One thing you could never accuse me of being is balanced. I don’t “do” balance. It’s not in my nature. I lonnnnnnnnnnnnng to be balanced. I strive relentlessly to achieve it. I have obsessed myself out of balance trying to work out how to get it, why I can’t seem to do so, and why it doesn’t last when I have momentarily hit it only to find myself skidding right past it again on my pendulum swing either up or down. I’m just not wired up to be balanced, and my frustration stems from the fact that I cannot (as yet) accept it.
It doesn’t compute – at least not for longer than the time it’s taken me to analyse my way into a sense of understanding, and out again! And if a thing doesn’t compute then I don’t accept it: it’s like it just doesn’t stay in my memory long enough to be fully digested. The story of my life – I am a recovered bulimic!
At the moment I’m not feeling anywhere near balanced. In fact I feel completely out of whack. It all comes from not following my plan.
Ah yes – The Plan. I don’t think I’ve mentioned The Plan yet, have I? Much like I hadn’t written about yoga until my last blog entry. And yet both of them are crucial to my life. But then that’s the way it is with me: I get distracted and obsessed by the minutiae, and the important things get overlooked. Ho hum!
Between them they give me the nearest thing to balance that I can get, which is a sense of order and rhythm, a structure to my day. They make the difference between me living my life to my full potential, and existing in that chaotic, sensorily overloaded world of the directionless, terrified autistic, trying to make sense of, and copy my way into, a life which is not my own. I’ve lived both: I know what I’m talking about. There is no contest. Life with a plan is a thousand times better than without.
Unfortunately there is one teeny problem to this plan business: it means DISCIPLINE (or disciplan, if you will!), the ultimate anathema to an autistic, especially one with the added bonus of ADHD and obsessive/compulsive disorder!
I love plans - the idea of them. I have done for as long as I can remember, and especially since my secondary school days where I discovered the wonderful world of the timetable, which told me EXACTLY what I was supposed to be doing, where, and when. Unfortunately I’m not very good at making them, or writing them down. I get the idea in my head, but then something happens during the process of trying to transfer it onto paper. Rather than solidifying into a coherent whole, it all gets rather vague, complicated, and decidedly “wobbly” (to use a Poohism!)
Another “flaw in the plan”, as it were, is my unwavering propensity for losing interest once the initial enthusiasm has waned, and the time has come for me to really apply myself to the nitty-gritty of actually having to follow it. If it hasn’t produced miraculous results within two days (sometimes even two hours, or two minutes, is just too long!) then I become despondent and convinced that it’s not going to work, and I resort to one of two methods that I have for dealing with it – I either abandon the plan altogether; or I tweak it. And tweaking, as my friend Dee knows, is my favourite occupation when it comes to plans, and the bane of her life when trying to get me to stick to one!
We’ve been road testing this plan business for quite a while now, fine tuning it along the way. I say “we” because, even though I’m the one who has to follow the thing, the whole business of designing it has been a sort of joint venture, with a large proportion of that aspect falling on Dee’s shoulders. Without her I would still be making notes – incoherent ones at that!
Plus she was the one who first proposed the idea, having witnessed my futile attempts at trying to manage my life “spontaneously”, without any discernible structure (even before the recognition of my being autistic). Despite having toyed with the idea on numerous occasions of wishing I could revisit the days of having a timetable to follow, I’d dismissed it as being ridiculous, something that I was supposed to have grown out of by now. How wrong can you get?!
It has become apparent to us that one of the absolutely indispensable tools for enabling autistics to function better is to have discipline and structure in their lives. My friend Dee used to manage a residential unit for those on the low functioning end of the spectrum, which is where she initially witnessed the benefits of implementing a consistent routine, which helped to calm the residents. We didn’t know at the time just how relevant this experience was going to be for me: back then I was still simply a neurotic, with a lot of odd habits!
When we started, about three years ago, I still had no recognition of my condition, but it was very noticeable that I could not manage my own life. I’d have spates of “getting it together”, creating order (this translates as manically cleaning my home!), and making promises to myself to keep it maintained. But inevitably it would all go to pieces, very quickly, and the sum total of my life came down to my obsession with trying to keep my home clean and ordered. There wasn’t much room for anything else: as I’ve mentioned before, I can’t multi-task (I prefer the term multi-function since it covers a lot more than just action-oriented behaviours); and, boy, am I obsessive/compulsive!
And so “Enter The Plan”! Initially it was a very loose structure, just basically a list of things to try to include in my day (including creative tasks like writing, drawing, etc: anything to break up the predominant obsessions at that time - cleaning, television, and reading!), with no time strictures, except concerning meals and yoga. These were the only two things which had definite times, and around which the rest of the day was built. And, to a greater extent, they still are. However, what we found was that this “looseness”, which equated to giving me the responsibility to decide each day what I would do, basically meant that hardly any of it got done: unless I happened to hit upon one of my infrequent “good” days (this meant I’d got enough energy and enthusiasm to do more than the bare minimum.)
Now, contrary to what many in the non-autistic world seem to think is best for us (which appears to be that we need less rigidity and more flexibility, which will help us to become more spontaneous – as if!), my plan has actually evolved from a loose list of activities into a highly structured timetable which maps out every moment of every day, and now very definitely resembles those school timetables I used to look back upon so wistfully. It keeps my life from falling apart, my nervous system from overloading with the strain of too much stimulus, my obsessional tendencies in check (I’m not allowed to focus on doing only one thing – no reading all day long, or twelve hour yoga sessions!), and my brain from exploding from the stress of having too many decisions to make. My ADHD is also catered for – most tasks only last for half an hour, a time limit which is just about as much as I can deal with in having to sit still and focus on one thing at a time.
It also allows for the process of change to occur, albeit at the pace of an inebriated tortoise (I seem to take one faltering step forwards, then stagger a couple of paces back!) But change has, and is, occurring, which is a major miracle in itself for an autistic for whom change signifies disruption, and is to be avoided at all costs. Perhaps this is also why I hate discipline so much - I innately know what it leads to!
And the ultimate irony of it all is that now that I know what it is that I’m supposed to be doing, every moment of the day, I am finding that I am learning to be able to be “flexible” and adjust my timetable to allow for those spontaneous events that inevitably crop up!
"Do you believe in Magic?" asked Colin.
"That I do, lad," she answered. "I never knowed it by that name, but what does th' name matter? I warrant they call it a different name i' France an' a different one i' Germany. Th' same thing as set th' seeds swellin' an' th' sun shinin' made thee well lad an' it's th' Good Thing. It isn't like us poor fools as think it matters if us is called out of our names. Th' Big Good Thing doesn't stop to worrit, bless thee. It goes on makin' worlds by th' million - worlds like us. Never thee stop believin' in th' Big Good Thing an' knowin' th' world's full of it - an call it what tha' likes. Eh! lad, lad - what's names to th' Joy Maker."
From 'The Secret Garden', by Frances Hodgson Burnett
"There is no way to happiness - happiness is the way."
The Dalai Lama
"If you don't stand for something you will fall for anything."