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Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Microstory 997: Flexibility

When I was a child, I had certain routines that I would perform in order to get things done. I would have  a routine for getting up in the morning, and getting ready for school. I would have a routine for learning in school, one for coming home, and one for getting ready for bed. As I grew up, my routines changed, because they had to. I had different classes, with teachers who had different expectations, and I had a different schedule. I didn’t much think about how much my life was changing over the years, because it happened gradually. My family moved around a lot, and even when we were in the same house, the school district kept rezoning, so I was still moving all over the place. Thank God for all of that, because I would be an absolute mess without this training. One thing that autistic people like me often struggle with is change. We don’t like someone introducing a complication in our routines, because we haven’t had proper time to prepare for them. They must be tested, for efficiency and comfort. You can’t just spring something new on us and expect things to go smoothly. Routines are designed to be effortless, so they can alleviate stress, and allow us to focus on what’s important. If you force us to rethink something, that stress goes back up, because now we’re focusing energy on something we thought was fine as is. I’m not saying other people don’t have stress, but we have more, because the smallest thing can feel incredibly overwhelming. Though I wouldn’t recommend it for everyone, I’m ultimately glad I wasn’t diagnosed until I was an adult, because if my family had fully understood what I was going through, they would have worked hard at protecting me. They would have walked on eggshells, and tailored my environment, and that is not what I really needed, even if I would have thought so back then. It was difficult for them, dealing with me, having to figure out how to communicate with me so that I wouldn’t freak out about something they perceived to be trivial. It was difficult for me too, as it took years to learn things most people puzzle out on their own, and flexibility was never my strong suit. It was simple to me; when you say we’re leaving for church at 9:30, then I will be ready at 9:30; not 9:25. As hard as it was for us, though, I think it made us stronger people. At least, I know that’s what it did for me.

One of my biggest challenges was acknowledging the fact that no one ever says what they mean. Ever. It’s always attached to a lie, or an embellishment, or an ambiguity, or imprecision. Sometimes it’s on purpose, and sometimes it’s accidental, but nothing in this world is at face value, except for playing cards. I think I’ve brought this up, but I’m still coming across articles about very successful people who are trying to reveal the secret to their success. Do this before bed, and sleep this long, and sing your to-do list underwater, and write yourself a million dollar check, then burn it in effigy. Setting aside the fact that no secret trick can work for everybody, or even that many other people, the problem with the premise is that it’s all about meticulousness. You have to measure out your life perfectly, and do it in the same way across some arbitrary temporal pattern. So many people tell me I should write in the same place, at the same time, under the same conditions, every single day, like I’m on birth control, or something. That’s the exact opposite of what you should do. The real trick is flexibility. The freedom to accept where you are, and what you have at the moment, is so much less stressful than requiring your environment to be just so. I still have loads of stress, but I would have so much more if I didn’t train myself quite deliberately to tolerate and appreciate the inconveniences; both big and small. People spend a lot of money on making their lives easier, which is fine, to an extent. Likewise, to an extent, it’s a lot cheaper to simply adapt yourself to the complexity. When it stops bothering you that the barista keeps giving you two sugars, instead of one, you can move on with your life, and just drink a sweeter coffee in the morning. I am not the poster child for flexibility, but I am a huge proponent of it, because I know the problems that rigidity causes, better than most. Change is good. Complications are good. The biggest favor you can do for yourself is to take every problem as an opportunity to learn rather than trying to find a workaround that really just adds more work anyway.

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