Peeved with myself for getting bent out of shape over having damp hands and wrists, I head downstairs to the kitchen. My posture feels different today – I’m stooped and leaning a little to one side, my movements jerky, not fluid. I hold my head tilted a little to the left, and I bend forward slightly as I shuffle to the top of the stairs and reach for the banister.
I’m clumsier than usual this morning, and as I move slowly down the stairs, I hang on tightly to the railing. I try to move quietly, but the creaking of the wooden stairs cuts through my head like nails on a chalkboard. No matter how lightly I try to walk, the wooden steps complain at my weight. My hearing is acute… painful… picking up everything around me like a high-powered lavalier microphone, as I descend from the second floor, and it doesn’t make it easier for me to keep my balance. It feels like everything is conspiring, this morning, to keep me from moving smoothly into my day, and waves of frustration churn in the back of my mind. I can’t indulge that emotion right now, though; I force myself to concentrate on keeping my balance so I don’t fall. It’s more important that I reach the bottom of the stairs, than that I feel positive about the whole experience.
Near the bottom of the stairs, the light switch protrudes from the wall and grazes my knuckles, and I silently curse whoever built this house for putting the switch where it can hurt my hand. I’ve bruised myself on that switch numerous times – especially when my partner and I first moved in – and I’ve gotten in the habit of moving my hand away from it at the bottom step. But today I forgot, and my knuckles are paying the price.
At last, I reach the bottom of the stairs. Our two cats are waiting for me in the kitchen. They await with great expectation, knowing that our routine is the same every morning. First, I put water on for coffee, then I feed them their first wet food of the day, I make my cup of coffee, sit down and write notes (sometimes petting the cats who come over for attention), then I head back upstairs and get in the shower, get dressed, check in with my beloved to wish her a good day, and head out to work.
This precise order of steps usually works well for me. But this morning seems different than others – it feels more difficult, more challenging. As I walk across the kitchen to collect the tools I need to feed the cats and make my coffee, I find myself walking on my tip-toes. It feels a little strange, walking like that, but the thud of my heels on the floor reverberates through my whole body and thunders in my ears. Walking on tip-toes is the one thing that spares my ears, spares me the pain of that seemingly ridiculous and unlikely state. I hate how loud simple footsteps can be, but today – as with many other days – there’s not a thing I can do about it, except walk up off my heels. In any case, no one else is watching to interrupt me with questions about why I’m doing that, or to make me feel insecure and self-conscious, so I go ahead and tip-toe gingerly across the room.
The cats are delighted that I stick with our routine. They have no problem with my predictability. It’s a good thing, too, because I cannot tolerate any break in the usual pace of my mornings. Especially not this morning. If I lose my place, I get confused, I forget what I’m doing, and there are consequences. When I get “lost”, I fall behind and don’t do the things I’m supposed to do. At home, I get in trouble for forgetting things, and at work, I get in trouble for lagging behind and letting things fall between the cracks.
If I have to think too much about what I’m doing — because my routine is broken — I also literally feel like I’m falling. I cannot maintain my equilibrium, I get nauseous, sick, anxious, frustrated, and I’m off to a bad start for the rest of the day. I also tend to get panicked in tough situations, if I’m off my routine, first thing in the morning. I’ve often heard it said that certain types routines are inexplicable and pointless and a sign of disorder, but when I’m in rough shape, like today, routine makes total sense.
If I have a routine I can follow, I can literally keep my balance, because I can anticipate the actions I’ll be taking, and I don’t have to think my way through each and every action I take.
In fact, the degree of my comfort and ability to function first thing in the morning is often determined by how well I stick to my routine. Especially when I’m having balance issues and my senses are all on overload, routine is vital to my normal functioning. It enables me to go through a predetermined set of productive and effective motions without needing to focus my full attention on them. When I’m off balance and overwhelmed, paying full attention to anything other than keeping upright and keeping my nausea down, is just not possible.
I can’t stop my world, just because I’m off balance. I have to get to work. I need to pay the bills. I need to get on with my day. I need to live my life like any functioning adult who’s supporting a household.
Routines enable me to do just that… and keep my balance at the same time.