Whether for the short term or long term, it’s not too uncommon to find yourself in a situation where you begin to experience brain fog. This mental fatigue can be a symptom of anything from tiredness and stress or, as in my case, a chronic illness. I’ve found brain fog to be tough going; never predicable and rarely consistent, I’m flying one day and fogged the next. It’s frustrating and scary and for a while took away my ability to read a book, a pastime I previously loved.
If you are here then the chances are you are a fellow book lover seeking advice for those times when the information just won’t stay in. I don’t profess to have the definitive answer (spoiler: there isn’t one) but this piece largely focuses on how I trained myself to read again. The process definitely isn’t linear, and I still practice all of these methods most of the time to keep myself in the game.
Even though I couldn’t pick up a book, I still wanted to hear a good yarn and I turned to podcasts for the itch that film and TV just couldn’t scratch. I favour narrative podcasts that vary in length from around 15 minutes to anything up to an hour. I choose the length based on how I feel that day, and at the beginning there was a vague plan in the back of my mind of listening for longer and longer every time.
Some of my favourite podcasts from this time, and that I still love now because they’re super interesting, include: Something True, Twenty Thousand Hertz, Why’d You Push That Button?, Nice Try, S-Town, Criminal, 99% Invisible (and in particular the Articles of Interest series that became it’s own podcast), The Habitat, and Mystery Show.
When I got to the point that there were more days that I could follow the full story arc of podcasts that lasted around an hour, I began adding audiobooks into the mix. I was initially buying an audiobook a month due to financial constraints, but since I joined my local library and found out that they offered audiobooks via an app the floodgates have really opened! It also means that I can just return a book I genuinely don’t like rather than feeling that I should struggle on with it.
I watch TV with the subtitles on as it helps with my comprehension in general, but what I didn’t realise was how this was already helping me to bridge the gap between listening to podcasts / audiobooks and moving on to reading a book. It may not be the most obvious tip, but if you don’t use them already try popping the subtitles on and get used to reading in small bursts along with the audio and action.
If this doesn’t suit you then try listening to a book while reading along, either via audiobook or by using a text to speech feature.
For a number of reasons I find it much easier to read on a device, and I actually favour my phone. Firstly it’s lighter and easier to hold, I do a lot of my reading lying down in bed and it’s so much easier to do that on my phone!
Also, the ability to change the colour of the page and adjust the brightness and text size helps me find that Goldilocks setting to maximise the chance of me sitting and enjoying my reading experience.
Noise cancelling earphones are ideal for this but can cost quite a bit of money, for a cheaper alternative (and if you can stand having something in your ears) then earplugs can work too. Especially in the early stages, just the act of isolating background noise was really helpful when it came to focusing in on the written word.
I’ve had my current read on hold for about a month even though it’s by an author I really enjoy, as I began finding it too hard and a bit of a chore. Deciding that I’m not going to beat myself up if I take some backwards steps has been nothing short of revolutionary in general and reading is no different. I will pick my book back up when I’m ready, and I’m not quite ready yet. I’m still voraciously listening to audiobooks and podcasts, I know my book will find it’s time to shine.
As a general trend my route to reading has looked like this: podcasts > audiobooks > actively reading subtitles > ebooks > physical books. However, as I mentioned at the top, this isn’t a linear process and I’ll often move back and forth depending on how I’m feeling at the time.
I don’t view the reading of physical books as the holy grail, in fact I mostly read ebooks as that’s what I personally get on with the most, but I’m so happy that I managed to find my love for reading again by implementing the reading tips I’ve discussed here. I even went from not being able to read at all 3 years ago to reading 50 books last year which I’m prouder of than I can ever truly explain.