Wednesday, March 22, 2017

A Work in Progress

"Routine, which I used to scorn as next door to incarceration, holds new appeal for me."
~ Carolyn G. Heilbrun
The Last Gift of Time

First, before I go any further, a few words as to my short hiatus from posting.  Given John's illness, I want to reassure anyone following the blog for some time now, we are fine.  Just have been busy fending off the imps of technology.  First, the printer, then the computer, and even my Kindle acted up.  But, and I say this with some pride, I handled it all and did so with patience, a modicum of grace, and success. (And yes, with the help of some patient, competent technicians.)  Not bad for someone who not long ago was afraid that I would break the computer if I hit the wrong key.

Now, for the Heilbrun quote.  I've been reading The Last Gift of Time for a few days now - one of my new habits, reading inspirational material as part of my morning routine.  Among the many sentences that caught my attention for its clarity and significance, this one captured an awareness I have had for some time now, but could not express with such eloquence or brevity.  

Like Heilbrun, I have a long history of resisting routine, seeing it as impeding my sense of freedom.  Lacking creativity and spontaneity, "next door to incarceration."  A psychologist might suggest this was a normal reaction to being raised by strict disciplinarians and taught by even stricter Catholic nuns.  I told myself that I needed more choice. I loved the individualized teaching methods of the 70's and 80's, no fixed curriculum for me.  And when I led my own training courses, I took pains to be sure no one course ever looked like another.  I could redecorate every month and have had to work, really work, at not starting yet another project, pursuing another hobby.

Upon retiring, however, habits and routines  took on a new meaning. The most obvious reason I began to concentrate on developing habits was to compensate for my " normal aging brain," as my doctor labeled it.  You know - where did I put my keys? What's her name, what's that word?  Why did I come into this room?  Surprisingly, it didn't take very long, well longer than 21 days, to recognize that habits and routines could actually increase my sense of freedom rather than confine it.  Freedom from worry and anxiety, freedom from stress, freedom to put my attention on something other than retrieval.  

So, I started with the obvious, the same place for my keys and sunglasses.  Grouping items by function and always, always returning them to their home.  Making lists and checking them twice.  Keeping one master calendar.  Developing schedules to address my needs rather than someone else's.  The behaviors organized, disciplined folks develop at a much younger age.

Last fall, when John was diagnosed and our lives took on chemo treatments, doctors' visits, medications, a state of hyper vigilance, these habits sustained me even as new habits and routines were demanded.  Sterilizing surfaces and materials often, communicating with friends and family more consistently, checking for potential obstacles, asking for help, etc., John's physical health and my mental health depend on them. They keep us grounded and provide a sense of stability and normalcy when any day can present a new and unexpected challenge.  They keep me tethered to today rather than floating away in sea of future uncertainty.  A computer glitch is just that, a glitch, not the cause of a meltdown.

Have I become a creature of habit?  Hardly.  Not after decades of denial and outright resistance.  But I can see the fruits of my labor.  I can feel the shift in my thinking.  Do I wish I had learned this sooner, well, maybe.  For now, let's just say I'm a work in progress.

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