The spoon theory is a way of explaining that people With chronic illness or disability have fewer units of energy to do daily tasks and use more energy doing them, than other people.
There are 4 reason why I struggle with energy levels:
- I’m an introvert in an world built for extroverts, my energy is sapped by other people – this is no one’s fault, just the way it is!
- I’m a high sensitive person which means I take in the world around me and have to process it in a lot more detail than most people. A mild smell, quiet sound or moderate level of lighting to someone else is overwhelming to me and can lead to a migraine.
- I have chronic pain in multiple parts of my body. Anyone who’s been in pain, just for a day can testify, it’s draining. Strong painkillers only take the edge of my pain, I am never pain free.
- I don’t get restorative sleep. Most people go down through different levels of sleep, each of which have their benefits, but I do not reach stage 4 sleep which is where repairing and restoration happen.
I wake up in the morning and I’m exhausted. Unless they find a cure, this will be how it is for the rest of my life so I’ve got to find strategies that work!
Because my body doesn’t function optimally I use a lot of energy just keeping it going.
The spoon theory works like this:
Someone without a chronic illness would wake up with 25-30 or so spoons worth of energy, they use a spoon for their morning routine, a spoon to get to work, a few spoons for their morning at work, they’re replenished by eating lunch, they use a few more spoons in the afternoon and have some spoons spare to enjoy the evening. Even on a tired day, perhaps at the end of the week when they may wake up with less energy, you can see that they have enough to get through the day and don’t really need to think about how they spend their energy.
I, and other people with chronic illnesses and/or difficulties mentioned above, wake up with, maybe, 15 spoons (on a good day). I use a spoon to get out of bed and dressed, if I need a shower, that’s another spoon used. I may use 4 spoons at work but if it’s been particular busy or the alarms are triggered more often, I might use 6 or 7 spoons and another to get home. If I have to run an errand, that might take 2 or 3 depending on what it is.
Doing the maths, I could be down to 3 by the evening. Spoonies have to save a spoon for getting to bed so I have 2 precious spoons to use in the evening. It may take me a whole spoon to make dinner, if I have a migraine or pain is particularly bad spoons just disappear from my reserve.
Some, but not all Spoonies are able to borrow spoons from the next day, if, for example, they know they can have a lie in or can take time to rest. This is an incredibly risky strategy as it’s not always straight forward. If I push myself today, using just 1 extra spoon, it can cost me 2-3 from tomorrow.
Spoonies often have to use energy managing their illness, for example, regular physio, taking medication or attending appointments.
Different people use different amounts of energy for the same thing, for example, I find 5 minutes of being with noisy children wipes me out, other people can last longer!
I hope this makes sense, it’s really difficult to explain to people who don’t experience it but I’m trying!
I’m not lazy, I’m not flakey, I’m a Spoonie.
Spoonies have to think more strategically about what they do when in order simply to make it through the day!
I do not feel sorry for myself – that would use more energy! I’d just really like it if people could understand!
For Spoonies out there, feeling at a loss, I have a few tips that help me:
Spoonies do not own the monopoly on tiredness, it’s just a way of explaining the extra considerations we have to give to managing energy levels.
Hints and tips
- I use a lot of alarms on my phone – this means a) I do not have to use precious spoons trying to remember things and b) it means I remember to do things that help, like take my meds!
- I have routines (especially morning and evening) and I stick to them, this uses fewer spoons because there’s no decision making and I have to think less about what I’m doing.
- Strategically placed coffee – I’m fortunately that caffeine helps, it doesn’t help everyone but without it, I simple could not drive to work safely (believe my, I’ve tried, not good!) Some people find particular foods make managing energy levels better or worse – I’ve not found this to be the case for me.
- It’s ok to say “no” – if people judge you for saying “no” to something that’s going to cost you spoons you don’t have, that’s their problem.
- Work out what replenishes your spoons and do it! Although I don’t get refreshing sleep, I need to be in bed, resting for at least 8 hours. A couple of hours lost doesn’t just mean I’m tired the next day, it means I struggle to function, will have to borrow spoons and so the problem continues for many, many days! I also need rest time, down time, time out, me time, call it what you will – I need regular evenings of it!
- I write lists so I can plan my energy usage.
- If I want to do something I know will use a lot of spoons, I try to prepare by getting more sleep and making sure I know the plan so I can try and pace myself. It doesn’t always work but I do my best!
- Make sure you surround yourself with people who try to understand. They can support you to use your limited spoons wisely.