My Ridiculous Morning Is Not For You.
Last Thursday started off in a bad way. I woke feeling disconnected and anxious, overwhelmed by the smallest things. Ever have days like those?
Feeling that way used set me on a search for The Problem. I spent a good chunk of my life rooting around for the thing I could set straight. What was I upset about? Was I depressed? Where was the unresolved issue, the forgotten responsibility, or the festering interaction that needed attention so I could feel right again? The message I was acting on was everywhere: happiness and balance can be yours if you Find And Fix.
But those messages weren’t for me. I just didn’t know it.
Being autistic means different things for different people but, generally speaking, we are greatly affected by internal and external states, events, and stimuli that go largely undetected by non-autistic people. Neurologically we are highly refined seismometers, constantly reacting and responding on multiple levels to a broad range of inputs. Like anyone else, on some days, that can be a lot and on other days, life hums along smoothly.
On the bumpy days, Find and Fix is an option but odds are good that what’s tipping us out of balance isn’t one unresolved fight with a friend. It’s likely a collection of disparate misalignments, twinges, sounds, etc. that’s difficult to Find much less Fix.
So I don’t try. Not anymore.
You may have heard that routines are “a thing” for autistic people. They’re probably “a thing” for you too only you may not recognize it at such (Because we are an observed group of people, pretty much every aspect of autistic lives are “a thing”.) Most life thrives on some amount of orderly repetition. I found that it’s good for me as well. Instead of endlessly searching for some unresolved emotional cause for how I felt that Thursday morning, what I did instead was follow my routine.
My morning routine is one I’ve built over many years of observation, research, trial and error, and input from others who live inside a similar experience to my own. I can trust the routine. The routine is what sees me through the roller coaster of feelings and thoughts that is the dependable constant of most everyone’s life. My routine is my life raft.
Mine goes something like this:
- Get out of bed. Depending on the day, that takes an instant or it can take some time. On the worst days, it’s hours.
- Dry brush head to toe to bring me into my body and start the day with a tingly good feeling. Who couldn’t use that, amirite?
- Brush my teeth following the instructions for 30 seconds per quadrant. The quadrant thing is small and fussy but it has edges and I can hang onto it. At times when I have no defining boundaries, it allows me to trust that I’m doing this one thing right. For reasons that will fill a book, it’s important to me, an autistic person in a non-autistic world, to feel I’m doing things correctly. Growing out of that need is a work-in-progress.
- Have a snack. I keep hard-boiled eggs, raw almonds, and power bars on tap so I don’t have to think about nutrition, timing, food supply, or anything else that I may be doing incorrectly in relation to the entire day’s intake. It’s too early to make those calculations. I’m trying to reduce the volume of thoughts after all.
- Drink a big glass of water. Hydrating is always the right thing to do.
- Get my heart rate up up up and sustain it. I keep a list of options I enjoy that offers choices of activities for when I can process much input and activities for when less is better.
- Meditate. Practicing finding the gap between me and my volume of highly attuned thoughts and feelings has changed my daily life for the better.
- Sweep. Empty and refill the dishwasher. Make the bed. Mindfully attending to my environment removes those responsibilities from my thought list and clears my visual space for the day.
- Shower and get dressed.
Perhaps not unlike you, I do these things through the mental whirl of upcoming appointments, responsibilities, things that have gone undone, and things I have yet to do. Sometimes I do these things within the crushing awareness that time is finite and I have used up much more of mine than I’d like given that entropy comes for us all. Okay, that’s dramatic but Thursday rolled in on a thundercloud wearing Viking horns and blaring Wagner. Drama fits.
By the end of my morning routine, I usually feel how I prefer to feel and am ready for my day. Let me be clear: establishing a routine isn’t a cure-all. It won’t Find and it won’t Fix. What it will do is get you back to a grounded place from which you can meet your day and any of those lurking big, deep issues. A routine can get you through.
Yes, my routine is a lot but you know what? It’s mine, not yours. It works for me and the life I have. It’s bespoke and not intended for anyone else’s use or consumption. May yours be similarly ridiculous for anyone on the outside looking in.
Simple or elaborate, a routine can build certainty inside uncertainty. Mine takes me out the door and into the world to get the fresh air that’s good for my body and my mind. It feeds me when I might forget to eat. It takes care of me when I am less able to care for myself and it fuels me when I’m a rocketship in flight.
When you’re autistic at this moment in history, you’re mostly on your own to figure out a life that works for you (I’ve dedicated my life to making that statement obsolete). Mainstream advice can and does apply but we also need to take our unique needs and perspectives into account to get the full picture. A good routine can regularly reset your baseline to a place where you can assess and act in ways that are considered rather than reactive. It can help you feel better more often.
Sometimes moving through my routine feels like hanging onto the most tenuous of threads. And yet all it takes is a thread to hold on. So tomorrow I will get out of bed, put on my shoes, sunglasses, and earbuds and allow my routine to take me where I want to go.