Spoon Theory

Spoon theory is a way of conceptualizing energy levels for those with chronic illness. It was developed by Christine Miserando, who first discussed it in her essay “The Spoon Theory”, where she talks about educating a friend on her daily struggles with lupus. I highly recommend it to anyone with chronic illness or a supporter of someone with chronic illness.

In practice, spoon theory is very simple. I use it frequently to explain to those around me how I’m doing on any particular day. In fact, I actually get asked every single day first thing in the morning by Phil how many spoons I have.

For me, spoon theory is not as strict as it is for Christine, but I allot my spoons differently.

Because of my executive dysfunction, I have to plan out routines and use timers to execute on them. I don’t use a spoon just brushing my teeth on most days, but rather I will lose a spoon upon completing a routine. So I will take a shower, do all the inner shower stuff (and, yes, the order I wash my hair and shave my armpits is a carefully-planned routine, too), come out, dry off, apply toner, brush my teeth, apply moisturizer, change, use my epilator, and hang my bathrobe up again. That whole routine, which most people do without thinking about and for me is timed down to an hour, takes a spoon.

When I am at the peak of my game, I have ten spoons. But I am never at the peak of my game. I am lucky to have five spoons and sometimes recently I have as little as one.

These “low spoon days” are the most frustrating thing in the world. You want to do things, but either you physically cannot, likely due to pain, or you lack the energy to fight your brain to let you do the thing.

One of the things I have learned is to keep what I call “low spoon food” around, stuff that doesn’t take much time to cook or prepare. I might have the spoons to take a shower, but I can’t find a spoon to make myself a normal meal. Therefore, microwaveable food is a godsend. Frozen precooked chicken is like manna from heaven.

If there’s someone who doesn’t want you to die around, you can also ask for help. I ask Phil sometimes if he could make me a plate of food. Sometimes, I will express I am hungry and then forget I am hungry, only to find a few minutes later a sandwich put in my hand. Having people in your corner who understand your struggles is the best thing.

When you are having a low spoon day, pushing yourself too far can screw you up for days afterwards. Do the minimum, what is absolutely necessary, and then go to bed or at least relax. I frequently take Phil’s dog Toby out for a walk, and that little dog has a great nose for finding spoons for me in the woods.

Health is not valued until sickness comes.
– William Fuller