When it comes to taking simple abilities for granted, I’m just as guilty as the next person — but not when it comes to reading. This is one blessing I’m grateful for each and every day, and one for which I shall never forget to be grateful for. The reason is that I clearly remember a time I temporarily lost this precious ability.
Yes, there have been times in my life when I could not read. I’m not saying I couldn’t recognize letters or put them together to make words and sentences. I’m saying that my brain just couldn’t process the words on the page.
This condition didn’t occur all at once. It developed quite slowly, over a period of months. At first, I found myself reading the occasional sentence more than once. Then, I read the occasional sentence more than twice. It later progressed to reading every sentence more than twice. Eventually, I realized I couldn’t remember the contents of the previous sentence when it was time to read the next one. To be more precise, what I had lost was my working memory rather than my ability to read. Unfortunately, without the former, the latter is impossible.
What happened to me was a bit puzzling at first. I was no stranger to fibromyalgia and was very familiar with fibro fog. I was accustomed to making frequent lists to help with my memory issues, and I’d learned to be patient with myself each day when I lost at least one necessary item. But this was not fibro fog. To me, this was the loss of one of life’s greatest pleasures. Reading wasn’t just something I did. It was who I was. I was desperate to find the cause and to fix it.
It took a little searching, but I did find it. Quite simply, I was suffering from depression. Because I’d battled this mood disorder periodically since young adulthood, I thought I was familiar with all the symptoms. Actually, I was. I knew about the loss of concentration, and I knew about memory difficulties. I just never put them together to equal the inability to read.
And, in all fairness, my problem with reading wasn’t universal. Surprisingly (to me), it was limited to fiction. I had little difficulty reading books or articles about fibromyalgia or any other educational literature. I just couldn’t read a novel. When I think about it now, that makes perfect sense. You don’t necessarily need to know one fact to be able to understand the fact that follows. Whereas, a novel makes no sense at all if you don’t know what just happened.
The solution to the problem, of course, was to relieve the depression. Because I’m one of those people who cannot tolerate medications, I was unable to take any of the antidepressant drugs available then or now. Instead, I found myself an excellent cognitive behavioral therapist (CBT), and I doubled up on the other complementary therapies I was using at the time — including acupuncture and exercise.
I can’t say the cure came easily or quickly. In fact, I continue to struggle with this issue to this very day. But knowledge is power. Whenever I feel myself struggling to read a good book, I know what needs to be done. If I haven’t seen my therapist in a while, I make an appointment. Instead of curling up on the couch, I reach for my sneakers and go for a walk. It takes real motivation to make your life as good as you can make it in the midst of pain and suffering. It takes discipline, and it takes diligence.
In time I got my reward. There was a grand celebration at my house the day I began successfully rereading Carl Hiaasen’s “Skinny Dip,” one of my all-time favorite books. As I quickly turned each humorous pages, I felt like I’d been given a great gift. A gift that gives back every single day, and one that’s worth keeping — whatever the cost.
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