Spoon Theory Variations

Posted: July 10, 2015 in Disability
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So after my last post I started thinking about Spoon Theory, I remember reading briefly awhile back that there is a lot of debate about whether or not Spoon Theory can/should be used in terms of mental illness. My thought was (and I guess still is) that if someone has any form of chronic illness (be it physical or mental) and feels like spoon theory accurately describes their experiences with the chronic illness, then why not? On the other hand though, I hadn’t actually seen any arguments made supporting either side.

So I did a little bit of googling. Didn’t really find what I was looking for, but I found a few blog posts talking about variations people have proposed for spoon theory, which relate to other types of illnesses.

Fork Theory

The first I read was a blog post about a proposed Fork Theory. This seems to be applied mostly to mental illness. To get a good idea of it, you should probably read their whole post, but I will try to summarize it as I understand it. Essentially it’s an analogy for what people with a chronic illness have to ‘pay’ for a certain activities, balanced with the reward we get for those activities. Spoon theory was meant to illustrate and symbolize having a chronic illness how you have to really think about the energy you are spending on every little thing you do, that people who are generally healthy do not have to think about. Fork theory is sort of the same idea but whereas spoon theory, each day you have a number of spoons, and there isn’t anything you can do to get more spoons* for that day. Whereas with forks you have to spend a certain number of forks, but you can get forks by doing things. So it costs 2 forks to take a shower, but taking a shower gives you 5 forks. Which is a great deal, unless you don’t have 2 forks to spend. But also that you don’t always know for certain how many, if any, forks you will get from an activity. So it’s also a bit of a gamble.

*other than possibly borrow from tomorrow, but only at the expense of tomorrow having less, and not knowing for sure how many spoons tomorrow will even have to begin with. Which to use my last post as an example of this, maybe I could have gotten in a workout despite how I was feeling by borrowing spoons from today, but the consequence of that might be- and probably would have been- that I do not have enough spoons to do anything meaningful today. Which as I think about borrowing might be the wrong way to describe it. Because for me, a lot of the time I get fewer “borrowed” spoons for that day than the spoons lost the next day for it.

Fork theory makes sense to me, I’ve definitely felt that way. Taking a shower will make me feel better but I don’t have the energy to take a shower. I also know the gamble bit, particularly with depression. Talking to someone can help make my depression better… or could actually make it worse depending.

Picture of my lunch: Pita bread with chicken breast, lettuce, tomato, and cucumber sauce.

Interestingly though, I started thinking about how the fork concept can apply to things like my physical energy and abilities. I thought about this while I was making lunch, which is probably what made me think about it. I had the spoons today to make a pretty good lunch (imo). There are days I don’t have the spoons for that though. Or I have the spoons to cook but not cook and do dishes, but I haven’t had the spoons to do dishes in days so I have no clean dishes to prepare or eat food from. But on the other hand, obviously eating healthier is better for me in the long run. Unlike the examples used for forks though, the benefit is often not immediate. I won’t get more spoons for today from eating well. But eating better can pay off in more spoons per day long term, or fewer spoons per day if I don’t eat well. Same can go for exercise. To an extreme, the same goes for medications. It takes time and spoons (well, maybe more like 1 spoon) to set up my pills for the week. But if I don’t even have that spoon to spend on it, and it doesn’t get done and I’m all out of set up pills, I probably end up not taking my medication, and I will end up pay heavily for that.

Types of Spoons

Following a link from the forks blog, I found a blog post about different types of spoons. The idea behind this is that not all spoons are the same, but can be specific to types of activities. Though to me it would make more sense to talk about it in terms of general cutlery (though it would conflict with fork theory were forks don’t work exactly like spoons) rather than types of spoons. Wouldn’t the analogy fit real life objects better if instead of spoons for different things in your drawer, you had spoons, forks, butter knives, steak knives, et cetera. And similar to preparing/eating different foods, different activities require different cutlery?

But aside from that, this does not hold true to me in terms of spoons as an analogy for energy/ability with chronic illness. I don’t feel like I have activity specific spoons, just general spoons and different activities cost more than others. It’s not time based of course, an hour of one activity will not have the same cost as an hour of another activity, but they all use the same spoons in general.

Of course I don’t have asperger’s/autism so of course my experience is different than that writer. Which does make me wonder though, back to the original question- how far does it make sense to apply spoon theory? How much sense does make to apply it across all forms of chronic illness or disability? Spoon theory started simply as one woman’s way of trying to tangibly explain life with Lupus to her friend. Turns out the concept applies to a lot of other physical disabilities/chronic illnesses as well, though it won’t apply to all. Or at least, won’t apply to same to all. And obviously there are differences between physical illness and mental illness and autism. Does it really make sense to use the same analogy to try to explain all these experiences despite significant differences? (I certainly have no answer to that right now)


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