Routine & Regulation: Making a Neurodivergent Nightmare a Daydream

Routine is something we ALL have. As humans it’s something we’re drawn towards so it’s always puzzled me why it’s been attributed to something we Neurodivergent folks do.

I’ve come to realise, as my routine has recently been uprooted, that it’s the way we hold and use our routines.

Some of us struggle to keep a consistent routine and prefer it to flow around us and get bored if it stays the same too long.

Some of us prefer to keep a rigid and dedicated routine and get agitated when that is upset. 

Some of us fall in between. Some of us do both.

If you had asked me two years ago I would have definitely said I’m person 1. I would have said I’m going with the flow and can adapt to anything. I now know that’s bull.

I now understand a lot of that came from people pleasing and feeling a lack of control and that my now routine helps me keep boundaries for my health and well-being and ensures that on *most* days I manage to do the things that ensure my survival.

Going from person 1 to person 2 was quite weird, I felt like I had to establish new boundaries, learn what works for me and then how to be flexible while still sticking to my routine as much as possible.

I mentioned being flexible above there, I would like to say first and foremost: I panic when I have to be somewhere earlier/later than planned, hate busses that don’t run to schedule and I still have days where parts of the routine are not fulfilled and I feel like going back to bed and waiting till I can start again.

When I say flexible I mean that I can deal with the situation without feeling like my world is ending and I can pick up the routine from the next part, almost like those meds that say if you miss one dose just take the next lot at a regular time.

The way I stay flexible is by grounding myself. The first thing I do when I feel panic is take a couple of deep breaths and go through an internal checklist:

  • Is there something I can do to correct this now or later today?
  • Does this affect anyone else? Do I need to let them know?
  • What’s the most likely scenario? (eg I missed my meds – it’s okay I can take the next dose out the pill tray when I’m able)
  • Do I need to move to regulate? I find this helps kick my body out of freeze mode too!

I talked a little bit up there about using a Pill tray, so I would like to introduce you to some of my best friends in routine!

  • The pill tray! I’m never left wondering if I under/over-dosed myself because I can see them in the little pockets. I really love mine because it has breakfast, lunch and dinner and goes for the whole week! I do occasionally forget to fill it on Sunday and at this point have to get someone to body-double it with me.
  • Alarms! I love them! I used to have the loud abrupt noise that dragged you out of whatever you were doing (especially the Apple one) but once I found I could make it a nature sound Spotify playlist so it’s just birds or a waterfall I find the alarm much more welcoming. I also find the gentle noise much better for transferring tasks.
  • the Google Voice lady. For you, she may be Siri, Alexa or any number of the little machine people that live in our phones. I like my Google lady because I can yell “Hey Google, please can you remind me to get up in 10min” or “Hey Google set me a 5-minute dishes timer”. I love her.

Okay so now we have covered the items let’s talk actions…

  • Giving time between tasks and not having a hard time setting deadlines for stuff. This helps my brain go from task A to task b. For me, this is often the bus or just walking around. This also helps me be a bit more flexible.  Scrolling on Instagram does not work for me because I get sucked into the Internet time vortex.

 

  • Not to sound like a toddler but my bed routine starts an hour beforehand and is possibly the best part of my day. I stop what I’m doing at 10, use my electric blanket to warm the bed, wash my face if I haven’t showered and brush my teeth. Then I take my nighttime meds, stretch and make a cuppa, from there I climb into bed and spend the rest of the time playing a cosy video game, I try my hardest to not scroll because again, the time vortex sucks me in. This has made my mornings way more bearable, getting to sleep easier and my sleep quality higher as I no longer wake up at 2 AM wondering if I took my meds.

 

  •  Doing stuff beforehand. Do I ever think I will ever be able to predict a day? No. Can I predict that I’ll need lunch at work and breakfast before I go? Yes. I put my crumpets (no cutting, can eat without butter when running late) in the toaster the night before and I make an extra dinner portion for lunch so I know I’m sorted. I hear you ask “Friend, we all know you don’t cook every day” and yes that’s true, but sometimes I make more than one extra portion and freeze curries, sauces and soups so I can still have something. Also sometimes shit happens and I buy lunch. (The ladies at Cooplands now let me know as soon as I walk in if my usual is in or not, I’m unsure if this is embarrassing or hilarious.)

 

  • I know I always say this but body doubling! I can ask my boyfriend what I haven’t done and he walks me through the list until we get to what was giving me the impending feeling of doom.

 

  • Lastly, I’m writing this blog as I’m two hours late for work due to busses. Writing out my feelings and explaining them when all hope feels lost is something I have found soothing. It helps me rationalise and ground.

If you’re beginning to look to try solid routines, the hardest part is having to explain your new boundaries. Boundaries change through life so by having new ones or wanting to try something you are not attention seeking or being awkward.

I began having Sundays for resetting, which means I made no plans. To lots of my friends and family, this was quite the adjustment. I stood strong on this and now I feel more comfortable and confident as well as those closer to me just knowing that about me “ Holly doesn’t come out on Sundays”.

Again, do not stress if your boundaries and needs change with the situation and time.

If you think adding this more routine into your life, please feel free to use all these tips and adjust them for your Neurodivergent brain and please add in and take away anything you see fit.

Happy routine setting

Holly Knight