Breaking the rules with care

Some thoughts on unwritten rules from a real, raw, flawed human

You’re in school. You work a job, or two, or five. You do extracurriculars. You have an apartment to clean, friends to keep up with, and a sleep schedule that you’re trying desperately not to ruin again. You’re a twenty-something with a million-and-one-somethings to do, and you’re just trying to stay afloat.

Naturally, every person has responsibilities to maintain in their adult life, including taking care of themselves. However, when we have too many at once, things may start to feel bleak and overwhelming. As someone who has a bajillion tasks to do at all times and is likely neurodivergent, I understand that categorising the things you need to do and planning how you will do them within your brain is difficult. Adding taking care of your body and brain on top of that is even worse. 

I have come to find that any time you try to Google “self-help” tricks, Google will tell you that you should keep a journal, drink more water, and get more sleep. How can I keep a journal without any free time? How can I just “get more sleep” when I’m worried about all of the things I didn’t have time to journal? In my short 22 years of existence, I’ve discovered that living life to the fullest and staying mentally and physically well is not the same for everyone, and there isn’t a blanket cure to make your issues disappear. 

Frankly, some of the advice given on the internet makes absolutely zero sense and is written as though it was made for an AI’s idea of what human life is like. With that said, here is the best piece of advice I have ever been given for keeping my body healthy and my brain sane: look out for the unwritten rules in life, and break them.

A huge unwritten rule that, upon breaking it, has made my life much less stressful, is that everything has to be done in a “timely manner.” Something that has helped me delegate tasks in my brain is the knowledge that making progress does not mean completing every step at once. Let’s say, for example, that you have a sink full of dishes that you do not have the energy or time to clean. The thought of doing all of the dishes in your sink is absolutely dreadful, and it’s draining your energy to even think about them. There is not a single law that says that you have to start a task and completely finish it all at once, so why should we let ourselves get stressed over “having” to do it all? Do one dish. After that, see how you feel about two, and then five, and then ten. If you can only do one, that is more than zero. If you can only do two, that’s more than one. If you cannot do any, you can do another task that involves self-care and that stresses you out less. 

In this life, we are handed many responsibilities, and for some reason, we expect them to be done in a “timely manner.” If there’s no deadline, why make one? You are allowed to be more patient with yourself, and you are allowed to take the time you need to do tasks in baby steps.

Unwritten rule number two: everyone takes care of themselves in the same way, and if you struggle to do what everyone around you is doing, there’s something wrong with you. There’s this idea that everyone eats meals the same way, everyone brushes their teeth the same way, everyone goes to sleep the same way, and so on and so forth. What if you can’t eat breakfast in the morning, though? What if going for walks is difficult for you? What if the prospect of taking a shower makes you feel horrible? If you find a way to make these self-care activities easier on your brain— even if they’re not deemed “societally correct”—it gets them done and makes you less stressed out. Do you struggle to brush your teeth? Buy a children’s toothpaste that tastes good. Do you hate folding clothing? Don’t fold them, then. Roll them, or hang them up, or just throw them into a drawer. Struggling to eat because you don’t have the energy to cook, or don’t want to eat the food that’s “appropriate” for that time of day? Eat ingredients for a sandwich instead of making a sandwich. Eat soup for breakfast or eggs and bacon for dinner. Get the care that you need in a way that satisfies you. 

The final unwritten rule: you have to meet certain deadlines in your life by a certain age. Go to university by 18. Graduate university by 22. Get a job in your field by 23. Get married by 25. These rules exist for very little rhyme or reason, except to be used as judgement towards people who don’t fulfill them. Your life doesn’t end if you don’t graduate in four years. You don’t explode if you don’t buy a house by the time you’re 30, or 35, or 40, or literally ever. The only things you have to do to survive are eat, sleep, drink water, and breathe—what you do to live, however, is completely up to you. Once you break the rules of the supposed societal timeline and start living for yourself, you may feel a weight begin to lift. 

There is no guidebook for being a human. Being a human is a deeply unique experience that is equal parts exhilarating, terrifying, and at times, beautifully boring. Every person (including myself) is fantastically flawed and, let’s face it, just trying to figure themselves out. There is no cure for sadness, and there is no sure-fire way to make yourself happy. I know one thing for certain though, for myself at least: even though I consider myself a pretty rule-abiding person, I’ve fallen in love with breaking rules that don’t exist. 

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