One of the most difficult things about completing a long period of intensive therapy is the loss of routine. I used to think I was quite a random person, I'm not sure that I come across as needing structure in my life, that I'm a spontaneous, carefree person - WRONG! I don't cope well with unpredictability in relationships or life.
I arrive routinely at least fifteen minutes early for most appointments, no matter how trivial. If I've made a commitment I will be there! I will do practice runs to new locations, either in real life or online through google street view (that has saved me so much time I love it!). Even informal arrangements have to be made and pinned down for me in good time. This helps me manage anxiety that has in the past led to panic attacks. So, it is hardly surprising that after nearly two years of intensive therapy and five years of having the same Care Co-ordinator a certain level of apprehension flooded me when contemplating final discharge.
For over a year I had two, weekly appointments around which to build my routines. This was more than enough to provide stability as the levels of exhaustion experienced by me just trying to get by meant that any more structured activity was unsustainable.
I have come to the end of a period of two months during which I have tried to transition from those routines to new ones around which to structure my day to day life. As well as changes to formal appointments, I had major changes to two friendships which were part of my care plan throughout my time in therapy. One friend moved away and another got a job. These things happen - it's life. The challenge becomes, when you don't have work to structure your routines, where do you begin?
What has helped me is to take an idea I first came across in the film 'About A Boy'. In it the feckless hero didn't need to work, but rather than be bored he divided his days into 'units' of time - 1 unit equals 30 mins. So, Breakfast and Coffee counts as two units. Haircut could extend to four units etc. I have adopted this attitude and have begun by trying to establish a daily structure. I know for some people with PD issues this sounds like madness - but it is very much part of my managing my life in order to maintain stability in my emotions. This is how I structure my day:
Before breakfast - quiet time, pray, take time to be mindful. 1 Unit (30 mins)
Breakfast & large pot of coffee 2 units
Walk Dog - 4 units
Lunch - 1 unit
Blog/Gym/Meet Friends 4 units
Dinner - 3 units
Relaxation - 6 units (Includes Self Soothe activities, take a bath, watch good tv and films, Wii Sports, read, listen to music)
The daily structure works for me because it has the flexibility to include meeting with other people as well as allowing me space and time to care for myself and my animals.
I have taken more time to establish a weekly routine because, along with my therapy appointments I also had two fixed times in each week when I would spend time with my Care Plan friends. Now, I have used my voluntary work and socialising to build a loose routine which can be changed depending on whether I feel like 'people' or not.
Monday - Evening Course
Tuesday - time to self
Wednesday - Women's group & spend afternoon with friend
Thursday - time to self/blogging/volunteering
Friday - Running Group - time to self
Saturday - time to self
Sunday - Church
You may notice there is a lot of time for myself - I enjoy my own company, but I need to ensure I make myself spend time with others. So, I have developed a balance of social and group activities that I can cope with. As long as I have space to myself and/or for writing then I feel my life is balanced. The amount of self space also allows me to build in more activities as and when I feel able.
I have found that, as I have recovered, I have been able to tolerate more social times than previously. Above all, if I can't keep to the routines, I don't just give up all together, I allow myself to have a Vacation (DBT Skill) and then begin the routine again at the next natural point. Usually the following day. For example, if Sunday at church has exhausted me, I give the dog a shorter walk on the Monday morning, take the afternoon to myself, so that I am better able to cope with the course on Monday evening.
Everyone is different, but, for me, structure and routine are essential elements of my long term recovery. It's also a good early warning sign that things may be going awry because both myself and my close friends can tell if I am struggling when the routines are disrupted for any length of time.