I have an English degree.
I am a qualified English teacher.
I don’t enjoy reading.
For the purpose of this post, reading is the act of moving your eyes across a page of a book and taking in the words that lay there.
For me, the act of reading is stressful. I don’t use that word lightly, it is actually a condition.
My Reading Habits at School
The first time I remember actively reading for pleasure was on holiday when I was about 12. I was seriously bored. There was no TV in the villa and because this was 20 years ago WiFi wasn’t an option either. Like often happens in such places, there were some books that had been left behind by past occupants. I picked up a John Grisham book, I want to say it was ‘Runaway Jury’ but I can’t be sure. I would read it for hours on end and really enjoyed it. Although, I would skim read it. And I never made it to the end.
English was always my favourite subject at school and yet if we didn’t read the entirety of a book in lessons, then I wouldn’t finish it. But talking about the story? Talking about language? That I could do all day. I was able to riff off what other people were saying to ask questions and make inferences without having read the full text.
We weren’t a family of readers either. Don’t get me wrong, my parents read to me and supported me with school, but they didn’t read for pleasure unless they were sitting by the side of a pool. Reading wasn’t a part of everyday life.
I took English to A-Level (I did a combined Language and Literature course) and then read Comparative Literary Studies at the University of Kent.
It was at university that I thought I would need glasses. I would get really tired eyes and headaches from reading four different texts each week. I found an optician who was willing to give me a very mild prescription to make reading easier for me.
Cut to five years later and I am training to be a teacher. We are being shown texts written in such as way as to simulate what it is like to be dyslexic in the classroom.
I started crying.
Oh god. Was I about to find out that I hadn’t just been lazy but I had been dyslexic all along? How had I made it 27, survived a grammar school and a bachelors degree without anyone picking this up?
Thankfully Brighton University had suitable funding for me to be able to be tested and it all happened really quickly. It turns out that I am not dyslexic but I have something that sometimes forms part of that diagnosis.
I have Irlen Syndrome (also known as visual stress so I wasn’t exaggerating earlier when I said reading was stressful).
If you follow this link you can read more about it. At the top of the screen you can change the page colour. I like the greeny colour towards the middle of the options.
It sounds strange, but when I read with a green overlay it is more comfortable for me. It is like my eyes sigh in relief when I put the overlay there.
In an effort to overcome Irlen while at university I developed the skill of speed reading. Typically I don’t read for more than about 20 minutes at a time (and lying in bed) so I tend to not bother with the overlay and simply skim through. My current reads tend to be pretty stress-free in terms of font size, paper quality and spacing so that helps as well.
If I am reading during the day, or for longer periods, I will pull out my overlay and make things more comfortable for me.
For me isn’t so much about the reading, as the love of the story. Stories are how we learn, how we grow and how we escape.