The Golden Age of Routine
Every single thing in my life requires automation. My alarm goes off every morning at 5:00 AM EST. I’m always up a few minutes before that, however, sitting up over the covers and watching the clock. My brain needs those five minutes to boot up and compile a list of the day’s events. By 4:59 my hand hovers an inch above the ALRM – ON/OFF button, waiting to tamp it down as soon as the clock’s morning ululation hits my auditory nerve. The alternative requires me to remember turning the actual alarm itself off and back on every night, which, let’s be honest here, just isn’t going to cut it. From that point on, my morning practically runs itself. I pad quietly out of the bedroom and make a beeline towards the kitchen. Every action seamlessly flows into the next. Open the cabinet to pull out the coffee with the right hand while reaching for the skillet in the left. Scoop coffee grounds while pivoting to apply non-stick coating to the skillet. Ideally, I could do this blindfolded. My wife, however, tends to throw up a few roadblocks to my perfect routinized synchronicity. Being a relatively normal human being, she puts items back in their generalized location. Her taxonomy of locations stratifies something like this: Kitchen Cabinet -> R/L Side -> 1st/2nd/3rd Shelf. Mine, on the other hand, reaches a level of anality best left to the imagination. My shower routine is equally methodical. The confined space of the bathroom, however, mandates a level of balletic grace unrequired during breakfast preparation. I floss while pirouetting into opening the shower curtains and etc. You get the point.
My severe ADHD makes this level of routine necessary. My brain struggles to pick out what’s important from my perceptual field of awareness. It’s not that I can’t pay attention; it’s that I pay attention to everything. For instance, when most people peruse the aisles in a grocery store, their brains adequately filter out what’s needed and what’s not. Looking for a particular brand of spaghetti sauce? No problem! Simply head to the proper section of the store and grab the Ragu from where it always sits. Even if the grocery gods have cruelly temporarily relocated their entire Ragu stock to a random end-cap, the non-ADHD brain quickly adapts. For people with attention problems, however, a trip to the supermarket is more akin to a Virgil-less stroll through the underworld. No matter how many times I’ve been to that particular store, every trip feels like the first time. Objects and people of every size, shape, and color of the ROYGBIV spectrum coalesce into a deafening synaptic overload. So I do what I can to make food shopping as painless as possible. This is where routine comes in. Routine cleaves out a safe space for my attention to stretch its legs.
So every week I go to the same store. I buy the same amount of the same items. After a while, people start to notice. Comments ranging from the innocuous, “Hey, got enough baked ziti?” to the slightly more suspect, “Man, you gotta try something new.” Occasionally things pop up. For instance, last Sunday brought an unexpected trip to the dog park. As a result, I wasn’t able to keep my weekly appointment with Trader Joes. Upon entering the store a few hours late, I was immediately greeted with exaggerated cries of holes in the space-time continuum and Chicken Little-esque portents of doom.
I’ve always been this way. Andrea loves to tell the story of our first official date. After wining and dining her with the winning combination of food court Mexican food and an abysmal movie, we headed back to my place. The way she tells it, as soon as the clock hit 10:00 PM, I detached myself from her face, stood up, and told her it was bedtime and she had to go. We were both in various stages of undress when I delivered the coitus interruptus, leading to a pretty uncomfortable next few minutes. My mind had already ventured a full sixty minutes beyond its historically immutable 9:00 PM bedtime, I told her. She should feel privileged!, I said. I must have overpowered her doubts, as she head-scratchingly agreed to a second date