Do Not Disturb My Circles

I’m not very good at planning ahead, considering consequences of my actions. I exist in the present and the past; the future is too abstract to engage with. This is an executive function deficit. I am poor at planning and organizing my life, and cope with this by relying on routines. Running round the same circles day after day.

Μή μου τοὺς κύκλους τάραττε! — Ἀρχιμήδης
(Do not disturb my circles! — Archimedes, popularly supposed to be his last words)

This works well enough under normal circumstances, but a recent change in my life — gender transition — has disturbed my circles, my routines. The old familiar sequences I used for years as a male to get ready for work in the morning are no longer completely applicable to me as a female.

When I don’t have an established routine in place it takes me a long time to complete a task. I spend more time thinking about the various steps I need to complete than I do actually completing them — like I said I’m not good at planning. Every step along the way between getting out of bed and leaving home to go to work must be consciously considered and executed.

More than that there is a feeling of unease, of insecurity. Having no routine to rely on means I constantly view it as an unfamiliar situation, and the unfamiliar makes me anxious. Anxiety makes it more difficult to think clearly about what I am doing, makes it harder to plan what steps I must take.

When I have a routine I do not need to think about what I am doing: force of habit guides me through the sequence of steps effortlessly. I refer to it as being “on autopilot”. And like an autopilot I am unable to handle the unexpected: changes. Those times when the pilot must step in and take manual control.

For over two months now I have been struggling to establish new routines to replace the old ones. It is a slow process, requiring a patient, incremental approach. But I am getting there. The components that will build my morning routine are becoming established, steps are being aggregated into short sequences. I am now at the stage where I can start to join these components into a seamless whole.

It still took me over two hours to get ready this morning, with about an hour of that being spent thinking through what my next moves should be: this is progress. I believe that within another few weeks I will have learned my new routine and will no longer have to think about what I am doing every morning. I will be able to cope again.

My new circles are close to completion. I hope nothing disturbs them.

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18 thoughts on “Do Not Disturb My Circles

  1. Yes, very recognizable. Did you try writing them out? It can be a bit annoying, and trigger any “I’m an adult, I should be able to do this” anxiety, but it’s really helped me. I actually have a list of things I (need to) do in the mornings and the evenings in the bathroom, and they’re written on the mirror with whiteboard marker: morning list to the left, evening list to the right. I have a list of things to do when I’m in the shower, written high on the wall, again with whiteboard marker. I still have not managed to do all the morning things, and I don’t always do all the things in the shower, but at least I always have a list to fall back on. I tend to drift off a bit in the shower, talking to myself, but the list helps me focus back on the cleaning business.

    It was really helpful to first make an attempt at a list, determine what order would be right (like: first conditioner in hair, then bunch of other things, then rinse conditioner. I always thought of the conditioner last and then got really annoyed at myself for that) and write that down. Then I started using the list and it would turn out parts didn’t work quite right or I had forgotten parts, so I added more items or changed the order. Having a list written out, made it more easy to change the routine without having to rethink everything.

    Maybe you want to use words, maybe pics. Just see what works for you.

    • I haven’t tried writing them out yet — I’ll need to convince my wife that noted posted on the wall are necessary. (She’s rather obsessive about the home being tidy.)

      Sounds like a good idea, especially doing it in a way that means it can be modified. I want to give it a try. Thank you, Petra.

  2. I was also going to suggest writing out the steps, though this didn’t work for me. I forget to look at the lists. :-/ My strategy has been to pare down my morning routine to the absolute least number of things necessary. Right now it’s shower, deodorant, moisturizer and maybe dabbing some Aquafor any chafed spots after running. Hard to get more basic than that. In fact, if I see that I’m needing to brush my hair, I know it’s time to buzz it all off again. 🙂 Leaving the house withtout brushing my hair was a weekly (or more) occurrence in the past.

    Of course I have the advantage of not having to leave the house to work. When I was going to university a few years back, I had elaborate rituals and failsafes (duplicates of things I tend to forget in my bag and/or car) with lots of reminders, all of which took forever to get down to habit.

    Also, I’ve noticed that many women use their purses to carry everything under the sun, which can be handy if you forget a step or need to some quick grooming at work. I never took to carrying a purse on a regular basis, but it seems that some women wouldn’t be caught dead without the small arsensal of essential items that they tote around.

    • My routine has more steps — such as fixing breakfast, shaving (can’t wait until I no longer have to shave my face every day) and applying makeup (mostly concealer for the aforementioned facial hair).

      My purse only holds a few items. Others live in my jacket pockets, like car keys and my ID card for work. I’ve gotten used to carrying a purse because many of my clothes don’t have pockets, which I used to rely on heavily. The only items I always carry are my wallet and phone.

      • Breakfast! Totally forgot that. 🙂 I eat the exact same thing every day for breakfast–another simplifying strategy, I guess.

        I rely heavily on my pockets which is probably why I never took to carrying a purse–usually shoving my driver’s license and debit card in my back pocket and my keys in my front. Although now that I’m starting to need reading glasses, I’ve been thinking about getting a casual everyday purse.

        • I also usually have the same breakfast every day. Except right now I’m out of it, so it’s some substitute or other instead.

          Many years ago I used to stuff my wallet into the back pocket of my jeans. Stopped that after repeatedly sitting on it and bending my cards! My debit card split, which was inconvenient to say the least.

          • I also have the same breakfast, every day. One of my strategies when I had difficulties eating was to put everything ready the night before. The struggle to come up with a breakfast, or e.g. to clean a bowl, was just too much, so the easier the better. Being out of breakfast was catastrophic, actually.

    • I definitely don’t always think of looking at the lists, which is why the morning ritual doesn’t quite work out. But I always think of brushing my teeth in the evenings -> look in mirror -> list!
      But yeah, the efficiency of other lists suffers from not thinking of the list to begin with…

      Re: purse, I have a backpack, which you could say serves as a purse. It contains just about everything I might need, like water, a snack, public transport card, etc. Except my wallet, which I keep in my jeans pocket. No grooming products, can’t think of a single item I’d bring.

      If I have to go somewhere, I try to make sure I put it in the bag whenever I think of it the previous evening or as I get ready in the morning. When I leave the house, I just need to think of my bag. If it’s not in the bag, I’ll forget.

      • I prepare the night before too. I have a big leather bag that holds my laptop so I’ll usually take that places (like jury duty or school or a work meeting) that I need more than my license and debit card. And the night before, there will be an ever growing heap of stuff that collects on top of my bag, including notes to take my phone and keys, etc. It must look hopeless but it works.

  3. I definitely recognize this – when I was in highschool, I took about 2 hours to get ready in the morning too. I think it was because I wasn’t yet totally used to wearing makeup, so I had to consciously think of the next step and do it very slowly and deliberately. And sometimes I’d mess up and have to fix it.

    Here are a few things that helped me, which might help you too: I figure out what I’m going to wear the day before, and I lay it out. That way, I can’t forget/end up in something that looks bad/not be able to find a piece of clothing. Also, I always do my hair and makeup the exact same way. I don’t like having different styles anyways, and the consistency takes away any fumbling around trying to get something that looks good. Basically, I just try to take the decision making out of everything, because I make decisions very slowly.

    Hopefully nothing will disturb your circles and you’ll be into a comfortable routine again soon.

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  5. “When I don’t have an established routine in place it takes me a long time to complete a task.” I agree. If I’m in an unfamiliar situation I try to look for something familiar – for example, maybe the Metros are nearly the same in every country when I’m out on vacation, so I have an idea how they might work even if they’re set in a different language. Because of that, I feel less stressed when I see so many people in one location. But if there’s no routine or nothing familiar, I get stuck and might even start pacing back and forth or talking incoherently.

    Maybe there’s some similarities between who you are today vs. who you were, say, last year? You talked about the “sequences that you used for years as a male to get ready for work in the morning” – maybe there are some steps that apply for both male and female (showering, making breakfast, combing hair) even if how you do them changes? You might be able to start out with those first and ease into a new routine.

    I also agree with the comments about planning ahead and having a purse (purses are so useful!)

    • Hi Robin. Yes, there are some parts of my routine that have not changed such as showering and breakfasting. I’ve been having trouble because the “linking” steps have changed, so I don’t have a fluent transition from one step to the next.

      Planning the outfit for the next day on the previous night looks like a winner, and I do now rely on certain items always being in my purse so I don’t forget them going out the door.

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