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Life had settled into such a nice routine. Dull as they can be, routines really help me stay stable and productive.

But as always, the routine gets up-ended periodically. As in, every time I get on an airplane. This week two flights brought me about 2K miles across the country to a much sunnier (but still cold) location. There was an agenda, but it’s not my usual routine. I get flustered trying to get my things together at home; it’s actually simplified on the road, but the problem is that I forget key tasks and steps that I need to attend to when I’m thrown off routine.

Life routine - act 2 by José Encarnação, CC BY-SA

Life routine – act 2 by José Encarnação, CC BY-SA

Like taking my meds.

I don’t like tossing back a dozen pills (yes, literally) in front of everyone, but sometimes they need to be taken with food, so I have no real choice. I’ve often had a small snack in my room to buffer my stomach for taking meds before breakfasting with others. Luckily my current mix doesn’t cause nausea on an empty stomach, so trying to hide my drug-chugging habits while I’m at a professional event is a lot easier. For now, anyway.

And then there’s going to bed.

The go-to-bed routine at home is pretty stable, predictable, and I’m well motivated to jump into the nest with Mr. Chickadee. (No elaboration necessary, I hope!) But by myself – well, who cares? I try to do the routine, but inevitably my attention is distracted, over and over, and before I know it, the night is nearly gone. All the time I have left is a couple hours, barely enough for a nap before I have to be coherent. (As I edit this post, it’s 3:30 AM, so I’m closing in on “only a nap” again, already.) Even having a roommate doesn’t help me follow a normal sleep pattern.

Even when I’m not on the road, I struggle to maintain a weekly routine, but I work both from home and in an office. The office days are busy, social, full of meetings. To some approximation, it’s easier to make a routine of those days because my commute and the meetings chop up my hours into increments I can then allot to tasks. But when I’m at home, I can arrange my time any which way I want, which is often disastrous due to executive dysfunction. I have yet to come up with a stable, functional routine, after mostly working from home for three years.

Other routines around home include the morning routine and the coming-home routine. They are good, comforting routines. They get me through days when I can hardly see through tears, and days when I can’t hold a normal conversation because I forget what I said 10 seconds ago. Weekends are full of possibility, but I still do best when we plan our time in advance. No to say that there’s no spontaneity; I just need guidelines for what to expect in order to make transitions less painful.

Taking the time between Christmas and New Year’s off made that all the more apparent – if I don’t know what to expect or plan on, I’m at loose ends. I do whatever seems most pressing at the time, and get only a fraction of the least important things done. The most important things are always left by the wayside because I couldn’t figure out when to try to work on them because I didn’t know what to expect of the day. That frustrates me a lot and makes me very mean with myself. OK, cruel is more accurate. You get the idea.

Although I rely on routines to get through my days, I also resist them bitterly – they quickly get boring and I’m a high stimulation gal. Travel is my chance to break free from the fetters of my self-imposed prison of processes. Unfortunately, I usually take it a little too far, end up hypomanic, and then crash as soon as I get home – and return to the comfort of my routines.

It’s a constant struggle for balance between routine and chaos, trying to find just enough stability without sacrificing the pleasures of spontaneity and serendipity. To be honest, I’m not winning the fight.