I never thought of myself as following a routine. Most descriptions of autistic routines talk about a person who goes to sleep and wakes up at the same time every day. Someone who has every hour of the day planned out. They probably watch the same television show at the exact same time and eat the same dinner.
But I’m not like that, right? I’m autistic, sure, but I don’t eat the same foods every day. That would be boring. I don’t go to bed at the same time every night (though I probably should) and I don’t watch the same tv shows every day. Sometimes I even like to go see a movie or go grocery shopping after work. In my mind, routines were boring, strict, unbreakable things for other people, but not for me.
Then the pandemic happened. Everyone at my office were told to work from home. I’m a graphic designer and illustrator and most of my work can be done via internet so I’ve had the option of working from home since I started my job last year. This was nothing new to me. I also have social anxiety and spend most of my time alone anyway. I didn’t think that a little quarantine would affect me or my work… I was wrong.
I soon realized just how important my ‘routines’ were. Suddenly, I didn’t have to be somewhere at a certain time. I didn’t have a daily lunch time to just sit around and chat with co-workers, I didn’t have a time to come home and separate my work life from my personal life.
As much as I like being alone, I realized that my co-workers were some of my only forms of socialization outside family. I, like many autistics, have a hard time making friends and the built-in routine of having lunch with the same people every day gave me the socialization I needed and broke up my work day into manageable parts. Before lunch was for one project and after lunch was for another.
Going to and coming home from the office gave me that line between ‘work’ and ‘life’. At home, in quarantine, the day isn’t broken up by anything. I have a hard time focusing on what needs to be done when I have to work at the same computer I use to draw comics for fun and do my late night, bad idea, online shopping.
Autistics often need prompting in order to get started on tasks and these prompts can come from routine. As much as I love my work, I have a hard time not walking into the office, saying hello to co-workers, talking to my supervisor, signing in, seeing reminders on my work calendars (I have 3) and putting on my headphones.
I don’t have those prompts anymore, and this disruption has me in what feels like brain fog. I can still finish assignments, but it takes longer to get started each day.
As I type this, I am at my kitchen island, surrounded by old mail, empty pizza boxes, and things I should have put away ages ago, sipping coffee that I made two hours ago, still my pajamas, with trash reality shows playing on mute in the background. It took several tries to just get started. But the start was the goal. I’ve found it better, lately to not hold high expectations of myself. Some days the best thing I can do is just to work on what you can that day and come back to it tomorrow.
On the plus side, I still get to see my co-workers for lunch once a week. Everyone is more understanding and flexible about project dates. And I’m finding some daily routine in watching the governor’s daily briefings while playing animal crossing.