What on Earth is Spoon Theory? And Why You Need to Know About It | Chronic Illness

What on Earth is Spoon Theory? And Why You Need to Know About It | Chronic Illness

A few years ago, Spoon Theory changed my life, and I would be a fool to not let you all know about it.

Actually, I reckon if we made a venn diagram of people who read my blog and people who know about this theory, we’d be close to a circle. IYKYK, right? But fear not friends who don’t know what on Earth I am talking about, I have you covered. Whether you are a chronically ill person looking to better manage your condition, or are someone who wants to better understand your chronically ill friends and family, learning about Spoon Theory is what you need. 

Spoon Theory is not scientific or mathematical; it’s a metaphor.

More specifically, it’s a metaphor that shows what living with a chronic condition can be like. “Okay” I hear you say, “but what does this have to do with eating utensils?” Well, Christine Miserandino, who came up with the theory, was out to dinner one night with her friend, when her friend asked her what it was like to live with lupus (a chronic autoimmune disease). Miserandino took twelve spoons, and gave them to her friend. I suggest you give her post a read, but to summarise, everyone has a certain amount of energy to use in the day – each unit can be exemplified by a spoon! For people without chronic illness, this can mean they have a large amount, or infinite amount, of spoons. But for folks with chronic illnesses? Sometimes you wake up with less spoons or your everyday tasks cost you more than one spoon. In this case, Christine asked her friend to imagine going around her everyday life with only twelve spoons. Choices have to be made. And that’s what living with chronic illness is like. 

Let me break it down a bit more.

The most important thing to get your head around is that a spoon, in this case, is a unit of measurement regarding your mental and physical energy. Each person, regardless of health, has spoons. You cook a meal? That uses a spoon. You take a shower? That uses a spoon. You call a friend? That uses a spoon. You get out of bed? That uses a spoon. For someone without a chronic condition (on a good day), you get a big ol’ number of spoons! Mental and physical energy, yay! You can do daily tasks without having to worry about conserving your spoons. Some of the time, I’m a girl with infinite spoons. But when flare ups happen, I have to worry about my spoons. Does spoons feel like a fake word yet? I’m getting to that point…

Let me give you an example. I have chronic asthma and have had it all of my life. Normally, I control it with daily medication and only have to avoid extreme sports, freezing temperatures, and hiking up mountains (all things that I would avoid anyway). But throughout the year, I get flare ups, chest infections, and asthma attacks. When these happen, I am left with a very low supply of spoons. Small tasks become big. Simply stepping outside of the house would cost me a spoon. Being driven to work would cost me a spoon. Getting out of the car would cost me a spoon. Suddenly, a simple everyday task uses up three spoons, uses up so much more mental and physical energy. And if I’ve only got three spoons? Well, getting out of bed, taking my medication, and brushing my teeth would use them all up so scratch even making it to work.

If I overdo it, and borrow spoons from the next day? Then the next day will simply be spoon-less: a write-off.  Depending on the flare up, the severity, and the condition, depends on how many spoons I have that day. With a ~tolerable~ PCOS flare up, I’ll have enough spoons to get through the work day, but there’s no chance I will get any chores done once I am home. With my anxiety, sometimes the prospect of attending an event would take all of my spoons, so I have to cancel to look after my other spoons. Some days, life is just unlimited spoons! And other days, my life is all about making choices to protect the spoons I have… Spoons really doesn’t feel like a real word now…

Using the Spoon Theory has helped me, a chronically ill person (or spoonie, if you will!), to learn to prioritise.

It’s allowed me a way to see or envision my tasks and my energy levels, and how I can best protect myself by making choices. If you aren’t chronically ill, remember the Spoon Theory when you have friends that are. Sometimes, cancelling plans is a necessity for them. Sometimes, offering to come to their house to see them, instead of meeting elsewhere, can save them spoons. Understand that having a chronic illness is more than doctors appointments and sick days. Despite our best intentions, we don’t all have infinite spoons.

Anyone else out there found the Spoon Theory useful in their life? Let me know! Oh, and remember to make sure to read Christine Miserando’s original post for the full breakdown of the Spoon Theory.

Rosie x

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Educate & DonateStephen Lawrence Day | Stonewall UK | Survivor’s Trust | Mind |

7 thoughts on “What on Earth is Spoon Theory? And Why You Need to Know About It | Chronic Illness

  1. As someone who has an unlimited supply of spoons, this is a great way for me to understand the impacts chronic illnesses can have on others!

    Liked by 2 people

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