Reading and ADHD

Yes, the title of this blogpost seems like something that should not be able to happen, but I can, and sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it’s hard, but I set up conditions to make it happen. This video on youtube set me up for this blogpost. To summarize the video: this person read a lot when they were younger, but have stopped once they reached adulthood. I started reading again when I was 12 (with the Harry Potter series) and haven’t really stopped since. I read everything under the sun, but I know what books go better with me than other books, so here are my things for reading as an ADHD’er. This blogpost might be helpful for adhd’ers, but also for neurotypicals, who don’t seem to be able to read.

I don’t watch TV.
This seems weird, and people don’t get me when I tell them that I don’t have a TV subscription and don’t watch TV. That is one of the biggest timekillers. TV. It’s so easy to just start zapping and before you know it, half your day is gone. I must admit that Youtube can do the same thing for me, but those are 10 minute videos, that most of the time teach me something, and are not mindless gameshows or anti-brain-fodder. Do I watch shows? Yeah, on Netflix, when I set time for them. With ADHD I have to be in the mood to be able to concentrate on really anything for longer periods of time, so I take time when I want to concentrate and create the near perfect conditions to watch them, so when I watch a show or movie, it’s mostly on saturday, when I feel like it.

I can read practically anywhere. I read mostly digital, but don’t let that stop you. Take a book with you in your purse or guys, learn to take a backpack or bag with you at all times. When I need to go to any meeting, I will take my shoulder bag with me, which has water, meds and my e-reader. I used to go to school with all my books, plus additional books that I read on breaks (yes, I was that kid). Today, with the mobile computers we carry with us anywhere, you can literally read ANYWHERE! Have to wait for at the checkout? Take out your phone and read. If you can reply to a message you can read as well. Although, I must admit, a phone is a distraction machine, as I hardly ever use it myself to read, as it’s sooooo tempting to open another app and do something else entirely.

When I am in the mood to read, I cocoon. This means that I will make myself a good beverage, set up an instrumental playlist, loud enough so I don’t hear my phone buzzing (yes, phone calls have been missed because of this), and I just read. I do it far away from any distraction, mostly in bed. In front of my gaming setup, will lead to me picking up the controller and start gaming, if I do it close to my computer, I will walk over at some point and just put my book away and start doing something else. I am a toilet reader, so I will take my book anywhere with me, when I want to read and just read on the toilet.

What books are the best?
Any book can be read in paragraphs (I have done this for years when unmedicated), but the best books have the short chapters. Margaret Atwood is a champion in this. Her handmaid’s tale only had 7-8 page chapters, which you can breeze through, and they are written in such a compelling way, that the “ohh, just one more” thing starts to creep in and before you know it, you have inhaled the whole book (not literally, as book are a choking hazard). Fahrenheit 451 is such a delightful book (not qua content, but how it’s written) that I read it in one day, without stopping almost, as I really enjoyed it. When looking for a book, look for short chapters. Longer can be done as well, if you can split them into pages or paragraphs. Infinite Jest for example is not, what I call, an ADHD-friendly book.

If you can do audiobooks, great. I can’t. I zone out waaaay to quickly. I could do it, if I used it as a meditation tape, but then the danger exists that I fall asleep. Doing anything else, will cause me to lose track of what is said. How many of you can listen to songs, while doing tasks and hear all the lyrics all the time? (No, don’t lie to yourself, you can’t. It’s science. There is no multitasking, only fast task switching, which isn’t healthy either).

My Ideal reading setup:
I will share you my secret reading setup, or how I prime my brain for reading. I make a nice drink. This tells my brain that relaxation is going to take place, as I can just as easily just fill my bottle with water and drink that. The fact that I am taking my time, means that I am going to take my time in another way as well. I use spotify or youtube for music, as I need some kind of background noise that filters out all the other noise so I can read. Mostly instrumental, and curated to the book I am reading (not in detail, just qua genre). A dark fantasy book for example can be read with instrumental movie music or a dark fantasy playlist of dark classical music for example (yes, I am reading the Dresden series, why do you ask?)

I go to my bedroom, as that is the room with the least distraction (it’s not distraction free, but it has the least distractions. My phone I put away, it’s close, but not in my line of sight. If it’s in my line of sight and it lights up (as I don’t use sounds on my phone, just buzzing), it will distract me and get me out of my book (it can light up and I can ignore it at first but then my brain go in a loop. “It lighted up. Somebody needs me. I must read it. No, we have a book to focus on. Let’s read.” This looped until I pick up my phone).

Then I pick up my ereader, as I can read on my tablet as well, but it has the distraction problem not suitable for long reading (short reading bursts can be done on any device or with any book). Then I just start reading the book I want to read and before I know it I read 4-5 chapters. The more engrossed I am in a book, the more chapters I will read in a book and the less distractable I will be. When I am engrossed in a book, you literally need to come shake me to get me to pay attention to you, because yeah, the book is my life now. Eating and drinking will be forgotten when this happens. Countless cups of cold tea have been waiting for me on my night stand.

For those that want to know: Yes, I am on ADHD meds, but they are not a cure-all. They are a crutch. When I am not in the “mood” to read, all my ideal reading setup and stuff isn’t going to help me to read either. The thing is, when I want to read I can do it. When I am hyperfocused on a subject, I can read a 768 book in 2 days, if I wanted to (and it has happened before). Most of the time though, I read short bursts, like chapters and before my meds, I didn’t even read chapters, I didn’t even read pages, I read paragraphs.

How do I keep reading?
I switch books. ADHD makes you easily distractable, so to keep myself doing things, I have to switch often. When I am in a reading mood, but I get bored with a book, I switch to another one. Now on my kindle, on the home screen, and this is why I set it to the homescreen and not the folder option, is that I can only read 3 books at once. It gives me the option to read three books without me having to go look for the book in the folders. This is ideal for a reader like me, so I mostly read a fiction book, a book on an interesting topic (non-fiction) and another fiction book, although fiction and 2 non-fiction do happen too. When I wasn’t medicated and I didn’t have my ereader, I once topped out at 100 books. I had a tendency of buying a book and starting to read it immediately and stopping when I was bored and picking up another book, then doing that 100 times over, only reading paragraphs. Yes, it’s as exhausting as it sounds. Most of the books of that time I didn’t finish and have been unread since, but I now I have a backlog that I am working my way through.

As an ADHD’er, how much do I read?
Depends on the year. I had a year of 50 books medicated, or 20 also medicated. Depends on my interests or my ability to focus day to day. Mostly, it depends on my mood (my dopamine flow). What keeps me reading is a good story, or an interesting subject. A book on science or psychology can have me read it in about a day or 2 if it’s written in a good style. Books that don’t flow and are just written to appeal to academics, can take me much longer to read, this both goes for fiction and non-fiction.
I can burn through books in a day, even hours, if you let me, but it has to be a good book. So when I tell you, that it’s a good book, believe me, you will love it. As for someone like me, it’s hard to read as it is, and if it engrossed me, it will most likely engross you as well.

If you made it to the end of this article, here are my personal recommendations for books and playlists:

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
The running man by Stephen King
Handmaid’s tale (plus the sequel) by Margaret Atwood
Clockwork orange by Anthony Burgess (perfect book with 21 chapters, so 3 acts, 7 chapters per act).
Good Omens by Neil Gaiman
(these books are all books I finished one year going from 25th of December when I got them as a gift and finished them the 6th of January the next year).

Playlists on spotify:
Somewhere in the European countryside
Urban Fantasy Noir
Music for writing (I know it says writing, but when it’s good for writing, it’s good for reading too)

Every post is written first in scrivener 3, which you can get a 30 day free trial of here at literature and latte.

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