Punctured Routine

Posted: January 2, 2012 in ADD, Asperger's syndrome
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I’ve lost my routine, and routines are important to me. When I’m between things I am agitated, restless, irritable, broody, and can settle into nothing. Mornings, afternoons and evenings jarringly pass with the motions of a learner’s kangerooing car, shaped by nothing but pacings from one activity to another, none of which lessens the edginess or the urgency of feeling that I need to be doing something else.

Waking this morning I wanted to run. A thermos of green tea by my bed, I drank and read for a while, but, tired from being unable to sleep last night, I found myself flitting from one book to another, and, what was more destabilising, between these and Twitter. I couldn’t find the banana I had put aside for breakfast last night which, silly as it sounds, threw me further. I had intended to read for a while, drink tea, eat breakfast, and, when I was out of tea, get on my running shoes and go for a run.

Running I have got back into. It’s a funny one. It helps and does not. It helps because it can help to form a virtuous circle for my ADD. It can, on a physiological level, boost the blood flow in the brain, and work like methylphenidate to boost the brain’s ability to manage and juggle executive function and regulate focus. It doesn’t help because, without adequate planning (something we ADDers find exceptionally challening, when not literally impossible), a run can lead to snacking on carb-rich foods which exacerbate the symptoms. Neither does it help that running itself, especially when coupled to a tangible goal such as a marathon to maintain motivation, can become a habit and an obsession as strong as writing, which is what I live for, and what I work so hard to optimise my concentration for.

Getting up after this time spent flitting through articles and being distracted from reading a Simenon detective novel translated into Czech, my second language, I was too hungry to run, and the day was pushing on. In many ways I conceptualise a day as being broken into slots. Morning to lunch is one slot. The day rolling on shapelessly into brunch tends to throw me. Getting up or getting myself together too late to leave a manageable space before lunch really sets my day off to a bad start. It will more or less guarantee several false starts and increasing agitation. And so it was today. I cooked breakfast – I have to be very careful what I eat, since yeast, dairy products and sugars will all set off my ADD, trigger symptoms from abstract anger to restlessness, an inability to concentrate on anything that is not immediately, multifariously and continuously stimulating and which does not at one and the same time feel productive – and then tried to get to work on the story I have been working on.

The story has been going well. I started it on May 8th last year, sat in the Tynská Literary Cafe in Prague’s old town a few hours after running the Prague Marathon, my first. My friends decamped to the English bar in Old Town to watch the football. Having lived in the city for close to two years and returning there as often as I can, being no patriot, and despising the game of football, I refused to go, and was glad to have the opportunity to take a notebook to a cafe instead, even if this did entail listening to a loud and self-satisfied ex pat American talking to a Czech girl at length about some needless feud he had got himself involved in.

The disinhibition of mind that Prague provokes in me when I am shorn of my own routines and given space to think, and, more importantly, when I find it difficult to cook for myself and maintain my usual careful diet, can lead to infinitely overlapping and competing brainstorms which, though they may for the most part be uncomfortable, frequently lead to those moments of everything coming together, of a donnee, the organic thrust of a story, forming in my mind.

And so it was. I wrote a fair amount the next few days, snatching a few hours here and there between seeing friends from Prague and hanging out with a friend from Manchester I’d gone over to run with, and a couple of other Brits we met while we were there. As is typical, it stalled then on coming back (to a pretty rough period of depression I had to work hard to turn around as it turned out), and the notebook wasn’t picked up for a period of months but to glance over now and then.

A few months back I got chatting to a German girl on the net. She’s a graphic designer, with very good English and good taste, so I offered to send her a story or two. Having sent her a couple, I gave her the choice of which I should send her next. She chose the story I started writing in Prague. Having made little headway over the silly season (I asked her to set me a deadline and we chose Boxing Day), I took it back home, still little more than an introduction and an outline, and started work on the old, noisy and physically satisfying Imperial Model B typewriter I’ve had for years, and which I first started writing on when I was 17, and in a bad way. I miss typewriters. I have one in Wales but I don’t tend to use it, typewriters being very different things in reasonably sound insulating houses in suburbia than they are in thin-walled terraced houses in working class neighbourhoods of Welsh market towns. And so I fell into the routine of a good few hours a day, my desk set up with a lava lamp as a kind of mesmeric device, a large pair of headphones to tune out any vacuum cleaning and talking with judiciously chosen instrumental music, gradually accrued a collection of pens to use after my parents had gone to bed, and got working.

Oh, there’s flitting and tweeting and snacking and cooking and running and woodwork and tea-making and Scrabble-playing with German girls to distract me from it, but I was getting a lot done and had made for myself a kind of routine. “I’m sat in front of my typewriter outside of time” was how I described it to my reader, and that’s how it was.

Only now the holidays are heading to a close. I’ll be going back to Wales soon. To 3 jobs, a college course, potentially to a new job, to rushing around and being unable to fit in cooking and writing and running and woodwork and reading Jane Austen and Simenon in Czech of a morning, and anything much at all. To no friends. To a soulless house.

I got my run in. A good half an hour or so with a head torch, running through the muddy footpaths around Hagley and Clent, my breath misting in the light of my head torch and obscuring my view, my feet slipping, my hands chilled through at first, but my legs and lungs working well.

But I’m still unsettled, anxious, a little edgy. I feel like I would if I’d eaten the wrong thing. But I haven’t. Sometimes I work it out afterwards, exactly what it was that was affecting me.

A few micro sprints on the typewriter, a lot of desultory reading on the internet and a few sentences of Simenon. And that’s another day of holiday down the pan.

What you have to do is not been disheartened. To keep buggering on the next day, try again to start it well, to keep on it, work and give yourself something as reward. It will be no easier tomorrow than it was today, but sometimes it works out, and sometimes it even feels as if I’m not trying at all.

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