hi friend (: so I see a lot about the spoon theory but I'm not completely sure what it is. I feel silly for asking, but could you explain it? thanks so much (: --chronically ill and confused
No, no, it’s not silly at all! I was a little confused about this too when I first found the chronic illness community.
Spoon Theory is essentially a way for people with chronic illnesses/disabilities to demonstrate how carefully they need to choose their activities to accommodate their energy levels so that able people can understand our pain/fatigue etc. Spoons represent a unit of energy. Each activity, big or small, will take a spoon, or even more spoons if you’re having a rough health day. Rest can replenish spoons, but generally people with chronic illnesses take longer to regain energy so this is factored into our decision-making. You can borrow spoons from the next day, but it means you have less energy for tomorrow. The term “Spoonie” just refers to a person with a disability who uses Spoon Theory.
For example, if I start out with, say, 15 spoons on a good day:
Getting up and dressed: - 2 spoons (13 left)
Breakfast (no washing up): -1 spoon (12 left)
Driving to university: -1 spoon (11 left)
Two hours of class: -5 spoons (6 left)
Driving home: -2 spoons (4 left)
Two hours of rest/Netflix: +1 spoon (5 left)
Making dinner (from scratch): - 4 spoons (1 left)
Shower/bed: -1 spoon (0 left)
As you can see, I can function pretty okay. There’s no cleaning in there because university takes a lot of energy from me (pretty much anything that requires extended concerntration or critical thinking drains me fairly quickly).
On a bad day, I would start out with significantly less energy, and therefore less spoons (maybe 10 at best):
Getting up: -4 spoons (6 left)
Staying in PJs: -0 spoons (6 left)
Breakfast: -3 spoons (3 left)
Rest/Netflix: -0 spoons (this is different for others, and I’d be watching shows you don’t need to think too hard about)
Food (anything without prep time): -2 spoons (1 left)
Shower: -5 spoons (-4 spoons, borrowed from the next day)
In too much pain to sleep: -5 spoons (-9 spoons)
As you can see, I don’t do anything that’s not basic human functioning. On a day like that, I’m guaranteed to still feel awful the next day since I’ve borrowed 9 spoons and won’t have that energy the next day.
Spoon Theory was originally published as a piece by Christine Miserando, describing a time when her friend asked her to explain what having lupus feels like - not the medications, or the appointments, what it actually feels like. The reason it’s called Spoon Theory is because Christine used literal spoons as that’s just what happened to be on hand at the time. If you’d like to read the full original piece, it’s available here. Also, as I Googled Spoon Theory to pull up the original article, I found out that there’s a Wikipedia page for Spoon Theory too, so have a look there.
I should throw in a note here for any other readers: Spoon Theory is not to be used by people without a disability. That would be appropriation and invalidating our experiences.
I hope that helps! I’ve actually done this with a few friends to help them understand exactly how my body affects my activity. I grab something to use as counters (doesn’t have to be literal spoons), explain that each item is a unit of energy, and get them to go through their daily routine on both a high spoon day and a low spoon day. When I did it with my best friend, he lost most of his spoons by riding to campus and the rest for having 4 classes during the day (as opposed to my one class during the evening), and that was on a good day! It’s a really great tool to help people understand how we have to balance our activities and the impact of getting it wrong - even if they’re already understanding and supportive, the visual representation helps it really hit home what we go through.
Love and thousands of spoons,