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Autism, and how routine is helping my low mood.

Lately I have been finding it hard to get things done. I have had low energy and a low mood, but it’s been hard to pinpoint just what the cause of this might be. I have tried my best to get on with things, but a lot of days I just end up falling asleep in the afternoon, and not even being able to decide which film to watch. Even the things I enjoy doing like watching films and reading have suffered. I was finding myself unsure of what to do most days, even though I had a lot of stuff I could do, or wanted to do I could not decide what I should be doing, and that made everything feel much more overwhelming than it really was. This meant that whole days were going by where I did almost nothing, and the things I needed/wanted to do just built up and up.

After talking to my Mum about this she offered to help me come up with a new routine to try and put some more structure in to my day. I did used to have a routine, but due to various family issues it has become disrupted.

We started the routine on Thursday night and I found it worked. On Thursday and Friday I was much more productive, and also found time to get the things I enjoy done. Knowing what I was doing, when, and for how long helped me. Having it written down and being able to tick off each thing as I did it was also a help as it allowed me to see what I had coming up next, and become used to the routine more quickly.

I am sure that I don’t need to go in to how important routine can be for autistic people as that has been talked about so much. As a child I worked on routines all the time. I can recall how hard it was when there was even a slight change to one. But I have to admit it did surprise me how much I still need a strict routine in my life.

Even as an adult if I don’t plan out what I am going to do I get nothing done. Let me give you an example that will show just how important a routine can be, and what a difference it can make.

On the first day of my new routine I was up at six, I did a work-out, showered, sat down and worked till lunch time. After lunch I watched a film, did some more work, and then spent the evening reading. It might not sound like a lot, but I had spent weeks worrying about how to fit all those things in to one day, but not actually doing any of them – that is despite the fact I am at home all day. But just knowing when I was going to do each thing and having it planned out for me meant I got it all done with ease. Not only did I get stuff done, but I ended the day feeling less tired and feeling better about myself.

Then let’s look at the weekend. The one fault with our new plan is that it does not cover the weekend. So I know what you might be thinking – why could you not just get up and do it anyway? Well I don’t know. But I found Saturday just drifting away. The truth is I am not even sure what I did – and I don’t mean that in a relaxed sense. I did not read, did not watch anything or do anything that I can think of. The day just seemed to pass, and then be over. Sunday was a bit better, but by that time it had become clear to both me and my Mum that just having the weekend as free time was not going to cut it. We needed to make at least a basic plan.

Because that’s the thing a lot of people don’t get about autism and planning; I don’t just need to plan when and how I work, I need to plan when and how I relax too. I can have all the free time in the world, but unless I have some structure and a plan nothing, or next to nothing, will get done. When I say I did nothing on Saturday I mean it; I did not have fun, or relax, I just drifted round unsure of what to do. The less structure there is the worse I feel, and the more worn-out I get. But just by putting a good routine in place and sticking to it all that can change. This morning I stuck to my weekly routine: I got up, worked out, went to the field with the dogs and wrote this blog by 09:17 in the morning.

The past few days have been a reminder to me how key routine is, and how despite not being a child any more having a good routine and structure to my day is just as important, and useful now as it ever was.

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