasn’t an immediate fix by any means, but partial hospitalization along with medication and continuing counseling did help my reading, as strange as it sounds. It honestly surprised me; I didn’t believe that anxiety was the root of my concentration problems until I started to improve. I started reading books I knew I’d love: Insomnia, The Shining, It, 1984, and Animal Farm. I read because I wanted to. I didn’t zone out nearly as much as I used to. My surprise is difficult to describe- I genuinely didn’t expect to get better. My struggle with reading led me to begin dealing with multiple mental health problems under the surface that I would’ve never begun to understand if I hadn’t just wanted to be able to read again.

2 thoughts on “How Reading Issues Started Me on My Mental Health Journey

  1. B. says:

    I see this kind of thing so often, symptoms that aren’t “typical”, seemingly “don’t make sense”, or just don’t fit into our neat little categories, (depression is pushing people away and isolating ourselves, anxiety is worrying, fear and a rapid heartbeat). Mental health issues present in many different ways that are unique to the individual and the experiences of the person. I wish this was talked about more, I think more people would seek help sooner if they knew many of their difficulties were actually due to manageable disorders like anxiety and depression. Thank you for sharing this and helping to educate your readers.

    • Thank you for your thoughtful feedback. All bodies and minds are different, different symptoms, different things work and don’t work- we have to be open to the experiences of others.

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