Do Not Disturb My Circles

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.

Financial Disaster Area

Financial Disaster Area

I screwed up again. Nothing new there: it’s a regular occurrence. This time I paid three bills twice, but luckily I’ve got the money in my account to cover it. Finances and me are not a felicitous combination: left to my own devices I will forget to pay bills, lose track of my balance and go overdrawn. Why should this be? I studied math to university level, I was an A student at school and won a Gold Award in a national mathematics competition, I’ve been working as a software developer for most of my adult life: I am completely comfortable with numbers and higher mathematics.

So… it’s not the numerical or arithmetical aspect that gives me trouble. It’s executive function (EF). Or rather executive dysfunction, specifically as it relates to planning and working memory. I’ve tried to manage household finances over the years but I always come unstuck, losing track of what’s paid, what’s due and how much money remains in the account. I’ve tried using written accounts, spreadsheets, internet & mobile banking and still I fail to keep on top of it.

Of course the household budget is not the only area where I suffer these or similar problems, but it is the most serious. I can’t multi-task – I am only able to concentrate on doing one thing at a time, which can be a limitation in the kitchen when I’m trying to toast bread at the same time as frying bacon. I’ve lost count of the number of times it has resulted in burnt toast since I forgot about it being under the grill until I smelled the burning! And at work I have problems with meetings – I sometimes forget about the meeting until after it has finished, or get confused about what day it is scheduled. And this is with a reminder on my PC: without one I am totally at sea.

Grocery shopping is another problem area (even without the associated sensory issues and the severe discomfort caused when they reorganize the shelves, but that’s a whole other subject). I have a routine – no surprise there – where I make a list first, sorted according to the store layout. I pick up the items in list order, and I still miss one or two items as often as not.

It’s a curious, sometimes frustrating state of affairs. I can hold down a full-time job, I can drive, I even run a darts competition in my local pub. But I can’t live independently. There are key areas where I need assistance that center around running a household: finances, laundry, cleaning, maintenance. I know that I have the skills to perform these tasks, which is the most frustrating part. I just lack the organization to do them consistently in a timely manner. I’ve tried, I really have. I’ve lived on my own for periods when I was a student as well as when I first moved away from home permanently to take up a new job. And every time it has been the same end result: things fall apart after only a few weeks.

It’s a benefit of being married that I have somebody else in the home whom I can rely on to do the organizing, to balance the books, and to remind me when jobs need doing. As I said to my wife only this morning, I don’t know what I’d do without her.