Written Friday September 22, 2017
A lot of my life I haven’t known if feelings I feel, or thoughts I have, are common. I’ll ask myself, “Do other people get as upset about X, Y, or Z as I do?” or “Did no one else like this thing I liked?” or “Did anyone else see what I just saw?” So I am going to throw this question I had of myself this morning out to the world…
Do other people have a love-hate relationship with routine, or is it just me?
Depending on what stage of life you met me, you probably would have met someone who looks like she is laid back, a go-with-the-flow sort of character who appreciates almost everything and will gladly breeze along through life letting other people, or the needs and whims of the day, set the agenda. This version of me seems easy-going and often I can enter into the flow of what is happening around me like entering a gentle stream, letting myself be carried peacefully here or there.
And the rest of the time I am decidedly NOT nearly as amendable. I’ve yelled at my husband because he hasn’t given me his proposed agenda for the weekend. I have stuck stringently to toddlers’ nap and bedtime schedules for fear they would detonate. When medical issues are involved I arrive to appointments early, plan out every bite, make five year (ok five month) plans for exercise in excruciating detail. I once decided I would be the sort of person who kept her kitchen spotless and for a few days I became a compulsive monster-and I don’t use either the word compulsive or monster lightly. It was as if a switch was flipped and I suddenly absolutely COULD NOT handle having my life controlled by someone flighty and easy-going, like the idea of order and routine was suddenly EVERYTHING. I would think that perhaps this is my reaction to stress, that making order out of chaos is a somewhat natural reaction. Except that the version of me who is a slave to routine is decidedly more stressed out on a continuous basis than the relaxed version of myself.
I’ve been thinking about this dichotomy in myself for a while now, every time I feel ashamed that I’ve lost a paper a kid needed for school I vow to do better. Every time I set up a new routine that I have trouble violating I feel ashamed that I have lost my ability to be flexible. It isn’t that I’m fastidious with work but loosey goosey with the kids, or that I’m lax with housework but strict with homework-it isn’t broken down by category consistently that way. The arenas of life I am strict about are, ironically, quite variable. Sometimes I could double as a flower child following Phish, and sometimes I am Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory insistent that we eat pancakes only on Tuesday and that I have a spot.
Right now, I have a spot.
I’ve been coming to our library every day after I drop the boys off at school to write. I go to the downstairs bathroom. I come upstairs and stake out my spot, which sits between the books about the Hoover Dam on my left and a Japanese-language version of The Hunger Games on my right. I will stay up until any time before 11:00 AM, but never past 11:00 AM then leave for lunch. I had only done this for four workdays before it became a necessity.
I tried to mix it up.
My illnesses are quite variable, and with a recent heatwave my blood sugar has been dipping too often. This morning I stopped at Panera to get an egg white sandwich before writing (protein is good for keeping blood sugar steady, unlike the candy I would rather be chugging). I brought my laptop in with me, thinking that I could get to work there for a change of pace. I ate and sat and opened up Facebook and Twitter and all my social media and could not get myself to open that damn laptop. After ten minutes I gave up, and left for “the office” cursing myself for wasting time because now I would be late for “work”.
I literally could not violate my new routine without it causing me psychological distress. And it is distressing. Once I latch onto a compulsion or a way of doing things and have to change it, it is absolutely distressing. I am pissed that my oldest has two clubs that, for completely understandable reasons, have different dates than what I already wrote down in my planner. I do not like it that when my husband drives our car he parks in a different area of the parking lot than I would have. I feel strange not seeing a trailer or reading an article for a movie before I go see it. Sometimes I can be very rigid.
But, I also adored my high school students when they would come up with an unusual idea I had never thought of in class. I love when strangers sing unexpectedly in public. I love new restaurants and dishes and seeing where a conversation might meander. Sometimes I can be very flexible.
I wonder if my feelings about routines stem from the idea that I may not be neurotypical. Last April, I began to realize I might be on the Autism Spectrum. I “came out” to friends on Facebook this way-
“I’m running high on some post-workout endorphins, so I’m going to post this right now before I chicken out. My vague-post from last week, where I was happy? I finally realized/accepted something about myself and I felt immediately less alone and a lot freer.
I am not neurotypical.
I never have been.
In fact, the more I read and understand, I am pretty sure I am on the autism spectrum, possibly with Aspergers.
While working on an essay, I remembered just how much over my life I closely studied human behavior and behavioral patterns and mimicked what I figured out was “normal” for other people. From a very young age, I studied everyone and everything and hid.
Places where I felt comfortable, I let myself be “weird” and sometimes it worked out okay, sometimes it didn’t.
(And … I just started listing everything I just figured out about myself. You don’t need to know all that, so I just deleted it.)
Anyhow. I feel good.
I feel new respect for myself, realizing how tough I had to be. I was in the deep end of a pool, treading water for years, not knowing that a lot of other people looked calm on the surface because their feet actually reached the bottom.
I feel relief from the pressure to hide the weird parts of myself so often. Or trying too hard to push myself to actually *not* be weird. It’s never going to happen. I will always be weird. There won’t be a magic time when I suddenly won’t be different. I’ll still work on being socially appropriate, better at relationships, etc. But I recognize that for me it takes more work.
I feel less alone. The more I read the more I see myself in the narratives of other adult women who are not neurotypical. There are people out there that know what this feels like.
I have a new batch of coping skills for the parts of life that are hard. I struggle with things like anxiety, procedural compulsions, intense sudden special interests, inattention to things that don’t interest me, some rigidity, meltdowns and the inability to not notice a million details-that other people have found workarounds for.
So yeah. That’s what’s up.
And I feel a lot more free than I have in a long time.
For a lot of autistic people, routine is vitally important. But rigidity in sticking to a routine when it inconveniences other people very much goes against what it means to be a woman in terms of agreeableness. Knowing that I would be expected to either violate my routines or let them be violated, or be thought of as unfriendly and unhelpful, I was stuck between a rock and a hard place.
I wonder if I studiously cultivated a life that was almost free from routine so I wouldn’t feel the distress of violating it, and would not feel the distress of violating what it means to be “feminine”. I think that perhaps I took enormous effort and discipline to be agreeable and easy when my mind wanted me to be rigid and uncompromising. Which is fairly counter-intuitive.
Routines, and the way I handle them, can feel like ensnarement. But, they can also be useful tools. Maybe, if I am aware of my tendency to get rigid with routines, I can harness some routines without them taking over my life and causing me distress. I’m not sure I can, and past evidence hasn’t given me the idea that it is something that comes easily to me. I want to be responsible and orderly when it helps me and my family, but still be loose and open to change when that is needed. I don’t want to ignore the part of me that thrives in routines anymore, but I don’t want to lose the person I am when I am able to let it go.
Maybe I need the framework to be orderly, but what I do within it to be open. Like right now-I am writing in my spot and I am rushing to finish this blog post as it is 10:51 and I have to be done by 11:00. But…I was supposed to be working on my book when the compulsion to sort this out became stronger than my compulsion to finish the chapter. So some routine, but freedom within the routine.
Like this blog. I had, in the past, expectations for myself that I would post something each week, or every other week, but the content was completely open to my whims and compulsions. Structure and fluidity.
I guess my take away question, as it is now 11:00…
Anyone else have the same kind of love-hate relationship with routine?
Or is it just me?