Ptsd, Reading, Trauma, Levar Burton, Reading Rainbow

Ptsd, Reading

If It Weren't For LeVar Burton, I Wouldn't Have My Ph.D.

'I almost dropped out of graduate school three times. But I didn’t. One thing that kept me going was something I’d learned from 'Reading Rainbow.''

10/16/2021 4:00:00 PM

'I almost dropped out of graduate school three times. But I didn’t. One thing that kept me going was something I’d learned from ' Reading Rainbow.''

'I almost dropped out of graduate school three times. But I didn’t. One thing that kept me going was something I’d learned from ' Reading Rainbow.''

.For many women and Black, Indigenous and people of color, the barriers to earning a Ph.D. ― from discrimination to economic disparities ― begin at the admission process and continue through to the debt we incur while undertaking our degree. Those barriers have consequences: Of the approximately 55,000 people to earn a doctorate from a university in the U.S. in 2018, only 3% were

Black women.When you combine the huge personal and financial hardships that many students face with trauma and PTSD, it’s an understatement to say that doing something as seemingly simple as reading is a challenge.Facing my difficulties with reading was something I had to do over and over again throughout my Ph.D., and because reading is a foundation for virtually every aspect of my studies, I almost dropped out of school twice during my first year, and then a third time when I was at the halfway mark. But I didn’t. One big thing that kept me going was something I’d learned from LeVar Burton.

After my dog passed away, I was reading an article by a psychologist who referred to hope as “rainbows in the mind.” Inspired by the phrase, I started looking up old clips of “Reading Rainbow” online and rediscovered one particular video I remembered from my childhood.

In the episode, Burton visits a dairy farm, even trying his hand at milking a cow. He shows the viewer how milk can be made into ice cream, likening the different flavors to the variety of books available. His closing message is that milk is part of a bigger process ― it signals the possibility of creating something new.

When I saw that episode again so many years after I first watched it, I was writing a dissertation on individuals with cancer and their relationships with their pets during treatment. For me, reading had always been a means to an end. I thought I just needed to read enough to write the book report or ace the exam. It was never a joy or seen as a key to unlock mysteries. Burton’s simple message about milk reminded me of the bigger process. Reading was necessary for me to do the things I wanted to do. To learn more about the things I wanted to learn. People had entrusted me with their stories and I desperately wanted to tell them ― and I couldn’t do that without reading as an integral part of that undertaking. From that moment, everything changed.

The author, age 8, pretending to read a book.Courtesy of Nandini MaharajIn Latin, the word for reading,legere, literally means to “pick out” or “choose.” I have lived with the effects of trauma my entire life, but finally, with the help of what I’d learned from Burton, I realized that I have the opportunity to

pick outwords on a page every day ― and that this opportunity isn’t a burden, it’s a gift.AdvertisementOnce this piece clicked into place, I saw that reading calls on us to empathize with others ― either the characters or the writers themselves ― and, hopefully, our understanding of ourselves and others changes when we read and reflect on someone else’s story. I finally realized that I get to choose what stories I will read, what lives I will discover in those stories, and how I will tell my own, and others’, stories in turn.

Rather than seeing reading as boring or drudgery, I now know that reading is a fundamental part of a bigger process ― the key to interpreting and appreciating the world around me ― and that is powerful.Burton was telling us all along that we shouldn’t just blindly listen to the adults in the room. Instead, we need to find what sparks our curiosity — discern the ice cream flavor we love the most or discover new ones we didn’t even know existed. We need to pick out what speaks to us from inside a book and then chase it off the page into our lives. And we need to do this at every age.

I wish I had understood this earlier in my life, but I’m glad that I gleaned it when I did. I received my Ph.D. in public health and counseling psychology and I’m now working as a freelance writer. Every day I get to learn about and help tell stories. I get to use what I’ve been taught ― and the choices I’ve made ― to help other people. And, as strange as it might sound, I might not have gotten here without the help of LeVar Burton or the beautiful, magical, life-changing “Reading Rainbow.” And I’m willing to bet I’m not the only one who feels this way.

Nandini Maharaj, Ph.D., is a freelance writer covering mental health, career, identity and relationships. Her essays have appeared in HuffPost Canada, Animal Wellness, POPSUGAR and Introvert, Dear. She is a dog mom to Dally, Rusty and Frankie. Read more: HuffPostWomen »

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