Each day it’s pretty much the same, with precious little variation. I really can’t tolerate any deviation from my rote steps. If I veer “off-course”, I feel like I’m losing my place. I get confused, turned-around, and sometimes I completely forget what I’m doing – or should be doing next. I literally get “lost” sometimes, when my routine is broken. I’ve noticed that happening more and more, lately, and it makes me nervous. Just like losing track of my clothing that morning set me on edge, the thought that it’s carrying over to my work also agitates me. It’s bad enough at home, when I get in trouble with my spouse for forgetting things – the trash hasn’t been taken out as promised, the burnt-out light bulb hasn’t been replaced, as I said I would — but when I forget at work, it’s worse. I’m a member of a team, and I need to keep up my part of the deal to stay on the team. If I can’t keep up, they can get rid of me. I can’t afford to lose my job. I don’t dare disrupt my daily program.
People often encourage me to “get out of my comfort zone” and “think outside the box”, but they have no idea what my internal experience is. They have no clue how important – and elusive – that comfort zone is… how essential it is for me to stay squarely inside my “box”, and how easy it is for me to drift off-course. No matter how rudimentary my routine may seem to them, no matter how restrictive or unimaginative, it lets me hold my focus on what is in front of me – and only what’s in front of me. It helps me keep my balance. It keeps my stomach settled. I can get on with my life, each day, without needing to figure out from scratch the actions I’ll be taking and burning essential resources in the process. With a regular plan of action, a predictable schedule and a continuous if-then-else loop of choices and actions, I can live my life without being constantly interrupted by some need to improvise. I know ahead of time what I’ll be doing with my time and attention, and I spend less time thinking through logistics. That leaves more time to focus on doing my work, blocking out the sensory assault around me, and keeping my balance. It helps me feel human.
As I settle into my day at the office, I feel myself calming down. Work is actually a big relief for me because it gives me a chance to step away from the fluid, sometimes spontaneous interaction of my home life, and it puts me in an environment where there are clear rules and regulation so that how to interact with different types of people. There’s a lot less guessing about what people mean when they talk to me, than I have at home with my lively, dynamic wife. I’m able to gauge success or failure of my interactions based on established guidelines – all of them created with the express purpose of helping colleagues relate to each other in a civil and decent manner. How we speak to each other. How we address each other. How we establish professional dynamics that respect the boundaries and individual wishes of others.
Work is also very relaxing for me because no human contact, no physical contact is either encouraged or sometimes even allowed. The rules of engagement at the office don’t include hugging or touching, even in the most innocent ways, so I didn’t have to navigate stormy waters of trying to avoid or interpret or adjust to physical contact with other people. If it’s difficult at home, it’s next to impossible at work. My sensitivity to touch amplifies considerably when I’m in public, so even the slightest touches on my arm can feel like I’m getting a beating.
Some people find a regimented work environment to be very confusing and very dehumanizing, but I find it’s just the opposite. With the rules clearly defined and working relationships codified, and free of the threat of uninvited touch, I’m able to interact with others without all the attendant stress of improvising and trying to figure out what’s meant when someone says or did something I can’t follow. We all know what’s permitted and what’s not, we all know what’s approved and what’s not, and if anyone oversteps the boundaries, there are standards in place to enforce the way we interact with each other and to define for everyone what is acceptable. I have found myself to be most productive in heavily regimented environments, especially corporate environ-ments where more free-flowing independent-thinking people really feel stymied.
I don’t find it repressive or stunting. For me it’s a relief.