Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The infuriating inability to read because your brain doesn't work

When I was twelve, before the demons came, I could read. I read, and read, and read. Nancy Drew, the new Hardy Boys novels, Sweet Valley High. I read them voraciously and with a true hunger for the words.

I don't know when the last time I read a novel was, but I can guarantee you it wasn't within the past twelve years.

The fact is I can't read anymore. My brain frankly refuses to cooperate when I need to read something. The most I can ever manage is a magazine article in Rolling Stone, or something, but these days I can't manage that much.

I've often wondered if I had dyslexia and it was just never diagnosed.

I can recall all the desks in all the libraries, in every state I have lived in, where I sat, and tried in vain to read a book. All of them. I will tell you, I did this in Baltimore, when I lived there in 1999, at the community college I went to there and at three different public libraries I went to there, at the library in Alexandria, Virginia when I lived there in 2002, and this isn't even talking yet about the bookstore....I tried in vain to read at the bookstore at Pentagon City, I tried in vain to read at my community college in Clearwater, FL, and at every bookstore and every library I have ever been to in my entire life. I tried to read last year at this time, and couldn't. I tried to read six months ago, and couldn't. I tried to read ten minutes ago and couldn't.

I don't ever try to read fiction. I can't. I don't like it or something doesn't work right with it in my brain and I can't read it. I can't write fiction either, except in my head. I never really try writing it though so I guess there's a remote possibility that I could.

I must be dumb. It's truly amazing that I have over 120 college credits, and I have not read 98% of the materials assigned for reading in any of my classes, ever. Truly. This is the truth now. Let's be real. Something is wrong with me.

I lied in my bed just now trying to read my textbook. Dumb. As if I have ever been able to read in my bed. I can't. I laid there and made up a poem about how I was trapped inside my bedroom and it was like a prison. I talked to my cats. I told them to leave me alone so I could read (they like it when I talk to them, so that didn't work). I gave up. Again.

This is all good and well, because it plainly doesn't matter in the ignorant, illiterate society in which I live in the United States if one can read or not. As long as you know how to turn on a TV you can get through life here. But it matters when you're, say, taking a class where you have to read entire  legal cases and then report what you read to your entire class whenever the professor decides to call on you.

So once again, I have a problem due to my inability to read. It's funny; I collect books. I love books. That's why I spend so much time in bookstores and libraries. But I don't read all of an entire book often at all. I read excerpts. Just enough to get by without overwhelming my brain. I am a fraud with an apartment full of stocked bookshelves. This is like a joke. My life is like a joke. It's pathetic.

So there you have it. That is my confessional for the week. I can't read. I am not stupid in all honesty, but I certainly feel stupid when I can't read. I am eligible for reasonable accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act at my university, but it doesn't include someone putting information into your brain because you were unable to absorb it through your eyes. How unfortunate is that?

I realized recently that I'm never going to be able to go to grad school, because I can't read well enough to fake it that far. I can fake it through a BA, but I think that is all.

This feels like such a lame thing to admit to the world, but it is true. The funniest part of it is that I used to be an English major. Guess why I switched majors? Literature. We just don't get along, lit and I. We have a complicated relationship. Earlier today I was in such a good mood, I posted a link to James Brown singing "I Feel Good" on a Facebook group, but right now I feel like garbage rotting in Florida in August in the dumpster below my kitchen window.

What I would give to be able to read this damned textbook.

Can anyone relate?


  1. yes, I relate and I got my BA in the same way from UC Berkeley no less. I don't think it's really faking it all that much. I don't think anyone reads all that we were assigned...I frankly think it would be almost impossible to read all that we were assigned in the time that was allotted. I convinced myself I was a fraud too, but I don't believe that anymore.

    Anyway, I think there are many ways to learn and when one faces a disability of any kind for any reason the skills one learns to compensate are real and valuable and if you're learning enough to write your papers and pass the exams, you're getting it. Maybe not like everyone else but you're learning and you are not faking anything at all.

  2. i get accommodations from my accessibility services department, too. it's just a fact of life for me, that i can't learn in the same way that my non-disabled classmates can. and i'm not the only one, there's a woman in my program who uses a machine to have her texts *and* tests read to her so she can listen to the content, and then frame her answers. our program is super competitive and very demanding... just doing my best! hope you can cut yourself a little slack. i bet you'd do great in grad school. classes are so much smaller and your lived experience would be so interesting to the other students. in the best of all worlds what would you study in grad school?

  3. Hello, I just started following your blog but when you began noticing you couldn't read did you notice that it was caused by something? Maybe a switch or a start on medication? Or was that when you were diagnosed? I used to work for an optometrist and there was some sort of study done that people with schizophrenia/schizoaffective disorder also have a lens disorder in their eyes which can affect their ability to read. Have you told your eye doctor about your sudden inability to read? I would be curious to know if you can receive the information or if you just can't process it. I wish you the best of luck and also like One Brave Duck said, don't give up on your dreams and aspirations, the school may have other options to help you get through what you're experiencing. Best wishes.

  4. I have been able to read for quite some time now, but prior to knowing I had schizophrenia, reading caused delusions of reference for me for years.

    In school almost no one reads all they should, they read what they think they need to & not much more.

  5. Hello Jen Daisybee. I can read but not like I used to. Also, it comes and goes in phases. Anyway, if you can read excerpts, you can read basically. Do you find it any easier to read online? I do. I can relate to feeling overloaded by information. Like my brain already contains too much. There's just so much out there, isn't there?

    Zoe x

  6. Hello Jen Daisybee. I can read but not like I used to. Also, it comes and goes in phases. Anyway, if you can read excerpts, you can read basically. Do you find it any easier to read online? I do. I can relate to feeling overloaded by information. Like my brain already contains too much. There's just so much out there, isn't there?

    Zoe x

  7. Jen,

    I can relate very well to your reading issue. After almost 10 years of medication changes and therapy, I've finally gotten to the point in the past month or so that I'm not experiencing hallucinations. But with that relief has come a reading challenge. As a graduate student in a competitive science program, I'm required to critically read the literature on my research and to spend plenty of time buried in textbooks up to my ears. There's only so much faking you can do, of course, but I'm learning some important ways to cope with it while going to school. Don't lose hope for grad school! You never know what you can do before you actually try. If it inspires you, please check out my blog on wordpress and learn more about my journey!



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