“Sorry, I just don’t have the spoons today, try me tomorrow!” Spoons? It’s all about the amount of energy you might have left to do what you need to do in a day.
There are millions of people with “invisible” illnesses and today with all the extra worry and anxiety around Covid19 and ‘lockdowns’, I think we all have even fewer spoons than we did waaaay back in 2019! One day you might have 14 spoons and the next day you might have 5 spoons. Read on to find out what I’m talking about.
(This theory is my own. What do you think? Why not leave me a comment?)
Who Started Spoon Theory?
In a restaurant with her best friend, in 2003, Christine Miserandino wanted to explain what its like for her to live every minute of her life with a chronic illness.
Because she was in a restaurant, she grabbed spoons from surrounding tables and that’s how to whole spoon theory started. You can read all about the exchange at the restaurant in the PDF link here. I have permission to share this link, and I recommend you read the rather moving story.
Christine, who suffers from Lupus, summarising the theory about how we under-estimate the pressures on ourselves in her own words:
“So for my explanation, I used spoons to convey this point. I wanted something for her to actually hold, for me to then take away, since most people who get sick feel a “loss” of a life they once knew. If I was in control of taking away the spoons, then she would know what it feels like to have someone or something else, in this case Lupus, being in control.
I asked her to count her spoons. She asked why, and I explained that when you are healthy you expect to have a never-ending supply of “spoons”. But when you have to now plan your day, you need to know exactly how many “spoons” you are starting with. It doesn’t guarantee that you might not lose some along the way, but at least it helps to know where you are starting.”
She counted out 12 spoons. and then proceeded to illustrate to her friend how simple daily tasks such as getting out of bed, getting dressed, showering, washing her hair, each cost “a spoon”.
If she ran out of spoons, she had to stop and rest to recover spoons. This is how spoon theory works.
So who uses Spoon Theory now?
Spoon theory is now being used in countless organisations to better help explain chronic “unseen” illnesses or simply the amount of stress from seemingly un-stressful events that fill all our lives, every day. The number of spoons removed by each activity is noted below. Of course, these vary by person. If one is physically disabled, then apparently simple tasks like taking a shower or getting dressed might use more spoons. If one is chronically introverted or suffering from social phobia, then socialising might be more exhausting, and so on. Why not work out your own spoons?
I’m writing this blog because I think it would be a great term for us all to start using more frequently. We all need to be sensitive to the fact that not everyone is having the same sort of day. When we phone someone to ask them to do something we could ask them if they have the spoons they need to handle whatever it is we are about to raise: and we need to respect the answer “Sorry, I just don’t have the spoons today, try me tomorrow!”
I think it would be a good idea to be more aware that other people might NOT have the spoons that you have. They might NOT want to tell you about their depression, their migraine, their Crohn’s Disease, or simply everyday hurdles they face, it’s an easy metaphor to use everyday. If you watch this video you might like to start it at the 2 minute mark.
Click on the video to watch an intriguing and interesting video description of Spoon Theory using the Sims. I have to find out more about Sims videos like this but I find them a bit weird to be frank.
So, as you understand now, spoon theory explains chronic pain or other lifestyle restraints visually to people who don’t live in pain or with the same problems. In particular, people who have chronic pain are now often referring to themselves as “Spoonies”. They are even getting spoon tattoos. If you care about such celebrity things, apparently Paris Jackson and Macaulay Culkin have matching spoon tattoos.
What is a Spoonie?
Elizabeth Patitsas, Sociology of CS education Assistant professor McGill University explained in her paper Spoon Theory A Form of Capital, “I identify as a Spoonie, and the day I learnt about spoon theory was an emotional day for me. It gave me a label to describe my experience, and terminology to explain my life. An incomplete list of my medical history includes myofascial pain, fibromyalgia, IBS, depression, migraines, anaemia, night eating syndrome, and a yet-unspecified hypermobility spectrum disorder.
Each one of these conditions can severely limit the amount of spoons I have in a given day. I wake up each day not knowing how much energy I’ll have or how much pain I’ll be in today. I have to carefully ration my spoons and spend a great deal of mental energy budgeting my spoons.”
“Spoonies” often associate this identity with isolation and epistemic dissonance in everyday life because often the way they see their illness is not how it is seen by others.
Some of my references and useful further reading for you:
As I said, I have written permission from Christine Miserandino to produce this document here in my little blog. Her website has loads of information about the Spoon Theory and links that you might find helpful.
And remember, we all have only so many spoons in our day, so …
anaemia Christine Miserandino chronic chronic illness communications crohns disease depression fibromyalgia IBS mental health migraines psychology spoon shortage spoon theory spoonies spoons wellness