Some people get bored doing the same thing over and over again. Some people use the word “routine” as if it means something distinctly negative. In some situations, I agree that routines can be a bad thing, but, in most cases, routine is what makes life possible for me. Therefore, to me, routine is a wonderful thing.
A lot of people don’t really understand why I claim to need both a great degree of freedom and at the same time, claim that I desperately need routines and structure to function. In fact, if people try to schedule my daily routines, I get meltdowns and can’t function at all, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a need for routine – I just need it to not be planned down to the exact minute and I really don’t want ANYONE else to interfere with planning my daily routines.
I am aware that people who live together have to compromise and make sure everyone is comfortable at home, which to me means both that I will never live with anyone again without being properly prepared for it, but also that I know that it may never happen.
When I say properly prepared for it, it covers quite a lot. It would have to be a compatible person with a compatible lifestyle, as well as someone who would accept me and my needs.
Needless to say, the odds of finding such a person are not great. I have little choice, however, because I know from experience that compromising on my needs to suit other people is a sure way to create meltdowns and in time, the pressure, anxiety, stress and depression will eventually lead to a burnout – and burnouts are no joke! Since my burnout I have experienced an increase in the severity of my autism spectrum disorder.
My hypersensitivity, for example, has become far worse since my burnout. Before, light inside often didn’t bother me too much, but now, on a sunny day, the sunlight that comes through the windows can be extremely painful. Before, normal curtains were enough, but now I need black out curtains in the summer. To some it may not feel like a big difference, but to me, it makes life just a bit more difficult and life is already difficult enough for people like us. Also, it is not just light and curtains, it has affected every aspect of my life.
So, the fact of the matter is, I need routines in life to function. I also need freedom within those routines. How do I get both?
Well, before I started my new life with online school, my routine was far freer because there was no time factor at all. I could take as long as I needed every day. That doesn’t actually mean that I slept all day and didn’t do anything – I was actually able to get quite a lot more done than I am now, because the time factor somehow adds more stress to my routines, and I get less done.
I do not create routines based on how much time I have, but on what things I need to do to feel good. I then adjust according to how much time I have.
So, what do I need? I need to get morning coffee and relax a bit before I do anything else, I need to exercise about an hour (rehabilitation because of my shoulder injury), I need to shower and have some sort of breakfast, I need to take my asthma medication and I need to have some time to do something else to clear my mind too, one of those things could be spending about 10 mins playing guitar, writing a bit on my blog, play video games or something else like that. I need these things to feel good all day and most importantly, to keep things like my hypersensitivity under control.
Some things are more important than other, for one thing breakfast is the most challenging meal for me, but it is also a very essential meal to me. If I don’t eat breakfast, I am in a bad mood most of the day. If I get sad or upset for no apparent reason it is generally because I didn’t eat at regular intervals during the day.
These days, I can actually get all of this done in about 3 hours. I usually get up at 5.30 in morning, not because I set my alarm, but because I always naturally wake up early. Then I have coffee until about 6.00 – 6.15 and then I exercise and shower until about 7.30 – 7.45. I have a quick breakfast, play guitar and do a few other things until about 9.00 and then I’m more than ready to work.
You may have noticed that I have written specifically what time I do what and that I actually do have my routines scheduled down to the minute almost, but the moment I start to feel that I need to do these things within a certain amount of time, it all falls apart.
I can’t do it, I take a few mins too long with my coffee, or just the thought that I need to get up in 5 minutes to make it through my schedule on time makes me stressed and kickstarts anxiety attacks.
Knowing that it is my own choice whether or not I get up in 5 minutes makes it easy to get up – so yeah, I am basically just tricking my brain.
Suddenly having classes from 8.00 in the morning, even though it was only a few days during the week, made my routines break apart entirely. I knew that I didn’t have time to follow my regular routines and the stress of it made me suffer from meltdowns and anxiety attacks all the time.
Before, I might have spent an hour on gaming, an hour on writing on my blog and half an hour playing guitar in the morning and there was no way I could get everything done. But, before, my morning routine wasn’t really a morning routine, but more like a before lunch routine.
Going back to school meant I had to change all my routines and figure out what is essential to my well-being and getting all of it down to 3 hours was what I came up with. It wasn’t easy to get there though.
My new routine was created by me getting up at 5 in the morning and slowly working through different combinations every morning until I found a morning routine that worked for me. It was difficult and I felt terrible most of the time, but not having routines or structure is even worse for me.
This is the absolute bare minimum of what I need, so you may see the problem already. The thing is, right now school and pretty much everything else is online and I can easily get ready to classes either at 9.00 (or some days at 8.00 even though those days are tough because I need to get up earlier), but once everything opens up again I’ll have to change my routines yet again.
I live far away, because I can’t live in the city (too much noise and flickering lights and stuff), and transport to the school is about 2 hours each way. I would need to adjust my schedule quite a lot, because classes at school will always start at 8.00 am once we have regular classes again. That means I have to leave around 6.00, if not a bit earlier to make sure I make it in time. So, what should I do? I would have to get up at 3.00 am? That won’t happen.
I honestly don’t know how to change my routines again, but I know I have to. I guess the question isn’t whether or not to change one’s routines sometimes, but really whether or not something is worth changing one’s routines for… Because it’s not an easy task to do.
So, honestly, I really hope that if you are neurotypical and if you ask someone on the spectrum to change their routines for you, understand that you are not asking for something simple. You are asking us to change the things that make life possible for us and if that person changes their routines – even if they try and fail to change their routines – know that this is proof that that person truly cares for you. They are willing to rip their life apart just for you.
More than anything, accept that this process of changing our routines will take time and a great deal of effort and that while the change is happening, the person on the spectrum will feel really bad and it will very likely affect everyone else in their life.
One of the things that has always annoyed me is when the so-called specialists want to “help me” make a schedule and write down what I have to do when, because they treat it like all I need is a schedule and that that schedule will give me comfort and structure in life. Nothing could be further from the truth. They can’t just write down a time and an activity and expect that that gives me comfort. If it was that simple, I would never struggle with routines and structure.
I am not saying it is not helpful, because it can be, but the way we create schedules and structure is truly more important than just writing a schedule. Often, when others have tried that with me, it causes me huge amounts of anxiety and stress, because the pressure of not being able to follow their schedule (it doesn’t matter if they ask me to help make it) is too much to bear.
I end up having meltdowns because of the very thing that is supposed to help me, because I am constantly afraid of making mistakes and tend to do a lot of negative self-talk every time I mess up or “fail”.
What I need help with isn’t setting up a timetable to follow every day, I need help figuring out what activities are essential to my well-being and in what order I most efficiently do those things. The most difficult thing is probably trying to prioritise the things I feel I need to do to feel good – because sometimes I can’t do everything and I have no idea how to chose between my needs.
I don’t know how many people are like me, but I know that most places that have given me support always suggest making timetables and schedules for me (or with me. This is not better, because I always get nervous and embarrassed by needing things and just end up agreeing with whoever is trying to help me).
I guess, it must help some people to write lists and timetables, but honestly, I have met a lot of people like me – people who feel anxious and worried every time they “fail” in following those timetables.
People who feel so much worse because of it, because even though they need structure, they feel – like me – that this is just one more way we can’t live up to the expectations of others.
If you have to create new routines, don’t get discouraged. It is such an ordeal to go through, but not doing it can be so much worse. Remember, you know yourself better than anyone and your well-being is important too. Don’t neglect yourself or your needs, respect them and find a way to not just survive, but to live.
I’m curious, how do you feel? Do you need routines, but struggle with timetables? Do you prefer timetables and why?