Feminist Aspie

Weight of Living: Executive function, routine, and sorting my life out

on October 22, 2014

(Trigger warning: discussion of food, specifically the issues I have in making food happen. Oh, and today’s song-title-used-as-blog-title comes from here!)

In a shocking plot twist, I promised blog posts in a certain time-frame and have actually delivered for onceIf all goes to plan, blog posts will be written and published on Wednesday evenings like clockwork until at least Christmas. Well, almost clockwork – at some point I’m bound to miss one, or I’ll be busy doing something else, or something along those lines – but to start with, I need to follow my new “on Wednesday evenings, I blog” rule so that it becomes a norm. Because at the moment, I am in serious need of some routine. So, why is it that many autistic people often plan and stick to fairly rigid routines? Obviously I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but I have a number of reasons. Long-term, one major reason is fear of uncertainty which essentially boils down to fear of sensory overload/not handling it/whatever else – in other words, problems with the nature of the deviation – but in this post, I’m going to focus on the routines themselves. It might be helpful to first read Musings Of An Aspie’s summary of executive function and recent post on the spoon theory.

At the moment, I’m on a new course in a new university in a new city in a new country, so in many ways I’m starting from scratch. The baseline – the straightforward bit – is formed by everything that needs to take place at certain times, so in my case that’s lectures and classes. They’re all planned out for me. But once they’ve been slotted in, I’m left with a finite block of time in which to do the work for the classes, socialise enough to not feel massively left out, blog, complete a couple of application forms for summer internships, vaguely attempt to keep up with Tumblr and my main fandoms, buy and cook and eat food, sleep, keep the place clean… Yep, it looks like I’m officially grown up. Contrary to popular belief, autistic adults exist! Anyway, if I leave it at “this is your time, this is what you need and want to do with it, go”, I will forget things. I’ll forget to blog, and then end up leaving it for weeks at a time. Or I’ll forget about applying for internships, so they won’t happen. Or, who knows, I might forget to eat, which evidently shouldn’t happen. Setting up vaguely regular times at which to do these things means I’m more likely to actually do them. The other issue with leaving myself with just an amount of time and a list of things to do with it is overload – half the time I already feel like there’s too much going on to process, so the sheer number of things I need to keep in my head means it all seems completely impossible and consequently none of it gets done. To the point that yesterday, when a special interest decided to rear its head completely out of the blue, my immediate thought was “great, another thing I’ll have to deal with” and clearly that’s not ideal!!

As a student, I’ve got used to regular cycles of new baseline of contact hours -> previous routine no longer available -> PANIC -> eventually create new routines and consequently sort my life out. The current situation is of course a little different – I’m not in the same place with a different timetable, I’m somewhere completely new and that means the general sorting-my-life out is a slow and ongoing process – but the principles are the same. It often takes quite some time to sort out; one Friday evening, I cleaned the room and thought “I’ll clean my room on Friday evenings after the lecture” but the following week, it became apparent that if I was going out on a Friday night cleaning probably wouldn’t happen so cleaning day was revised to Sunday, only for that day to end up being really busy in terms of doing the reading for the classes, so it’s been revised (as of today) to Wednesday. Meanwhile, last week, I realised I’d have my essays out of the way by Wednesday, and therefore I’d have a decent block of time to write a blog post; so now posts will be published on Wednesday evenings, and this set time should hopefully ensure that I actually do bother to write posts regularly! Everything else, over the coming weeks, will gradually also begin to slot into place.

…And once all that’s sorted, there’s the small matter of the self care stuff you literally have to do to survive. Like eating. Food is hard. On the one hand, the standard vague socially acceptable mealtimes means there’s sort of already a routine in place for remembering to eat. On the other hand, first you need to work out what you’re going to have. And buy everything you need, if you don’t have it already. And then have time and energy left over to actually make it. Sounds simple, but for some reason it never has been. The solution, as thought up earlier today: like everything else, planning ahead. I should know, when I’m buying food, what I’m going to have for dinner for the next couple of days. I should consider that on Tuesday I only have just over an hour in between classes in the evening, on Wednesday I’ll have just finished two late nights writing essays, on Thursday I won’t get home until fairly late, etc, etc. My cooking skills are somewhere just marginally above non-existent, so perhaps once a week (provisionally Fridays or Saturdays) I should try and do something different, because increasing my options is surely only going to make things easier.

It’s a slow process, but once I’ve got routines for most things, I don’t tend to have any problems with sometimes deviating from them, as long as it’s expected and vaguely prepared for. It’s just a matter of waiting for a plan that works, and knowing that eventually, everything will be so much easier.

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4 responses to “Weight of Living: Executive function, routine, and sorting my life out

  1. If it makes you feel any better, I’ve been dealing with this cooking meals things for more than 25 years and I still suck at it. Planning definitely helps. I’ve found that I’m more likely to cook something healthy and substantial if I plan a few nights worth of meals in a row, buy the necessary supplies and then stick to the plan. But I often fall down at the planning stage and just come home with a bunch of random meats and vegetables which I then have to figure out what to do with . . . and you can imagine how that goes.

    My daughter tacks a list on her kitchen wall with the meals she has ingredients for and also puts a list on her fridge of what she has in terms of leftovers or frozen food that could be quickly prepared in a pinch. She says both strategies are helping her eat better.

    New routines are so hard. I hope you eventually settle into something that feels natural and allows you get everything done without feeling like you’re constantly off balance. :-/

    • Thank you!! 🙂

      “If it makes you feel any better, I’ve been dealing with this cooking meals things for more than 25 years and I still suck at it.” – On the one hand, that does make me feel better. On the other hand, I was kinda hoping a few more years of Being An Adult would make the problem magically disappear… 😛

  2. I never felt the need to socialize in order not to feel completely left out. I like feeling left out, unles it’s my family… I only socialize in order not to be rude, and then I resent having to do that, too.
    also, my cooking skills are also horrible, and everything I make turns to dust.
    I’d think not having enough time would be overwhelming for an aspie, but a routine is comforting and soothing.
    and of course when you have a special interest, your impulse is to spend your entire day dealing with just that, your special interest, and forget the world. resisting this urge is probably the toughest thing ever.

    • Yeah, re: special interests, my perspective quickly changes from “I don’t have time for this” to “I totally have time for this, guess I just won’t sleep much tonight!”

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