Guest Blogs

“Reading Calms My ADHD Mind”

Reading shuts off the noise for me, and opens a calm world inside my ADHD head.

“If you work on your mind with your mind, how can you avoid immense confusion?”
– Seng–T’sen (from Sanctuary by Ken Bruen)

“You really need to live your life, and not just zoom in and out of it. Otherwise you never know what’s going on.”
– Nick Hornby (from Slam)

The quotes above are from a couple of books I read recently. I included them here because they resonated with the way I experience my life and ADHD. Especially how difficult I find it to “settle” my mind and be in one moment without obsessing into minutiae or checking out and spinning off into time and space.

But what sparked my thinking about books and reading was a conversation I had with a psychiatrist who came to see my ADHD play and stayed to talk to me afterward. She treats adults with ADHD and, as we talked, she mentioned that most of her ADHD patients don’t do well with reading. And that got me thinking about how differently ADHD affects each of us that have it.

See, I read a lot. Okay, obsessively. I devour books. Always have, from a way early age. Except when I was drinking — then I read words that were absolutely necessary, like “Kettle One,” “olives,” and “Emergency Room.” Getting drunk and staying drunk for extended periods takes time and dedication and leaves little room for other leisure pursuits.

Back to the point. Sober now for over eight years, I go through three-to-five novels a week. Reading shuts off the noise for me, and opens a calm world inside my head. A story provides structure, meaning, and well-being. I get panicky if I don’t have a book I’m reading and at least one in the wings.

My 13-year-old ADHD daughter’s dyslexia kept her from reading until she was ten years old – but thankfully, after tons of work by my wife and the school, something switched on in her brain, and now she reads past her grade level and recently tore through all the Twilight books in a couple of weeks.

But I can’t get my 21-year-old ADHD son to crack a book to save my life. He finds reading to be an irritating, punishing chore. He’d much rather chill by watching TV crime dramas. When I talk of what he’s missing by not reading and the fascinating world he could open in his head by reading a Walter Mosley novel, he rolls his eyes at me and says, “Yeah, Dad. Maybe another time.” I want him to get what I get out of books. Watching TV can’t possibly be as beneficial as reading. He’s rotting his brain, and on and on I obsess. My wife says to cool it and let it be.

One night a month or two ago, my wife was on the computer in the living room, my daughter and I were on the couch with our feet up and our noses happily in books, and in the background I could hear my son watching a “Bones” episode in his room. The well-being seemed to radiate equally from everyone.

So yes, we’re all different, whether we have ADHD — or not. But what’s interesting to me is that I’m finally beginning to accept that difference in others. I’m starting to see that we’re all way too complicated and individual to be grouped and labeled in any way that completely says who we are and what we need. Which means…? I don’t know what, exactly. Maybe it’ll come to me when I’m reading a book.