Saturday, 6 September 2014

Routine and stability and control

What is it with Aspies and a love of routine?

Today my Firefox borked itself so thoroughly that I had to re-install the whole thing from scratch, losing all my bookmarks, history and saved passwords. It was a minor inconvenience, fixed in an hour and the only lingering annoyance is the loss of all the links I had bookmarked for this month's newsletter.  If that's the worst thing that happens to me all day, I'm doing really well.

Repetition can be beautiful
So why am I so upset about my browser's treachery, and unable to settle and focus and get on with the rest of my day?

I think a couple of things are going on here.  One is inertia - the workflow I had planned for the day has been disrupted, and I'm having trouble re-finding my groove.  Another is my tendency to latch onto technical issues and broken things and waste altogether too much time trying to figure out what went wrong and fix it.  This may be some variant of the Aspie obsession thing, or it might just be my nature regardless of my neurology.

But the one I'd like to pick apart is this love of routine. 

Unexpected changes to routine really throw me.  Even minor ones like this, or happy ones like an unexpected visit from a friend.  I think a big part of that is the loss of control (or the illusion of control, anyway).  I like the feeling of control and stability that a routine brings, for a couple of reasons:

It helps me handle sensory stuff.  If I know where I'm going, what I'm doing, and what the environment's going to be like, I know what the sensory challenges are going to be and can prepare for them.  Add an unexpected brass band or fire drill, and that all changes.

It helps me plan how I'm going to spend my energy.  It's not that I start the day with any less energy than anyone else, but I burn through more of it coping with sensory stuff, wading through executive dysfunction, and having to do social stuff manually that most people do automatically.  The end result is I don't, for all practical purposes, have as much energy to spare on spontaneous hijinks.

It helps me know what the hell is going on.  Because I miss subtext, I'm not as up on pop culture as you'd expect, there are chunks of shared cultural knowledge I missed out on growing up, and I am at the end of the day still an Aspie, sometimes I just don't get stuff.  Sometimes I know I don't get stuff, and I'll nod and smile and hope the situation ends quickly before I have to run away.  But sometimes, and it's quite scary, I'll think I understand stuff and only realise later that I didn't.  Story of my life, really.  But I don't like that feeling and would prefer to avoid it - and sometimes that means avoiding certain situations outside my control.

It lessens the risk that my executive function will fall apart completely and something important won't get done.  Even with a routine, calendar, checklist and multiple whiteboards things still sneak past me sometimes, and chaos only adds to that.

Everything's fine now - my browser's working again, the lost links have been recovered by trawling through my Facebook posts and some help from Twitter, and everything's back on track.  Let's hope tomorrow is even better.

Or at least, more predictable.