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Victoria’s Going With the Flow

I’ve never kept a solid routine – not in high school, not while working two jobs, not even now during college. Even so, it is something I’ve always wanted. More accurately, I’ve always wanted to want it, but rigid, stale routines just aren’t for me. I’ve tried to implement them into my life many different times in many different forms: a haircare routine, a skincare routine, a morning wakeup routine, a weekly cooking routine, the list could go on and on. But not once have any of these stuck for me, and honestly, I’m glad. 

This isn’t to say that routines are bad. For some people, they’re great! I’ve seen friends thrive in a routine because it provides a foundation for them to build off of toward success. It cuts away confusion, streamlines planning, and returns some control to people’s lives. Some people love knowing exactly what they’re going to do in a day before that day even comes. It’s comforting for them, and I appreciate that feeling. 

However, my circumstance is different, near the exact opposite even. Routine to me isn’t comforting; it’s constricting. Having the same schedule day after day after day, over and over and over again, becomes repressive, and it makes things that used to be kind of fun, like putting on a hair mask or making pork carnitas for dinner, into a chore. Planning a routine feels like scheduling a week of chores for myself. Just typing that out sends a chill down my spine! Such a horrifying thought. 

I’m happiest when I’m going with the flow, no set routine, no weekly plans, no daily agendas. It leaves room for spontaneity, variety, and serendipity, which are always welcome occurrences in my life. Routines aren’t the best solution for everyone, and that’s okay! Once we embrace what makes us happy and healthy as individuals – whether it be a ten-year plan or an empty horizon – we can be free to help those around us work toward those same goals as well. 

Alex on Forgiving Yourself When You Don’t Follow Your Routine

Over this past year, mindset has become a confusing thing for me. Before all this chaos and abundant alone time, I just thought about it in a polar way: negative or positive. While I know that nothing is ever that “black and white,” especially when it comes to mental health, I’ve found it hard to shake that polar mentality when trying to make sense of the mess that is my attitude, mood, and overall approach to this time. In my struggle to form and keep a routine since studying from home, I’ve found myself oscillating between two different mindsets and struggling to find a balance between the two. 

On the one hand, I know I need to push through and force myself to follow a routine or do certain tasks because no matter how much I may not want to or may feel unmotivated, doing them will only make me feel more put together, productive, and just better about myself in the long run. On the other hand, I know these times are unprecedented, and there is no set way to get through it, so I should be kind, forgiving, and patient with myself; it’s ok to stay in bed or to be unsure of what to do with yourself, it’s ok to take time to figure that out. 

I’ve been told and I myself recognize that both approaches are valid and important, but it seems impossible for them to coexist. The first approach seems to encourage tough love, validating action as opposed to lack of action, whereas the second validates the ladder, suggesting that more leniency with myself, my schedule, and my ability to be productive is key to getting through this time. However, the more I thought about embracing only one approach the more I realized neither seem ideal when they stand alone. 

Setting up goals/a routine opens up the opportunity for expectations and therefore failure. With how confused and unstable I see my mental state, I don’t favor my chances because from past experience I know that not getting it done would only add to my frustration with myself. I know I have to be kind to myself and forgive myself if my day doesn’t turn out the way I had planned it to, but too much leniency and I feel like I’m letting myself get away with doing nothing, sitting around, too caught up in my own thoughts and misery to actually get anything done. So as suspected it looks like my mindset can’t be just one or the other but rather a mixture of the two whose formula I will never know. 

What I do know is that there is always going to be a reason to be critical of myself or low moments where I didn’t meet someone’s expectations, it’s unavoidable, so why not try my best to set those goals and push through, so I can have a chance to experience that rare rewarding feeling. Remember the importance of forgiving yourself only on the occasion that I don’t. I’m learning that contrary to its definition, routine is sometimes more arbitrary than other times; I guess we all just have to be okay with that right now.

Katie and the Strangeness of Routine

It may just be me, but I find that the headspace I wake up in is a large contributing factor to my routine for the rest of the day. Don’t get me wrong, the mundane stays the same; I get up, make breakfast, brush my teeth, “go” to class, and all that jazz. But to me, the routine isn’t just what you do every day. It’s how you feel while you’re doing it. 

I’ve found that if I wake up earlier than 10 minutes before my class and take the time to say some affirmations and meditate before getting out of bed, I’m much more at peace and motivated to do what I need to do for the day. By setting my mindset and mental space with intention, I can start the day with love and acceptance for myself and others. This includes appreciating the time it takes to make breakfast, responding to the people that have reached out to me with love, and at least attempting to look presentable for class. On these days, I find myself appreciating routine and sameness instead of resenting it. 

However, as we all know, not every day is sunshine and rainbows. As a person with depression and anxiety, there are many days in a month where getting out of bed is a battle between my brain and body. The days I feel rushed and I don’t give myself time to center myself before the start of the day feel long and monotonous. It feels like an anchor is wrapped around my foot as I drag myself to make food, brush my teeth, and shower. Routine becomes a chore instead of something to appreciate. 

Routine is a strange thing; it’s the same thing every day, yet somehow the way we go about it forever varies. As much as we hate to admit it, our mindset is powerful; it can turn a shower from a relaxing break into a painful task. So be kind to yourself, and be kind to your mind; it deserves some love. 

Noah’s Coping Routines

As an aspie, routines are life. Never make the mistake of asking someone on the spectrum whether they do or don’t adhere to routines. Spoiler alert, we are the routine. When the pandemic initially began, everyone’s routine shifted, no dur. Whether you label it a routine, a groove, or habit, patterns are ingrained into the brain (rhymes are fun). There are literally thousands – maybe even millions – of factors that contribute to why we create the routines that we do, stemming from disorders, quirks, genetics, people, and even heavier topics like trauma and abuse.

When my university decided to send everyone home, for the next two months I descended into my high school/post-divorce routine. I never noticed that anxiety, shame, and codependency drove my routines and cluttered my mind with worry, causing me to avoid most of my problems. The fact is, I could not think straight, nor could my inner voice stop talking. As Patrick Starfish once said: “The inner machinations of my mind are an enigma.” I probably ate seven times a day, played video games for twelve hours straight, and watched movies while doing both. While that may seem spoiled, the important part was that my routines were formed out of avoidance.  

In a sidenote, when Temple Grandin wrote her book, The Autistic Mind, she brought up the three different ways of thinking being: visual, pattern, and word-fact. Obviously, I am the latter. When I decided that I needed to break the cycle, I did what word-fact thinkers do best: I bought and read a book (Faith G. Harper’s UnF*ck Your Anxiety). Within the first five pages, my routines immediately shifted. My activities began to become more meaningful, and my coping mechanisms became healthier. I had a goal of fixing one thing around the house per day (whether that was my crooked shelves or my broken car door), and I began to cook. However, while I sold my consoles and my video games, I still needed at least 6 hours of YouTube (and sometimes I still do). It wasn’t until school started and work began that my routines eventually became based out of helping others and taking care of myself.

Coping mechanisms are a definite driver of what we do. As the pandemic continued, it became clear that I would have to reset my routines if I was going to sustain myself further and lead a more content life (For those looking to turn their routines around, I recommend starting with Faith G. Harper’s Coping Skills).  While this article is not about the origin of such mental blockages (that’s another article in and of itself), it is intended to show that once we identify the nature of our routines, we can then change our mindset about them. In my case, I had no control over my routines, but once I learned about why I was doing the things that I was doing, I started dedicating my days to baking, reading, mental health advocacy, and self-care, and most importantly, that we do have the power to cultivate new and healthier routines.

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