‘Spoons’ as a metaphor and why it’s so useful

I’m talking here about Spoon Theory and how it’s become a really useful tool not just for myself but for my whole family.

To quote from Wikipedia –

‘The term spoons was coined by Christine Miserandino in 2003 in her essay “The Spoon Theory.” While out to eat with a friend, Miserandino’s friend began watching her as she took her medication and suddenly asked what it was like to have lupus. Miserandino grabbed spoons from around the diner where they sat and gave her friend the handful of spoons she had gathered. The spoons helped Miserandino to show the way that people with chronic illness often start their days off with limited degrees of energy. The number of spoons her friend had was how much energy she had to spend throughout the day.[1]

As Miserandino’s friend stated the different tasks she completes throughout the day, Miserandino took away a spoon for each activity. She took spoon after spoon until her friend only had one spoon left. Her friend then stated that she was hungry. To which Miserandino replied that eating would use another spoon. If she were to cook, a spoon would be needed for cooking. She would have to select her next move wisely to conserve her energy for the rest of the night.’

So, why has this become so important to us?

Well, I have chronic pain and fatigue issues while my wife also has her health issues. Due to this we both have our ups and downs when it comes to having the energy to do something. The most exasperating facet of this is, of course, when one of us has ‘spoons’ but the other doesn’t. The term ‘spoons’, as we use it, isn’t just about our energy levels though, it can be about a lot of other stuff too such as –

Pain – Pain levels can be high at times for both us us and this by itself can scupper any plans we might have made

Mental state – Even after the pain and fatigue has subsided, I sometimes feel as if I haven’t got the mental resources for an event especially if it involves anything stressful such as driving in heavy traffic or meeting lots of new people

The value of the event – Is it really worth expending our ‘spoons’ on? We’ve learned that our ‘spoons’ are valuable and are not to be thrown away when they could be used for something more fulfilling or just more fun

So, when one of us says that ‘we don’t have the spoons’ for something, it’s useful shorthand and means that we don’t have to give a long explanation about the exact cause(s). We also sometimes say that we’re ‘in minus spoons’ which means that we’re total exhausted and unable to do anything.

This is an important lifestyle change for us as we always had weekends away, family visits, meeting friends, pub and cinema outings and so on lined up, sometimes for months to come. Not any more. Taking care of our ‘spoons’ has now become our norm. As part of this new way of looking at what we do, we now take each day as it comes and try to manage our expectations. We do what we can and try not to feel down about those things that we can’t.

Of course, how many ‘spoons’ I have profoundly affects my writing. It takes energy to keep a clear mind and to focus for long enough to get a meaningful amount of words down on paper. I’ve also noticed that, when my battery’s flat, my creativity also evaporates. So, I’ve come up with a Plan B, where I go back and re-edit chapters, and a Plan C, where I pull out my guitar and belt out some cathartic slide blues.

We’ve found that a little stoicism goes a long way…

‘The first rule is to keep an untroubled spirit. The second is to look things in the face and know them for what they are.’ Marcus Aurelius

‘He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has.’ Epictetus

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