As a chronic illness fighter one of the hardest things is explaining your lack of energy and overwhelming fatigue.
The Spoon Theory helps do just this.
When suffering from an invisible illness there is no easy way to tell a friend you cannot come out for dinner because you walked the dog that morning. (And no, that is not an exaggeration, this is a scenario I have personally played out multiple times.)
How on earth do you possibly begin to explain that?!
The thing about chronic illness is that it needs to be experienced in order for someone to truly grasp the effects it has on daily life. What may seem like nothing to a healthy person can actually be a massive draining task to someone with a fatigue endorsing illness.
If our loved ones can’t experience to understand, one of the next best things is to explain with the Spoon Theory.
What is the Spoon Theory?
The origin of the spoon theory dates only back to 2010 where Christine Miserandino of ‘But You Don’t Look Sick’ created this analogy to try explain what it is like to live with Lupus. To be sick all of the time. Before continuing, please click here to read her masterpiece.
When you suffer from a chronic illness you must always be aware of the choices you are making. For every task you take on, you loose just a little bit more from your energy tank. With Christine’s analogy, spoons are handed to her friend as a representation of her energy. These are used to help her friend understand why she must sacrifice certain acts/errands in order to make it to the end of the day without completely crashing out. As her friend goes through the list of activities for the day (including the simplest like showering and getting dressed in the morning) she looses a spoon (a portion of her daily energy allocation.) The longer the list of activities, the less spoons available for the rest of the afternoon. Very quickly her friend was out of spoons with still so much to do. At that stage it’s either carry yourself to bed as is, or borrow from tomorrows allocation of spoons. The difficult part with this is the number of spoons you start out with is dependent on the amount and quality of rest received the night before. Spoons are meant to recharge overnight with rest, the issue here is people with chronic illness often suffer from insomnia. Even then, if sleep is achieved it is not always REM sleep and doesn’t leave your spoons as charged as you may need them to be for tomorrow. It’s near impossible to predict how you will be feeling until you’ve dragged yourself out of bed the next morning. Making borrowing tomorrows spoons a very risky idea.
The Spoon Theory has since been adopted by all types of chronic and invisible illness fighters. It has been used as a way to explain to friends and family just why you cannot make it to the end of your task list and why sometimes you just have to pass on invites out. These people often refer to themselves as ‘Spoonies’ which is a way to identify with other chronic illness fighters and have that extra level of support.
Examples of tasks that cost a spoon (or two!):
- Getting out of bed (a little bit more if it’s to an alarm and not a natural wake up)
- Washing hair/ shaving
- Getting dressed
- Taking medication
- Putting lunch together
- Getting children up and dressed
- Driving to/from school / work
- Walking to store at lunchtime
- Taking the kids to sport practice
- Supermarket trips
- Walking the dog
- Playing a board game with kids
- Making dinner
- Washing dishes
- Sweeping floor
- Wiping counter and stove tops
- Helping children with their homework
- Collecting firewood
- Stripping/ Making beds
- Checking and replying to emails / messages
- Going out for dinner
- Running town errands
‘The Spoon Theory’ was created to offer an easy to understand analogy into how it feels to have to make choices based on your health every day.
It can be a great tool to show to family and friends when how you’re explaining it just isn’t working!
Let me know your thoughts below – if it helped, what you like about it and what you’ don’t.
I’m always interested in your opinions on this 🙂