Adjectives that are synonyms for the word routine include usual, regular, normal and everyday, which I think are words with good connotations. But other adjective that are synonyms for routine include monotonous, dull, tedious, humdrum. I doubt that any of us find these words to be appealing, and I prefer the other adjectives.
Why am I so protective of the word routine? Because it is one of several nouns that describe how I have managed my life for many, many years. In addition to routine, the other nouns I am talking about are procedure, schedule and habit. For years, I made sure that I had lists to remind me of the steps that I had to take in my life to keep my career on track, my savings on track, my exercise on track, etc. In other words, routines, procedures and habits were the key to Melanie’s success.
But if you look at the adjectives and the nouns that I used to define the word routine, they do not seem to be strong or compelling. In fact, they seem to hint of a fixation and a lack of resourcefulness. The fact that I am so routine-oriented might not make me a great role model for those wanting to excel. But then I got a handy resource from the Entresto Central Support Program. In the section “Tips to Help Keep You on Track” the Entresto support program actually commends my habitual practices (at least as they pertain to managing my heart failure). The section on tips says: "Discover the power of a routine: For example, try taking Entresto before something you do every day, like before you brush your teeth in the morning and at night. Matching medicines with daily routines can help you remember to take them." In this context, a routine is not limiting but is something that can enable you to empower your heart.
So my routine about taking my medicines on a regular basis, and following a strict diet and exercising to the best of my current ability is an asset. But can a routine ever have a negative connotation. Based on my experience in the school of hard knocks, and even though a routine is crucial to my heart health now, there was a time when my routine was counterproductive, and maybe even dangerous to my heart. I came to this conclusion after six years of heart failure and lots of introspection. Looking back on my very active, and often stressed, career life, I can’t help but think that I should have incorporated more balance.
I found support for this idea in a 2010 article by Meg Selig on the Psychology today website. The article portrays characteristics of a good routine. For example, it is a regular habit that frees you from small decisions that can slow you down or capture valuable brain space. On the other hand, sometimes we adopt unhealthy routines that range from just slowing you down to being destructive to your health. On the more mild end, an unhealthy routine is staying up late, oversleeping and skipping a healthy breakfast start to your day. On the danger Will Robinson end are the addictive habits such as gambling, smoking, drinking, drug use, etc.
If you’ve been reading these posts for a while, or if you are a friend or family member, you might wonder what unhealthy habit(s) I practiced. Obviously, the workaholic in me was in bed at a decent hour and never overslept because I had to get into the office. I am not a smoker, never used illegal drugs, and am not even a moderate drinker. As for gambling, despite having visited casinos I never played the slots or the tables, and I never even do the lottery. Yeah, I know you have to play to win, but I keep seeing every quarter that goes into the slot or every dollar that plays the lottery as one that could be used to help buy a new outfit. Perhaps I could be accused of the bad habit of being boring?
Well one of the things the Psychology Today article says is that addicts “find false comfort in a series of familiar acts that disguise the treacherous nature of their habits.” Well, think about it. I have an obsessive compulsive nature, and would engage in unhealthy analysis of events that had occurred, or events that might have only a very very slight chance of occurring (but probably not). My worry routine produced an unhealthy anxiety that had to contribute to my already off the charts stress level.
And then there were the relentless work routines that caused that stress level to soar. At first, my work routines were healthy because I was organized, able to set deadlines to accomplish an increasing workload, and within those deadlines, able to analyze data and prepare a thorough and coherent work product. Then I was able to set training and developmental routines that allowed me to advance in my career and eventually move up the ladder to become an executive.
And that is when I started to let the career rule my life, and create stress that I thought I could manage by creating even more routines to take on additional responsibilities and to work virtually all day either at the office or through the blackberry or iPhone at home. This in turn created more things to worry about, along with the tendency to worry about them 24 hours rather than just at the office. I did have some routines to keep the OCD behavior under control. But unfortunately when heart failure landed on my doorstep, those routines became ineffective. This in turn created a vicious cycle of more stress. Even though I do not think that stress was the primary cause of my heart failure, it had to be taxing on my heart and in my mind helped the heart failure to rapidly grow and destroy my good health.
Unfortunately, it was too late for me to add any balance that would allow me to juggle both a fulfilling job and a fulfilling personal life. I had to give up one, and frankly I concluded (and I think rightfully so) that if I gave up the fulfilling personal life, the one sure result would be an early death. I may have been a Type A, but I wasn’t a fool. I decided that it was time to call it a day and I retired.
Once I was retired, it was hard to break the habit of the routine. But this time, I decided to only employ routines that promoted a healthier heart. So now my routines fall into three neat categories: routines for physical health; routines for mental/emotional health; and routines for spiritual/faith health. I bet you can guess the routines that relate to physical health – things I was already doing like exercising. Plus things that my doctors want me to do like closely monitor my sodium, potassium and fluid intake and keep them all within medically acceptable ranges. And things that the makers of Entresto endorse like taking my medications on a set schedule, with little deviation.
You might even be able to figure out what I have been doing in the past six years to implement routines related to mental/emotional health. For a number of those years, I had appointments with a therapist who could help me break the unhealthy OCD routines that seemed to rule my life. I began to write this blog as a way to vent my frustrations about my chronic illness, and to work out the best methods to manage the chronic illness. Hopefully, the blog also helps others, which is something that would be very fulfilling for me. Mentoring and being mentored by individuals who still work in the federal government. Meeting my friends for meals and coffees so I don’t lose touch with the people who provided me assistance and camaraderie and support for so many years.
With respect to spiritual/faith routines, I try to do some volunteer work with or take on other responsibilities for my church. I also try to include a post every month or so about my faith and how it helps me cope with heart failure. Most important, I incorporate prayer in my daily life, something that fell out of my routine a number of years before I retired. All of these things bolster both my soul and my heart, and make me feel that I am doing the will of God, something that has become very important to me.
So as you can see, the routines are now balanced to do something other than further a career. Because at the end of the day, your career achievements won’t keep you company in the assisted living facility or if you’re in the hospital. You need the human connection and the God connection to get you through those rough times. Hopefully my more rounded routine life now meets that need.
Melanie discovered that she had heart failure in 2013. Since that time, she has been learning how to live with the condition, and how to achieve balance and personal growth.