How to read with a chronic illness

I read a lot. I also have a chronic illness which sometimes makes it difficult for me to read at all (extreme fatigue, migraines, pain which makes holding up a book difficult, etc). It’s different from the kind of sleepy reading you do when you have a cold or flu, because there’s no recharge – resting doesn’t make the exhaustion go away and overdoing it can lead to days of payback. (If you haven’t heard of it before, check out the Spoon Theory – it’s a really good explanation of what living with chronic illness is like, and why people call themselves spoonies!).

Every person and the way their condition affects them is different, but these are some of my tips for reading with chronic illness:

spoonBe honest with yourself about your limits, and what your warning signs are that you need to stop. This is one of those ‘do as I say, not as I do’ things – when holding the book open is tiring or I’m forgetting the beginning of the sentence at end of it, it’s probably time to stop. When my face is a bit numb I probably shouldn’t start reading. When my eyesight gets ‘swirly’ I should definitely stop so I’m not more ill the next day. Should. Should…

I usually read in small chunks, and stop before I really have to. Though this can be damn frustrating when it means stopping before I want to, I know I get more done overall if I don’t wear myself out in one binge. I could kiss books with short chapters for this reason, I really could.

Think about the typeface in the edition you choose. Anything you have to concentrate on more will be more tiring (for me that means small text and/or a weird contrast between the text and the page). If you have an e-reader you can change the size of the text (though keep in mind you might find the screen tiring), but if you’re reading a physical book either have a flick through in the bookshop to choose a better print edition for you, or read less to take the extra concentration into account.

Sentence length and complexity of language can also make a difference – when you’re tired, go for something with shorter sentences and more simple language. If you just really fancy a more difficult book, read it slowly and in even smaller chunks.

Comics and graphic novels are an absolute saviour when you want to read but are too tired for too much actual reading, as there’s artwork to break it up and less text. There’s a real range of genres and styles, it’s not all DC/Marvel superheroes, so no matter what your usual book tastes I guarantee there will be a comic for you. (I did a post on where to start if you’re new to graphic novels over here). Not all are comics are ‘easy-read’, so you might need to take the concentration factor into account with more difficult ones (I’m looking at you Are You My Mother).

If you have any other tips, leave them in the comments below. Take care of yourselves my fellow spoonies, and happy reading.

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3 Responses to How to read with a chronic illness

  1. Pingback: June Reads 2015 | mischief and miscellany

  2. Pingback: On (not) being a reading snob | mischief and miscellany

  3. Pingback: The Wall by Marlen Haushofen | mischief and miscellany

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