Routines are a problematic thing for me. On one hand, it’s a great way to stay organised and ensure you do all of those normal, ‘human’ things like waking up on time and having breakfast before work.
On the other hand, they create expectations that can be devastating if not met.
I know that once I’m set in something, I struggle to move out of it. It doesn’t have to be anything formal, it doesn’t even need to be recognised as a ‘thing’, if I begin to see something as a routine occurrence I begin to rely on it to happen.
Take my phone for instance. Most of us check our phones before going to sleep, but for me it is routine. No matter what time of the night (or early, early morning) it is, once I lay down in bed I pick up my phone and play a few minutes of whatever little tap game it is that winds me down. I set my alarm. I make sure my phone is plugged in to charge.
And then I roll over to sleep.
Sounds harmless, right?
If my phone is flat (this happens a lot, because when I get home I don’t put it on to charge like I should), I have to stay up until it’s charged and then go about my routine.
If the game I’ve been playing doesn’t work, I have to find another game that will do.
If, for whatever reason, none of the above are possible I struggle to settle down properly. I’m plagued with that feeling you get when you leave the house and you’re not sure if you turned the straightening iron off. It’s such a stupid thing and there’s no rational reason why such an unimportant activity should make me feel uneasy. Still, I don’t rest well with that uneasy knowledge that there’s something I haven’t done.
It’s an expectation of myself that I will do these few tasks before I sleep.
Missing out or not being able to do something does cause distress, though, so I tend to avoid establishing set routines where I can. Probably not the best way to go about things, but I find in most cases the need to be flexible is important. It’s very difficult to be flexible when your mind is screaming that dinner happens at a certain time, and why haven’t we been fed yet?
What I do have is an ‘expected schedule’, which is kind of a running list of things that I expect will happen in the near future, and rough times that I expect they will happen. This might include things like, ‘get groceries some time after pay day’ or ‘go to a movie with a friend’. As much as I’d love to be completely flexible in how I operate, I don’t survive well without any planning at all: I have to have some idea of what the next few days (ideally, week) will hold.
I try to see all items in my ‘expected schedule’ as ‘tentative’ rather than ‘confirmed’. Something is only ever confirmed the minute it begins happening. I try, but it doesn’t always work. The second my brain confirms something as ‘actually going to happen’, I start properly planning for it. Tentative events allow me to block out the time required for the event without getting mentally invested, confirming them means that if for some reason they don’t occur–I’m lost.
Especially at the last minute. When plans break down at the last minute (including plans that I only ever had in my own head, and yes that happens… a lot) it can feel like the entire world has been upended. Where once I had a block of time that was filled and I was ready to tackle, suddenly there’s a lot of mental preparation gone into… nothing at all.
What do I do with that time now? It’s like getting yourself ready for a formal event, only to find out you’re going to the sewerage farm instead. Confusing. And not just because I have no idea what’s appropriate to wear at a sewerage farm.
When you’ve prepared yourself for a particular task or event, it’s hard to come back down and do something more mundane. It’s very hard to be happy with the prospect of a night in, when what you were ready for was a night out. Even if I really, actually, didn’t want to leave the house or see any people–cancelled plans still come with a crush of disappointment.
It doesn’t take much for me to build an expectation, either, and I’m working toward letting that go. I have to. If someone said this morning that they’d buy me a block of cheese, I take that as fact. I will expect that block of cheese, even if it was only a passing comment. Not because I think I’m entitled to a block of cheese, but because someone said it would happen.
It doesn’t matter when or where that block of cheese appears, but I expect that it will and one part of me is looking forward to the cheese.
This is why I’m forcing myself to be more skeptical and to believe that nothing will happen until it does happen.
I can build expectations that other people aren’t aware of. ‘Let’s go to the cricket this season’ becomes me eagerly awaiting the day we go out to the cricket, even if we never discuss it after that. Sometimes I’ll get pushy and bring it back up, ensure that cricket happens and that I get my block of cheese, but mostly I just trust that it’s going to happen.
I don’t like to push, either, so often I’ll bring things back up at the very last minute. ‘Weren’t we going to…?’ and by then, it’s too late to do anything about it. Cue the disappointment. I expected, I waited, and it didn’t happen.
I need to address building more realistic expectations, and building them on more than things that get mentioned in passing. When I want to do something, I need to bring it up and ensure it happens.