The Almighty Routine

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June 4, 2014 by Kara Nichols

The first of every month I get emails from an amazing group of ladies. We swap emails regarding our goals for the month ahead. I was crazy focused in January, with a long, over-reaching list for the New Year. And now it’s June and I’m dragging my feet. However I really enjoy watching these ladies grow and change and meet their goals. They are inspiring, powerful, mindful women and I hope they rub off on me.

When a group email hit my inbox June 1st I thought: “No! I’m not ready!” As I sat there typing up a reply I felt clueless as to what my goals should be. And then it struck me like a lightening bolt: I need routine.

This is kind of a big deal although it sounds simple. By routine I mean meal planning, waking up with an alarm, going to sleep at the same time, exercising three times a week, keeping a writing schedule, a cleaning schedule, making plans with friends, finding somewhere to volunteer or work, even scheduling free time.

I need routine to function properly and I haven’t had that for many months. Having structure is actually something that doctors have recommended to me for years because of my bipolar diagnosis. Routine helps people who deal solely with depression as well. Actually anyone could probably benefit from having a daily plan.

Bipolar disorder, by its very nature, is not routine. People become manic unexpectedly and people get depressed unexpectedly. And during depression or mania, people become even more erratic in all areas of their lives… in a world of side-effects, toxicity, blood tests, weight gain and co-pays, making a routine sounds like a really good treatment option to me.- Natasha Tracy

I crave routine while ultimately rebelling against it. In years gone by while in the hospital when I was very sick, routine was the only choice. I always knew what time group was, I knew what time the kitchen would deliver our lunch trays, and when I’d have time to take a shower or walk laps up and down the hall. When something was late I found it to be unsettling. And almost nothing is on time at the hospital. But they worked to maintain a schedule because it benefits the patients.

There’s a lot I can’t control when it comes to my mental illness. But I have the option to just let this depression wash over me, and beat me continuously like waves on a shore or I can fight back. I choose to fight.

If you’re depressed, you need a routine, says Ian Cook, MD, a psychiatrist and director of the Depression Research and Clinic Program at UCLA. Depression can strip away the structure from your life. One day melts into the next. Setting a gentle daily schedule can help you get back on track.

So today is day one of sticking to a routine and so far I’m doing ok. Better than ok, actually. I woke up with an alarm – hey it’s the small victories that add up to make a big difference! It’s so easy for me when feeling depressed to just sink into the recliner and watch cooking shows while surfing the internet. Or sleeping the day away. I don’t want to give into that impulse and already I can tell that something positive is happening in my brain. I think more than a major depression episode what I’ve bee dealing with that has me a bit off is hormones and having a loved one in the hospital. Even though I might not be clinically depressed right now I can still benefit greatly from routine so I plan to stick with it.

Natasha Tracy: One of the main [reasons for routine]  is because bipolar disorder is considered a circadian rhythm disorder by many medical professionals. Your circadian rhythm is critical to your functioning as a human as it tells your body when to sleep and when to be awake (among other things) and trying to go against it is like swimming upstream. Assuming bipolar disorder is, indeed, a circadian rhythm disorder, we should do everything we can to work to regulate our circadian rhythms in a healthy manner. Keeping a strict routine is one major way of doing that.


The really critical parts for me are having the same wake-up and bedtime every day, which I have not been doing. I’ve been all over the place but I’m going to be strict about it now because doing so can help stabilize my mood and make me higher functioning. I feel silly that I’ve neglected this part of recovery for so long. I can’t exactly claim ignorance but I didn’t take it seriously when I was encouraged to keep to a routine. Many thanks to a special friend who is amazing at keeping a schedule and has helped me create my own and will be one of my supports as I transition into a routine.

Besides my alarm clock, another tool that I will be using faithfully is Google Calendar. If you are interested in scheduling your life down to the half an hour, like I’m doing, I recommend it. Google Calendar is easy to use and I can view it from my cell phone as well. I also recently added a new alert on my phone. It beeps at 7:30pm and I know that it’s time to take my nighttime medications. It’s a small, easy thing, but it’s vital because last week I forgot to take my meds until around 9pm and it really screwed up my sleep. I need reminders!

And that’s what routine is all about. Little reminders as to what I should be doing. Of course there will always be exceptions to the rule. I don’t plan to be a harsh dictator in regards to my schedule, but man, not having one was like a slow death each day. My life was slipping through my fingers. With a little help from Google calendar, my accountability partner, and God, there is a fresh hope in the air.



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June 2014
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