My ADHD Brain, Episode Four: Routines, Structure and Rules

I suspect routines would probably help me, you know, things to do daily or weekly at a certain time. However, I have never really done them. I often think of something and decide to start, but how do people keep going with it? How do they remember to do it? Just because I did this first thing on Friday last week doesn’t mean my brain will go “Oh, it’s time for…” first thing on Friday this week. In fact, I know my brain definitely won’t. I’ve even had people suggest to me that I might remember to do certain things if I have a regular slot for them in my week or day, which is one of the weirdest things I’ve heard. Seriously, neurotypicals, is this actually a thing that happens?

I need structure, which I think is different to routine but, again, I am rubbish at starting or maintaining structure. For me, the structure usually comes from an external source and, on the whole, it helps me. I do best in situations where I am forced into a deadline–it’s why I work well in teams, as I kinda need to meet with a colleague to talk something into existence, and to have the deadline of preparing something for when we meet.

‘Routine tasks’ and ‘routine jobs’ are definitely a no no. I couldn’t do a job where it was the same every day, that would drive me over the edge. However, a job with structure is great. I need a day where I can look at my calendar and be like 8.30-10=enquiry shift, 10.30-11 =meeting, 12-2 = teaching. It’s going to be a largely happy and productive day because I know where I’m at. I will turn up on time and do a good job. But give me three things that need to be completed today, and a ‘free’ day in which to achieve them and I unravel very quickly. I write them on a post-it, then ignore it and faff about, lose track of time, lose the post-it, drift aimlessly, fall into a pit of self-loathing and despair and then finally, when it’s dark and the working day is finished, have that ‘Oh crap these need to be done by tomorrow morning’ realisation which kicks my ass into gear. So, yeah, structure is generally a force for good.

But rules, not so much, and I consider this to be a benefit of my ADHD. I’ve always been an independent spirit, acting in a way that makes ethical and practical sense, rather than the way an organisation or society in general wants me to. If you are ever faced with a rule (and, yes, a law) I think you should ask yourself three questions 1) Who created this rule? 2) Why did they create the rule? 3) What happens if I disobey? Question 3 should be answered in terms of what happens to you as an individual but also what happens to other people, or to things and places. What is the full impact of non-compliance? I find that many rules and laws do make sense, and whilst it may not be convenient for me I can see the bigger picture and comply. But there are things that exist for no sensible reason, uniforms and dress codes being my personal bugbear.

I still vividly remember being sent to the office of a lady at my school who I think was probably a ‘pastoral care’ person. I was about 14, bullied, miserable, self-harming, had even thought of killing myself. She started by noting that I had twice forgotten to hand in a workbook and, the shame of it, the workbook of a friend who was off sick. I apologised profusely and was then interrogated on why I had forgotten, as I was such a good girl in all other respects. Then she proceeded to ask me why I chose to wear a long black skirt and Doc Martens boots to school, to which of course the reasonable answer is ‘because I like to’. (I do love my DMs and still wear them though not, sadly, the same pair). By fixating on conventions, rules and expectations, she missed the person in front of her, who could really have done with some help.

Now I have a neurodiverse child with a lot of sensory issues I am going through the battles again for him. He won’t wear fitted trousers, only loose fitting joggers. It took a loooong time to get the school to agree to let him wear black or grey joggers instead of trousers. He also loves his wellies. I try to get him to wear his special sensory school shoes and a lot of the time I manage, but if he is clearly distressed and violent and insists on his wellies, then honestly, what’s the point in making him and me miserable over footwear, FFS? Personally, I think if he wants to go to school dressed as a princess wearing wellies, then why is that a problem? As long as he is happy and learning, it’s all good.

I really hate gendered things too, like toys and clothes, or just restrictive gender-based conventions. When I got married I nominated my best friend to be Man of Honour and my husband nominated a woman to be Best Woman. At least four people came up to me at the reception and said how wonderfully unconventional we were, as though this was some deliberate radical act, when actually all that happened is his best friend is female and my best friend is male, and the conventions that had been set out for those roles didn’t fit our reality. So we changed it, no big deal. Weddings are oddities though, and marriages. They really bring out the conservatism in people and places where you didn’t think it existed. You think you’re living in a liberal, equal, enlightened world and then suddenly … not so much.

Anyway, I digress (as usual). In summary, I think it’s vital to keep perspective and really think about what’s important and what isn’t. Although my ADHD makes me a bit rubbish at prioritisation on an organisational level, I think on an ethical and philosophical level it’s a superpower. Think for yourself and ask questions. Always.

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