Structure, Routine & Planning

care-planningSomeone observing my demeanour this morning would be justified, I think, in wondering if I weren’t a vampire.

For years I’ve looked to places that open very early to get things done so I could dash out while the world around me is still waking up, and be back, a day’s worth of errands completed, before the drive through (I refuse to spell it as thru) at McDonald’s is backed up to the street entrance. Sausage Egg McMuffin with two hash browns, please. I thought of this today as I’m sitting in the waiting room of my closest medical lab, waiting to have blood taken. I’d already been to the nearby Walmart, open at 7 am, to get few days worth of groceries and thought I was being smart by zipping up to the lab just after it opened at 7:30, but apparently there are other smart people too, and the waiting room was almost full. Before I was called, the sky was beginning to brighten, and I began to get antsy about it. It was probably visible in my body language, and anyone who has this injury, or any relatively serious anxiety disorder, would probably understand both that and the reasons behind it.

Murphy being the asshole he is, of course, and people always choosing to sit with at least one seat separating them from anyone else they don’t know in a waiting room, I chose one that was across from someone I knew. Just an acquaintance, really, and even then one from a workplace I’d only lasted six weeks at. Still, I closed my eyes and lowered my chin to avoid any errant small-talk – the old head-in-the-sand technique, and went to my happy place. When I heard my name, the sky was a steel blue, rainy, not quite daylight but certainly not dark anymore, and I wondered if my skin would blister the moment I stepped out under it. Then the lab tech told me I’d have to give a urine sample as well as blood, and, just between you and me, I almost burst into tears.

Structure and routine are important to me, and many of those like me, regardless of the severity of their anxiety. It allows a certain level of control that we need in order to properly function, and we’re often unable to respond to last minutes changes very well. For some, comme moi, stuff like that can throw us right off completely. This morning, that was a larger crowd than I’d anticipated, an unexpected familiar face in a place I thought would be safe from that, and the unforeseen requirement to pee in a cup. Plans are never perfect, that’s just the way of the winds, but preplanning is still a practical, useful tool despite that.

Specifically, being aware of what we can do effectively and planning our tasks within those limitations. I’m certainly not suggesting that we don’t do our very best to expand those limitations, to push the edge of our envelope when we can, but I’m talking here about the more pragmatic stuff of everyday life, and how to best to accomplish these simple things.

I’m reminded of that running gag Lloyd Bridges did in Airplane. You know the one. Google it if you don’t, it’s a hoot.

Structure is a comfortable, balanced place we’re in that helps to fend off the blunt sticks of doom always trying to hit us from behind. Routine allows us to take care of our personal needs, do our laundry, get our groceries, and enjoy the company of people we trust enough to let inside. Planning ahead is a little gizmo we can use to do things we need to outside of both these things, yet still within the boundaries of our own calm.

I know how much psychological fuel I have available, and how best to budget that, so yesterday I knew I’d have to get food (I had some corn flakes, a can of tomato soup, and some popcorn – hardly a balanced meal plan even for one day). Walmart is conveniently close, opens early, and is cheap, so a quick run in for a single small bag to last a couple days was doable. I wanted to get this lab requisition from my doctor completed, had pencilled it in for today, so I checked their hours this morning and was gleefully surprised to find they open early. Working today was also important, but I was content that I’d have enough left over to come home, sit down, and begin tapping out some great tome of wisdom such as what you’re reading now.

The three unexpected glitches this morning did not, surprisingly, completely drain my tank. I used other tools to manage them, in fact. The crowded waiting room, though I didn’t think of it at the time, I was actually prepared for simply because I know the nature of waiting rooms, and it was little more than a minor disappointment. You already know what I did when I recognised the person across from me, and I was simply honest with the lab tech about my inability to pee, so I brought the cup home and will deliver it tomorrow. Experience, my inner safe place, and the lack of needing to make excuses anymore about what I can and cannot do.

That last one is a toughie to get, and I’ll talk about it particularly in a future Toolbox Tuesday post.

Despite being out of my comfy structure, away from my regular routine, these things helped shield me, but without preplanning I’d have just stayed home anyway. As I said to a lovely woman I know who lives on a beautiful farm in Northern Ireland, I’d have waved it off to do at some other, magical time that the wee faerie folk call later.

The three specific things that are important to keep in mind when planning ahead are:

  1. Self-awareness. Know your limits, and work within them, because this is about getting things done not exposure therapy.
  2. Know your tasks, as completely as you can. Read the bloody requisition form.
  3. Always carry your toolbelt with you, because you never know when you have to pee in a cup.

This, of course, is structure too, and routine, and getting things done may, without you thinking about it, just push your envelope a bit more each time. Whether you’re agoraphobic like I am or out functioning relatively well in the world, the principles are the same because they’re adaptable. And they’re healthy.

Then, when the tasks are complete and you’ve managed to fend off the blunt sticks of doom and the fickle fates wielding them, feel good about the accomplishment and reward yourself with a nice cinnamon latte. Because you did good today.

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