Reading with OCD

Reading with OCD can pose a challenge. It could be the need to go back and read sections again or read in a particular way. Perfectionism may lead to starting over if mistakes are made.

The following article is anonymous. The aim is to help people understand how normal certain thoughts are, and to know that professional help can improve daily life.

As a child I loved escaping into a book. But reading with OCD made this process a lot more complicated than it should have been.

There was a specific routine I had to do every single time I bought a new book.

I have to read books in a particular order

As a child I had to read a book in the following order:

  1. Front Cover
  2. Back Cover Blurb
  3. The pages before the first chapter (foreword, who the book is dedicated to or in memory of etc)
  4. Introduction
  5. First Chapter

If I missed one part of the routine, I had to start again.

If I mispronounced a word, back to the start. If someone interrupted me, back to the start too.

I would have a strange feeling inside that wouldn’t go away if things weren’t perfect.

My earliest memories of reading books are full of these behaviors. Although I loved nothing more than finding a good book (Goosebumps and Horrible Histories were some my favourite series), the fun never lasted too long.

Reading compulsions often come with a desire for perfection or to start things over.

This can also come under mental contamination, as a mistake can make reading feel ‘dirty’. Starting over can feel like a clean slate.

This order was vital for me to keep reading. There wasn’t another way I could read that I would be happy with. The book felt dirty.

Obsessive-compulsive behavior was, and still is, a problem for me.

I would make up 'checkpoints' in my mind that I had to reach

If I could make it to the first chapter without making a mistake or messing up the order of things, I hit my first ‘checkpoint‘.

I would create checkpoints in both reading and gaming. Once reached, I could start from this point if I made any further mistakes.

I think deep down even my OCD knew that having to start again every time I made an error would mean it would be almost impossible to finish a book.

Any mistakes after that would mean I start from this new checkpoint, although the compulsion to do so would ease as I progressed through the book.

Usually by the time I got into the second or third chapter, I wouldn’t feel these compulsions so strongly.

I could often relax after mistakes and have little to no desire to start from the last checkpoint, which would tend to be the beginning of that chapter.

I would keep going back to make sure I didn't miss something

Although I knew deep down that any text before the introduction was not important, I would worry about missing something vital if I didn’t check anyway.

What if I miss something in the cover art? Who is the author dedicating the book to?

I know I’m not the only one to read these pages in-between, but I could not skip them.

I would just feel uncomfortable if I didn’t read every single word before the introduction. Going back later was not an option due to the order of things.

This ‘feeling’ I have after making a mistake is pretty hard to describe.

I wasn’t feeling a lot of anxiety taking over, it was more like a low-key alarm bell that was going off in my mind. I couldn’t ignore it. That off switch wasn’t there.

Also, if I was to finish the book with this mistake being made, the book would always seem dirty to me. I wouldn’t be able to look back at it with joy, even if I knew it was a great read.

Throughout my twenties I rarely picked up a book, mainly for this reason. However ADHD also made it very difficult to concentrate, and now I usually listen to podcasts. 

I find it easier to take in audio without having to read words from a page. I can also listen on the move.

This is a three-part series documenting a personal account of mental (emotional) contamination. Click here for time anxiety (part one) and gaming anxiety (part two).

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