If you are a friend of mine on facebook*, you have likely heard me growl at how fast you type your messages or comments. If you’re a friend of mine with whom I exchange text messages, you might have noticed that by the time you’ve fired off four to me, I’m just responding to your first. And if you know me just through blogging, you might think that I’m not reading, or worse, that I don’t care, because you will see very little commenting from me, more often a pushing of the like button, depending.
You’d think this one would have been a pretty obvious realization for me, but let me give you a bit of insight into why I’ve only recently figured things out.
All of my life, since I was quite young, I was incredibly fast with reading. You know how (at least in the States, I imagine most countries have some version of this) you had to do the standardized testing in school, starting pretty much in the first grade? And you know how with each segment, you would be given a time limit, and there was that really annoying kid who finished the 45 minute test in 15, then sat twiddling her thumbs, or reading a book when the teachers allowed it? Yeah, she was me. All through my life, I read quickly, and I read voraciously. And I read anything I could get my hands on.
And there was once a time where I could type reasonably quickly on a typewriter or computer (though I have no idea how many words per minute), my texting speed was sufficient (though never for what I see nowadays, yeesh), and as far as blog reading and commenting. . . Well, I’ll get to that in time.
As a lot of you know, it’s been a pretty rough couple of years for me. Actually, the past six or so really weren’t so hot, but the last two to three were definitely the worst of it. I was dealing with severe, treatment resistant bipolar disorder. I was contending with every kind of anxiety disorder under the sun. Things weren’t good. And then the worst happened: the electroconvulsive therapy and the fallout.
All the havoc with emergency room visits and post-traumatic stress disorder, huge memory deficits, cognitive decline, confusion generally (I’m giving you the super-abbreviated version here, God knows I’ve written about it in detail enough) – and one of the most unthinkable things of all, something it took me a year or more to even realize, because I was that screwed up – my inability to read.
Yup. The girl who up until her late 20s continuously had her nose stuck in a book, who read them so quickly they couldn’t print them fast enough. . . Well, I could see the words alright, I could read them one by one, but by the time I reached the end of I sentence I couldn’t remember how it had begun. And I’m not even talking about the “hard stuff” that I was used to, authors who had made up the bulk of my diet: Charles Dickens, Victor Hugo, D. H. Lawrence, Jane Austen, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Aldous Huxley, Jack Kerouac, Hunter S. Thompson, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Thomas Hardy. . . I’m getting carried away and I’m getting sad. I don’t let myself think this way anymore for a reason. Point is, I was having trouble reading from the beginning to end of a paragraph in an article in Cosmopolitan magazine.
I couldn’t read. I couldn’t read. I couldn’t read.
I went through a whole battery of neuro-cognitive testing, and the basic findings were that I had “slow processing speed”, which the doctor said was very common in people with anxiety disorders. But he didn’t tell me anything that could help me pick up a book again.
I went two very long years without reading more than three books. No exaggeration. And honestly I think this had a profound effect on the state I was in. It wasn’t just the fact that I couldn’t read, because I was so gone I didn’t even realize that for a while. It was the fact that I couldn’t escape to those beautiful worlds that lived in those books. I was stuck here in reality, and I just couldn’t handle spending so much of my time here without relief.
And then when I did finally realize how bad things were, and I looked around at the stacks of books that crowded my bedroom. . . I had never stopped buying them, but one day I began to look upon them as places I would never be able to visit. People I would never get to know. Stories that would never touch my soul. That hurt a whole lot. I won’t begin to put into words how bad that time was for me.
But at the end of last year, after a suggestion from my mom, I was able to pick up some of the lighter stuff, and I tore through it like my life depended on it. And then earlier in this year, after I Wakened Out Of A Nightmare and somehow found my way back to me, I started picking up some denser, more satisfying stuff. And now, once again, I have learned how to read. And I am so grateful every single moment of every single day for that.
But. I have discovered that I read very slowly. I went from being the fastest girl in the room to now taking about three times as long as most every one of you reading these words to get through the same material. And while I miss being able to do what I did, I will take this, I will take it so thankfully and joyfully because I can read again. Even if it takes me a year to read The Return of the Native, I am so happy because I am loving every word of it.
And yup, for a long time I used to yell at everyone for typing so quickly. And then one day I began to realize that I just type much, much more slowly than most people. On a computer keyboard, and, dear Lord, on a phone? I watch friends of mine sending texts and it looks like a movie where the film has been sped up, or some special effect has been used, their fingers fly so unbelievably quickly.
As for keeping up with blog posts. . . I can read them, and I do. And for a time at the end of last year, I did a stellar job at keeping up and commenting on nearly everything I read. Very thoughtful, emotional, in-depth comments. And it made my mind even worse, because that’s all I was doing, day in and day out, sitting and reading blogs and writing comments all day long.
I’ve come to a healthier place for me. I read a lot of blogs, I comment on a few. I still look at the lot of you who can keep up with all you do online and still work and apparently have a life offline and suspect you exist in a parallel dimension, where time works entirely differently, but I’m happy enough in my own. I have plenty of time away from the internet monster, and those of you who know me well know that I’m still paying attention. And those of you who don’t, who perhaps are just getting to know me, will either have to take me at my word, or miss out on a pretty amazing woman.
By the way, I very rarely have anxiety anymore. But obviously my processing speed hasn’t improved. There isn’t any way to actually isolate a cause; it could be all the trauma my brain suffered through illness, it could be years of medications taking their toll, it could be the ECT, it could be aging, it could be all of the above (but you have to know my money is on the ECT). And ultimately, the cause doesn’t matter, because knowing it won’t change the fact that I will live the rest of my life with the effect. And that’s okay.
*And if you aren’t a friend of mine on facebook, why the hell not? I’m all kinds of fun. Follow this link and send me a friend request! Just make sure and send a message, too, so I know who in the world you are (because it’s my personal fb page, it isn’t a page for this blog).
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