Last week when I was walking to work, I crossed the road at a different place than where I normally do. This may seem insignificant to most people, but I am someone who sticks to routine. In the five months that I have been walking that route to work, I have crossed the road at the exact same spot. You might ask why. The answer is that for me, there is safety in routine.
I have to cross the road at the same point because it feels safe. Not from a safe to cross the road perspective, but for safety in my mind. If I cross the road at a different place, I believe that something bad will happen. So in order to prevent something bad from happening, I have to cross the road at that point, regardless of if I want to cross there or not.
But last week I could not cross the road where I always do. The pathway ahead was blocked which meant I couldn’t get to my normal crossing point. So I had to cross the road sooner, at a totally different crossing point. My safety in routine was gone. I crossed the road and continued on to work. But I was now convinced that something bad was going to happen. That is how my mind works. If you stick to routine, things should be okay. But if you change your routine, something bad will definitely happen. The whole safety in routine idea. I couldn’t follow my routine and cross the road where I needed. So inevitably, something bad was going to happen.
It played on my mind the whole time I was work. I was waiting for the something bad to happen. But as it turned out, I actually had a good day at work. One of the best I’d had. So my safety in routine belief had been proven wrong. I did not need to cross the road at that particular point to prevent something bad from happening. However, as I’d had a good day at work by crossing at that new point, I now believed that I had to cross there from now on in order to not have a bad day.
So although my safety in routine theory had been proven wrong, it didn’t make me believe it any less. I had changed my routine and, in doing so, had developed a new one. It’s stupid, and logically I know this. Logically I know that where I cross the road cannot have an effect on my day, but in my head it feels so real. In my head I truly do believe it. Even though I know it’s madness.
My safety in routine belief applies to many other areas of my daily life, not just where I cross the road on my way to work. Examples include having to wear the same earrings all the time and not being able to wear nail varnish because I believe if I do so, which would be a change of routine, something bad will happen. I also have a Spice Girls calendar in my bedroom. It’s a 2020 calendar. And it is on December 2020 and has been for the whole of 2021. I have had to keep the calendar up, and on that month, because I fear if I take it down or change the month displayed, something bad will happen. If I have a shower more than a certain number of times a week, something bad will happen. It is so stupid but the safety in routine feels SO REAL.
I also really struggle when something breaks, or I get something new. I can feel the anxiety rising as I right this. It is common knowledge in my family that if you by me present, it is most unlikely that it will get used within several months. I have even been known to not use new things for over a year because of the fear of change and something bad happening. When something breaks, it is both a blessing and curse. It means I HAVE to use a new thing (for example when I dropped my phone down the toilet and it broke). But it also makes it slightly easier because I have no choice. My safety in routine is taken away from me. I have to use something new.
What makes all of this even more frustrating and which I don’t understand, is why does this safety in routine rule apply to some things and not others? Why does it apply to where I cross the road on my way to work, but not where I park my car? I am happy to park in any parking space and don’t consider this to cause something bad to happen. But crossing the road at a different place does. Why do I have to have an exact routine for some things and not others? Why can’t I wear a new watch, but I can start to read a new book? I don’t know why my mind has randomly chosen certain things to fixate on.
Believe it or not, I actually used to have a lot more routines than I do now. My life used to be so dominated by routine that virtually nothing in my life could deviate from this. I would hoard newspapers and magazines and they would stack up in a pile in my bedroom. There was no way I could move them or get rid of them because something bad would happen. I had to do the same things, at the same time of day, every single day. I would go out for a walk at the exact same time, and walk the exact same routine day after day.
This went on for a period of years. All because I feared that something bad would happen if I changed this routine. Wearing new clothes was impossible. I couldn’t even cut my nails because that would be a change that would bring bad luck. Living like this was a nightmare. But it was all in attempt to stay safe. Safety in my routine would prevent something bad from happening.
These routines that I followed back then were ALL to do with the eating disorder. Yes, I wouldn’t wear new clothes or cut my nails, which you might think are not eating disorder related. But the bad thing that they were preventing was weight gain. My safety in routine was to serve the sole purpose of preventing weight gain. That was the bad thing that would happen if anything changed. Again, logically I knew that if I wore new clothes, or had my shower in the evening instead of the morning then it could not actually have an effect on my weight. But as much as I knew the logic, I just couldn’t shake that belief. The fear was real.
But now, the rules and routines that I follow are totally unrelated to my eating disorder in every way. I do not follow these rules anymore to prevent weight gain. That is not the bad thing that will happen. I know now that my weight cannot be controlled by rules and routines like this. And actually, I don’t want it to be. I would hate to go back to how I was of life being so regimental to simply prevent the perceived bad thing of weight gain happening.
The rules that I follow now are conducted with the sole intention to prevent bad things happening in life. Or, to stop me having bad luck. Those bad things, or bad luck, could be anything. It is a case of – if I wear my hair in a new style, something bad will happen. Not, if I wear my hair in a new way, I ill gain weight. There is a big difference between the two.
As I have said, overtime I have reduced the number of routines that I follow, and changed their purpose. My routines naturally reduced with a bit of weight gain and life getting bigger. With more to do in my life, it was not possible to follow these rules so rigidly. And with enjoying living more, weight was not so important. Also, the more I did not follow the rules, the more I realised that they did not have an effect on my weight. But it wasn’t easy and it did take a while.
I am able to occasionally use these skills now that I learned back then. Sometimes I will get a random thought when I am about to do something that it will cause something bad from happening. Say for example, I sit in a different desk at work. The thought that something bad will happen for doing so occurs. But I argue with myself. I have the thoughts going backwards and forwards, trying to reason with myself. And often now my rationale side will win. I will sit at the different desk and remind myself that it can’t cause something bad to happen.
But I can’t do this all of the time, and sometimes my safety in routine side wins. The fact that my 2020 Spice Girls Calendar is still up in my bedroom is a prime example. Also, if I am able to fight the thoughts and do something new, should anything ‘bad’ happen in the near future, I will attribute it to that change. I am reinforcing the belief. And I know that this is stupid, and believe me I have tried endless CBT to tackle it, but sometimes the feeling of safety in routine is too strong.
But I have made progress over the years, as explained in this blog. And that is a positive. My life is now less dominated by routine, and my routines do not serve an eating disorder purpose. But I won’t deny that the worries and fears I still have for doing new things and changing routine are tiring and unpleasant. But they don’t limit and restrict my life like they used to. I can cross the road at a different point, albeit convinced that something bad will happen. Whereas before I simply would not have been able to do it.
I don’t really know where I am going with this. But I wanted to share my experiences. If other people relate, I think it helps to know you aren’t alone. Please do share your thoughts and experiences. And although progress may be small, a baby step is still a step.
2 thoughts on “Safety in Routine”
Hello Rebecca, I do have many (food) routines but never do I think that something bad will happen but breaking the routines does make me feel slightly uncomfortable. OCD is very common in people with eating disorders. I am very glad I do not have the dark thoughts.I am sorry you have them. The only way to get rid of them is to challenge the routines. Challenge and repeat. I hope you don’t mind me saying this but I think you still make too many excuses for your self (your ED is making those excuses, not you!) and this is stopping you from recovery. I hope find a way to break the routines and cope with the discomfort! Regards Nicolet – The Netherlands
Thanks for your comment. I agree – challenge repeat is the way forward.