The Spoon Theory Explained Simply

If your active on social media you may or may not have heard of the term spoonie or spoon theory. It’s a term coined by my fellow Christine Miserandino and used by people living with chronic illnesses to explain how it feels each day living with an illness and how we can manage it. I myself am quite outspoken and just explain how I am feeling very honestly. Because of this I don’t use the spoon theory a lot as a reference but I do think it is a great way to explain what it is like living with a chronic illness to someone who doesn’t know.

So what is the spoon theory?

The spoon theory is as follows –

If you are a healthy individual with no health issues just living your life you have unlimited energy to an extent and unlimited opportunities or spoons each day. You don’t have to think about pain, excessive fatigue, nausea or that staying up late will mean tomorrow you might feel terrible instead of just a bit tired.

As someone with a chronic illness we have to constantly think about how much we do each day, how much stress we put ourselves under and how much we put our body through. So to use a metaphor it was coined that spoons would be the measure of activities / tasks that could be accomplished each day. A spoon is a measure of energy currency so splitting up your energy into tasks with different tasks taking up more or less spoons.

So someone with a chronic illness has for example 10 spoons at the start of the day. They get up, eat breakfast, take medication and make themselves presentable. This is 2 spoons used up already and its not even 8am. They then go to work for 8 hours, this is another 5 spoons gone. They drive home in rush hour traffic which is another spoon. By the time they get home they’ve got 2 spoons left and still need to tidy the house, cook dinner and spend some time with loved ones. Doing all 3 of these activities would take up 3 spoons but with only 2 left they have to make a choice.. It’s not possible to do it all with a chronic illness and if you do decide to then that extra spoon is borrowed from tomorrow meaning you could be left with 9 or even less. A late night without full sleep would take a spoon away from the next days starting total as well.

You do not want to end up borrowing from tomorrow as who knows what might happen, maybe you’ll wake up feeling completely terrible in agonising pain and in that case you may only have 5 spoons available. The spoon total is not guaranteed and it really depends on where you are with your chronic illness symptoms. I know at one point I probably had about two spoons a day and this was used solely for eating food and using the bathroom.

All of the above is just an example; with chronic illnesses everyone is different so what may take 2 spoons for one person could take 4 for another and where as someone may have 12 spoons someone else may only have 5. I in particular seem to accidentally borrow spoons from tomorrow all of the time and frequently have days where it feels like it takes half of my spoons to just get out of bed, the day before though I may have felt amazing like I had 20 spoons. I know at one point at my worst, I probably had about two spoons a day and this was used solely for eating food and using the bathroom.

I hope this explains the spoon theory, it can be draining in itself at times to have to constantly think about how much you can do and whether or not you have enough energy or spoons to live your life as fully as possible. I like to think of it positively that learning to know what you can do means you can be more selective on what you choose to do and make meaningful decisions on how you live. Whilst I know almost everyone has to work and do things not necessarily that exciting or enjoyable, everyone also has free time and utilising this theory can help get the most out of that time.

Thanks for reading!

A x


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