Me Talking: The Spoon Theory

Recently while browsing the WordPress Reader I came upon a novel idea – the spoon theory. The spoon theory, according to Wikipedia, is actually a metaphor used to explain the reduced amount of energy available for activities of living and productive tasks that may result from disability or chronic illness.

Spoons are used as a quantitative measure to tell how much energy a person has on a given day. Each activity requires a certain amount of energy which can only be replenished by rest. The theory is a creative way to help healthy people realize the amount of energy used by chronically ill or disabled people to get through the day.

Spoon theory was coined by Christine Miserandino of butyoudontlooksick.com in 2003. Miserandino is a lupus sufferer. One day she was lunching with a friend, a friend who wanted to understand lupus. Miserandino found it difficult to explain how lupus affected her life so she used spoons as a metaphor. She gave her friend the four spoons at their table and proceeded to take 8 other spoons from empty tables. Her friend now had 12 spoons.

She told her friend to imagine an average day in her (Maserandino’s) life. First she had to force herself out of bed. With that she took two spoons from her friend. Next she had to take a shower and dress. She took two more spoons. Her day had barely begun and she had used a third of her spoons. She used one spoon driving to work through traffic. Working took up three more spoons. On her way home she had to stop and get groceries using two more spoons. Now she had two spoons left for the rest of the day. Preparing supper would take two. But she wanted to help her son with a school project. Maybe she should use the two spoons that way. Or maybe she could clean the bathroom. Either way she would have to give up something unless she borrowed from tomorrow. This analogy helped the friend understand the effect lupus had on Miserandino’s life.

The metaphor addresses the planning that many people have to do to conserve and ration their energy reserves to get through the day. This planning and rationing is a major concern of those with chronic illnesses.

The more I thought about this, the more applications of spoon theory I found.

  • The average person has enough spoons to live an average day. Getting out of bed would require no spoons for them. Only on a very busy day or during a period of illness would they require extra spoons.
  • The theory explains why after throwing a party or organizing an event I always schedule a day or two to be spent in bed. Now I think about it as paying back all the spoons I borrowed, and as fellow blogger, Ashleyleia of mentalhealthathome.com , said you pay back more than you borrow; interest is added.
  • My friend, Val has been diagnosed with polymyalgia and spends a large part of her day in pain. Yet she is a doer and will not give up. She is the president of a local club and gives 150%. She often uses her daily allotment of spoons plus many more. And then some days she just has to stay home and do nothing. Payback time.
  • Then I started thinking. It seems that my spoons expire at 6 pm. If I don’t use my daily supply by 6, I just can’t use them. I may have to use tomorrow’s if I need to do something in the evening.
  • Everyone starts the day with a different number of spoons and the number of spoons one has may from differ day to day.
  • To earn more spoons you can rest. A nap may earn you a couple of extra spoons for the day. I love naps and use this strategy often. (Although lately I find I haven’t needed as many naps. YAH!)
  • Some people, such as my friend Myrtice, have a seemingly unlimited number of spoons. When Myrtice uses her daily allotment she goes to a metaphorical drawer in the kitchen or a box in the garage or a bag in the bedroom and uses spoons from her stash. There must be a limit to the number of spoons the theory allows her each day, but she has a lot!
  • I have been thinking of how exercise and healthy eating fit into this theory. I have not seen it addressed in any of my readings. My opinion is that a healthy diet and exercise are beneficial for everyone, and it should improve your overall health in the long run. But on a day-to-day basis it will probably not increase the number of spoons you can access. This is because any spoons earned by exercising will be cancelled by the number of spoons it takes to prepare for exercising in the first place. Neverthelessless, eat well and be active!
  • If nothing else, it’s fun to think in terms of spoons.
  • Feel free to share this post. I’d love to hear what you think of the spoon theory.

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