Since becoming unwell I’ve realised I have to make decisions about how I spend my time, if I want to go to a party in the evening I need to spend all day in bed resting & eating well. If I wake up in the night in pain, I need to cancel a morning appointment so I can make the afternoon one.
Now, I am going to talk about spoons… no we aren’t going to eat with them, please bear with me!
My Grandpa introduced me to ‘the spoon theory’ a few years back, he loves to research & is fab at supporting me with my condition. I received an email from him which read, something along the lines of , ‘ use the spoon theory to structure your days’ Attached was a link…
Now when I received this email, I thought he’d gone a little mad! The older generation of my family are often sending me links to obscure videos and spam websites in my emails, usually that I’d be worried to click on as it’s likely they’ve forwarded it on from their other elderly friends *face palm* & I’m usually worried I’m going to be hacked and a victim of fraud when I receive emails like this… The elderly aren’t particularly tech savvy! My symptoms weren’t great that day and I clicked on the link in his email- here I learnt about ‘The spoon theory!’ At the time it was very new to me, but now it’s great & I see it everywhere- perhaps my Grandpa was ahead of ‘the youngsters’ for once hey!
The spoon theory is a great system to live your life by.
Why is it called the spoon theory, that’s a bit random!?
The spoon theory was originally created by Christine Miserandino in 2003 as she struggled to explain how life with an autoimmune condition makes her feel on a daily basis. She was sat at dinner with a friend who asked how she was and used spoons from the tables near by to explain her energy levels, she then decided this worked great & wrote about it. Within the theory she describes a persons units of energy to be represented by a spoon- hence ‘The Spoon Theory.’
The average person would be entitled to 12 spoons a day. The amount of spoons used per activity in their day depends on the person, their health & previous commitments. If you are an able bodied person you should theoretically have roughly the same amount of energy each day.
For people with chronic illness or a condition that causes chronic fatigue, some activities may take more ‘spoons’ than it would for an able bodied person. Healthy people tend to have ‘stronger’ spoons or are more consistent in having 12 spoons a day to live with, whereas chronically ill people may have as little as half the amount of spoons!
If you use up all your energy in the morning you will have none left for the afternoon/ evening. Spoons are therefore a great visual representation to let you know when you are becoming low on energy & that it’s time to take a break. An hour nap could perhaps re-charge one spoon. If you power through you’ll end up using extra spoons and have to borrow spoons, which will leave you with less for tomorrow.
In the ideal ‘super duper organised’ persons’ life, you might have a book in which you track your spoons (drawing them visually and dedicating your daily tasks to each). In real life- This is less likely, I’d rather an extra half hour in bed then have to waste excess energy writing my daily spoons out! (Although I’m sure this could be quite therapeutic for someone who likes to live according to a timetable and structure). I tend to have a mental approach to my spoons. I can feel certain symptoms coming on & I know that I need to calm down- (it’s rare I do take a step back- I tend to live my life at 110% or 10% – I am yet to master the art of pacing!) That being said I know in my head according to my spoon count, what I should be doing throughout the day.
This is a waffley one sorry! But I do hope it makes sense:)
How do I count my spoons?
Some activities cost more spoons than others.
For a person with a chronic illness they need to make carefully thought out decisions about which activities they can participate in, if they don’t do this, it is likely they will experience a flare up (exacerbation of symptoms the following day.) For someone with ME/CFS (Myalgic Encephalitis) the exhaustion caused by ‘using too many spoons’ is reference to as ‘Post Extertional Malaise’. If you do not pace yourself (and count your spoons), your body has a meltdown and there is a knock on effect from over doing it.
I am a person who wants to do lots of things, trapped in the body of someone who is sick & needs to sleep a lot.I love this! It’s very accurate.
For many chronically ill people, our illnesses stop us from doing all the things we want to do.
Understanding others’ spoons:
We all have that flaky friend!!!Chronically ill people really really don’t want to be ‘that’ person- they don’t want to appear inconsistent or unreliable, a flake but their energy levels and symptoms can fluctuate. Making people aware of the spoon theory makes it easier not to have to explain yourself. A healthy person rarely needs to plan how to use their spoons, (although it is a great idea for them to be aware of their spoons), they don’t have to decide between a shower and a doctors appointment or a party and going shopping. They’ll likely be tired after a busy day but not fatigued from small activities.
Myalgic Encephalitis or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome has different severities, a person with more severe chronic fatigue syndrome may struggle to shower, get dressed, cook. Each activity an able bodied person may take for granted can be a huge challenge. Many people with other health conditions experience intense chronic fatigue too. Some people who follow the spoon theory refer to themselves as ‘spoonies’ or ‘warriors’ so you may have seen it referred to in that sense. For me this is a bit cringe and I prefer using it mentally, but if it helps you, go for it!
How do I manage my spoons?
For me – changing my bed sheets wipes me out- I know if I’ve got to change my bedsheets, there is absolutely no way I can go out the house too. If I have no choice but to change my bedsheets, I’ll cancel plans for later in the day or invite people to my house where possible. I feel a lot more comfortable in my house as most my friends know of my condition and we can have a nap together or do something low energy, I’ll lay in bed whilst five or six other people chat in my room- it’s a good way to still feel able to be included in plans but not waste spoons getting buses, walking, makeup, getting dressed, going to public places etcetc! On the other hand I may ask for help to change my bed sheets to save spoons, if I can get my carer to change my bed sheets or pay a friend to do so, then it’s likely I’ll make it to dinner or stay awake through that film… maybe if we’re lucky!
Similarly- washing my hair is a Bloomin’ faff! I hate it. No you do not love my hair, no you do not want curly hair ! Hahaha… If I wash it I usually need someone else to brush it or i’ll need a nap after, brushing my hair alone can take me up to an hour. Some days, the act of doing one activity steals spoons from other activities. On a hair wash day it’s unlikely you’ll catch me doing much else unless you can help me with washing and brushing my hair before.
Now if each of these day you say activities only took one spoon, that’s 16 SPOONS GONE. You’ve already borrowed 3 from tomorrow!! What are you going to do as each task takes up to 4 spoons!!! That’s too much maths for me, but you get the stress.
1. wake up
2. brush your teeth (1 spoon- sometimes I get back into bed to do this;) )
3. Shower or Bath (lots of my spoons get taken here! A lay down on my bed after usually helps me recharge)
4. get dressed
5. eat breakfast
6. go to the doctors (for me this could take 4 or 5 spoons)
7. come home (driving makes me sleepy and the bus so I’d definitely give this a couple more spoons)
8. make and eat dinner (most the time cooking makes me so exhausted that I end up sleeping whilst my dinners still in the oven!)
9. change into your pyjamas (let’s be real, I usually fall asleep in my clothes!)
You get the picture, these are just essential day to day tasks, we have nine activities and right away a lot more than 12 spoons have been used. Some of these tasks like brushing your teeth may only use up one spoon, while going to the doctors has a number of stages and could use up six spoons. This only leaves you with five spoons for everything else… and there’s no way you can make five spoons stretch without exhaustion. So what are your options? You can opt to ‘borrow’ spoons from the next day’s allowance but that means you start the next day short, you can’t be short on spoons everyday because you’ll run out, imagine trying to do your essential tasks with even less spoons. It’s easy to get trapped in a cycle of overdoing it and exhausting yourself due to not managing your energy levels. Therefore if you use 20 spoons in a day you’ll need to make up for those extra spoons with rest the next day.
Sure, able bodied people might have the odd day where they don’t feel like cooking or cleaning, they may have hurt their back or over done it. This is temporary. Having energy and good health should be classed as a luxury, share your spoons, if you know you’ll be okay with one less spoon- offer to carry someone’s bag, grab bits from the shops, help with cleaning, cook their dinner. An activity which takes one spoon for you may take three for someone who is struggling.
Right… I’m going to stop rambling on about spoons, because seriously, there’s only so much you can say- they’re a metal utensil used for soups and yoghurt! Maybe we are all going mad!
Take care & count your spoons