I have only recently come across The Spoon Theory by Christine Miserandino, and already think it is one of the greatest things in all existence. It gives a simple yet effective way of explaining how it feels to live with and manage a chronic illness on a daily basis, for unless you have experienced it yourself it is almost impossible to understand. If you haven’t read it already, I truly recommend you do. Here is the link: http://www.butyoudontlooksick.com/articles/written-by-christine/the-spoon-theory/
I am writing this to share this theory with you, and also add what it means to me. Of course, 100% of the credit goes to Christine Miserandino for the theory – I think it is brilliant. The rest of this post may not make sense if you haven’t read it, so I definitely recommend you check it out.
For years, ever since I started to become unwell, I have struggled with the fact that no one around me could understand. And how could I expect them to? They hadn’t experienced it, and I also couldn’t find the words to explain it. When reading The Spoon Theory, I felt like everything I had been trying to say was written down. So I showed it to my family, and I could see that they had been given a new insight into what it was like. Whilst they could never understand fully (by no fault of their own), by reading The Spoon Theory I felt that they were just a little bit closer. I owe a lot of thanks to Christine Miserandino for finding those words for me.
After reading this, I began to relate it to my life. I realized that once I became relatively better, I began to live life like I could do everything – like I had unlimited spoons. But there would always be a tax. My pain and fatigue and other symptoms would get worse, and I knew it, but I just thought of it as how I felt all the time. I just thought I would feel like that anyway, so why wouldn’t I try to ‘live’? I had just thought it was the cost of me living my life. Of course I knew if I did too much or sat for too long etc then I would pay for it later. But I didn’t really make the connection until now that every single thing I did effected how I felt - not just at the time but also for a long time after. I’ve realized more deeply that how I feel is a tax of my previous activities – all my previous activities, from previous days, weeks months and even years.
I feel like in the very beginning, when I over did it with my activities (school, dance, musical theatre) I borrowed a lot of ‘spoons’. But not just from the next few days, from the next few years of my life. Thinking like this made me realize that if I can spend my time now focusing on not using up all my ‘spoons’ – not over doing it, choosing my activities carefully whilst doing the things I know I need to recover, then I can regenerate all my ‘spoons’! But I need to stop thinking and acting like I can do everything. I may have a lot of time during the day, but I most likely won’t have nearly as many ‘spoons’.
Something that The Spoon Theory explained better to me was that if I only have a set amount of ‘spoons’ to use in a day, then if I ever exceed that, I would be borrowing ‘spoons’ from tomorrow. That would be why I would feel worse the day after, or just feel worse in general. And that would accumulate.
Recently, my family and I have begun using the phrase ‘not enough spoons’ when I feel I physically cannot do something for whatever reason. It works well because all I need to say to express how I’m feeling is “I don’t have enough spoons” and instantly they understand. My mum also started saying on hot days “be careful, spoons melt in the heat” because I find that the heat affects me a lot.
Whilst I don’t always resort to that simple statement, I find that it works well in in certain situations where my point needs to come across quickly, a decision needs to be made or I don’t feel like they understand how I am feeling. I use it in those situations where I don’t want to cause a fuss, I don’t want to let anyone down or upset anyone, and I just know that I can’t do whatever it is that they’re asking. So all I have to say is “not enough spoons”.
Normally before I go to bed I write a ‘to-do’ list or a plan for tomorrow. I usually then highlight the priorities, things I have to do or the most important things, and try to do them first. Lately, I’ve been doing the same thing but writing next to the items on the list how many ‘spoons’ I think they will take (i.e. how much effort and how taxing they will be). Then in the morning after I have woken up I judge how I am feeling today, or how many ‘spoons’ I have. Then I’ll go down my list and see what it is realistic for me to do today. Doing this not only helps me pick the most important and rewarding tasks to do, but also making sure that I don’t over do it. It emphasizes to me that I can and should only do what is in my limits; if I don’t have enough spoons, then doing anything more will be taxing.
Something that I think when I am judging how I am feeling and setting my limits for the day, instead of feeling sad about the fact that I have limits, I make sure I appreciate the fact that I am able to do something. Sorry to throw in another metaphor in this post (hope the spoons didn’t confuse everyone!) but this is the quote that I think of when I wake up:
“It doesn’t matter if the glass is half empty or half full. Be thankful that you have a glass and grateful that there’s something in it.” – anonymous.
Or in this case, be thankful that you have enough ‘spoons’ to count.