Before I struggled with my mental health the thought of a predictable day or a weekend plan booked months in advance, filled me with dread. Pre-planning killed the excitement and I hated the idea of being tied down to plans with no room for spontaneity. I had no idea what career path I wanted to follow when I was ‘grown up’, but I did know one thing – I’d do anything to avoid landing myself a 9 am – 5 pm, Monday to Friday job.
Six years down the line, I would go as far as to say that this routine and organisation that I spent so long avoiding, is now what I depend on.
It’s crazy how much having a routine can change my outlook on the day. Whilst some people might relish the idea of an empty schedule with hours of free time, for me it can be quite scary. Waking up in a morning with nothing specific to do, no errands to run and nowhere to be, leaves me with a whole load of hours in which my thoughts can escalate and I can start the overthinking game of ‘what ifs?’ and ‘whys?’. The depression, which nowadays I tend to be able to keep at bay, can creep up and cloud my vision so quickly, making me see only the negative and lifeless side of everything and stripping me of any motivation to get up and at it (whatever simple thing that ‘it’ may be).
Essentially, I need a reason to get out of bed. Not a reason in the wider sense, but more with regard to a physical plan or a worthwhile task that warrants the energy it takes to get up and go.
It’s probably hard to imagine how someone can dread a quiet day: a long lie-in, a lazy morning in PJs followed by endless catching up on Netflix, a change of PJs and a night-in on the sofa. If this day was set out in advance and I’d decided what programmes I wanted to catch up on, maybe it would be more manageable. But somehow the thought of waking up and randomly deciding to stay in my PJs all day is entirely different and would probably end in a negative thought cycle.
This isn’t to say that my pre-planned, organised days are something to be envious of. Quite the contrary. Usually, they’re planned with mental notes of things I want to achieve that day: food shopping, posting a letter, visiting Nana, putting the washing machine on, going for a coffee, walking the dog…they might seem like typical, every-day tasks to most people, but having that goal makes all the difference. I was always a sucker for a gold star or a reward chart on which I could see how far I’d come – I guess the age-old ‘visible progress’ trick is still working its magic.
Routine keeps me well and I’ve learnt to go out of my way to stick to it, even if I feel like I could do with a relaxed day of doing nothing – whilst it may seem like a good idea to keep one day free of plans, the reality is never as pleasant. It’s taken me a long time to realise that structure and routine are good for me. I’m slowly learning to be more spontaneous again and to chop and change plans as I go (I know that rigid thinking is also something to be avoided!), but for now, the routine helps and that’ll do for me!