Routines have never been my strong suit.
Not even a little.
Over the years, I have tried countless times to establish routines in every aspect of my life and using many different types of methods. I’ve tried lists, apps, rewards systems, strings tied around my wrist, rubber bands around my wrist to snap when I catch myself avoiding routine. I literally have tried everything you’ve probably ever heard of. The list of where I’ve tried to implement them in my life is probably even longer.
So, have any of them ever stuck? Not usually. I might be good at things for a week or two, even a month if I’m lucky, but they never stick around long term. I suppose really when it comes down to it, they’ve never stuck because I’ve never had much reason to make them stick, so I’ve never been motivated enough, even when I see the benefits of them over the few weeks I may implement one successfully.
In my previous life, before becoming ill, having a routine didn’t really affect the overall bigger picture too much. If I didn’t get something done, there was always later, or tomorrow or it’s not really that important anyways. After I got sick though, I realized that not having a routine affected my ENTIRE life, and for much longer than a day or two.
By not having a routine in place, I regularly lacked energy because I was always trying to play catch up and would end up getting completely burnt our which meant I missed out on more things than I count. Having spent the majority of my life relatively well, I honestly wasn’t really aware of how important they were. It was no longer about making sure I got all the chores done so my house was tidy, It was now about making sure I had the energy just to get out of bed so I could take care of my son.
I started to realize very quickly that I had absolutely no concept of how time management factored so highly into the success of day to day living when you suffer from a chronic illness because I had no real experience with it (time management and chronic illness). However, because I sucked so royally at routines, I didn’t completely understand that the lack of one was my biggest enemy, so I just tried to soldier on thinking eventually I’d figure it out, except I never did. I regularly forgot how sick I was (btw, that’s an entirely different article right there) and that I now needed more time, care and attention to make my life work., so things just got consistently worse and worse until I felt like I was losing my mind. I was always tired, felt completely useless because nothing ever got done, and worst is I felt like a failure as a mother. It was awful. I had no confidence and no direction.
Then one day, a friend of mine who suffers from PBC (an autoimmune condition of the liver) sent me a link to the Spoon Theory. I was curious how spoons fit into everything, but after reading how she explained to her friend what it was like for her to suffer from Lupus and had to consciously make decisions on how she spent her energy, I suddenly understood the value of my time and energy levels and their relation to each other. I could literally hear the cogs turning in my head as I came to the conclusion I needed to make sure I was more aware of my daily ‘spoons’. Except that was easier said than done because on the days I felt fine, I didn’t blink an eye at overspending my ‘spoons’ or energy. But…. I always felt it within a day or two and paid for it for days or even weeks. I went on like this for the better part of a year.
Throughout all this, I was trying to raise my baby boy and one day it dawned on me that my son didn’t have a routine and that he was of the age now (he’s just turned 2) where I couldn’t just wing it anymore without impacting his development. So we started trying to implement a routine for him. It wasn’t easy cause ya know, I suck at routines for myself, forget someone else, but we kept up with it because it was for our little baba and he’s the most important thing in the world to us (and we always do things we don’t like for those ones we love most right?). The funny thing was, the more I followed his routine for eating and resting and playing and learning, the more I noticed my energy levels growing and staying for longer. Tada! Routines are important. Duh!
It was so simple and so silly that I never made the connection between managing ‘spoons’ and a daily routine. So the time had finally come in my life, where I had a reason to make a routine stick. I wanted to maintain energy levels and health that allowed me to live life WITH my family and not always from the sidelines, aka my bed or couch.
So what are the benefits of a routine when you suffer from a chronic illness?
When you do the same thing every day it makes it easier to identify patterns and triggers, making it easier to adjust for temporary changes in your routine. for example, I can predict quite accurately that if I don’t eat before 10 am my energy levels will slump by midday and by evening I won’t be able to function and it will take a day or two to recover. In my current routine, our family gets up by 6:30 and sits down for breakfast by 7, but if I need to be out the door for an appointment by 7, I know that I need to have a grab and go breakfast ready to take with me when I leave so I don’t skip that meal.
When you know what and when something is supposed to happen, it makes it much easier to see where you can make adjustments in your day to increase energy levels for things not in your normal routine. This allows me to be a more reliable person and keep a healthy family and social life. Before my routine, I would regularly cancel plans and events because I mismanaged my time and energy, and literally couldn’t get out of bed. Eventually, no one ever asked me for anything or to attend anything which meant I became a very isolated person and fueled my depression.
This may sound like a strange one, but most chronic illness sufferers also tend to fall under the umbrella of invisible illness sufferer, which means most people on the outside see you ‘look’ healthy, even though on the inside, and how you feel, is far from it. You remember the story of the boy who cried wolf? When you regularly are complaining of lack of energy or ill health, people tend to, unfortunately, think you’re exaggerating or worse, making it all up. When you feel like crud and someone says you’re just being melodramatic, it’s soul crushing and I know a lot of us often start to believe what they are saying and doubt our own pain and health. When you are able to effectively manage your time and keep your energy levels good, when you have a bad flare up and are at your worst, because you’re friends and family are no longer constantly hearing about how tired and sick you are, they are more inclined to be supportive and kind and your pain/discomfort becomes more credible to them. It’s not fair, but most people don’t understand and this is just how they tend to see things.
One of the biggest and most important benefits of a routine is the sustainability of energy and health. When you can better manage your life, time and activities you can account for when you don’t feel at your best and better utilize your energy reserves and the resources at your disposal to make sure you don’t stop moving forward with your life. No one wants to get left behind, but that’s exactly what tends to happen when we can’t sustain a healthy balance of our time and energy. A routine allows you to sustain a life worth living by working in your favor as an assistant.
If you haven’t noticed the pattern leading up to this, all the benefits a routine provide you with, lead into the word ability. Routines allow you the ability to understand patterns and triggers. They allow you the ability to maximize your energy and health. They allow you the ability to sustain your health. They allow you the ability to live your life and enjoy it with your friends a family. But most importantly they give you the ability to take back control from the sickness.
Do you have a routine? Do you notice any benefits to your routine? I’d love to hear all about them. Join in the conversation on Twitter @Hanker4Healthy