Spoon Theory: What it is and what it isn’t

Posted: February 7, 2016 in Disability
Tags: , , , ,
This started as a facebook post on this article that showed up on my feed:
I’m not sure how I feel about the way spoon theory has been expanded to others sorts of disabilities- as I’ve seen the types of spoons used with. It does strike me in some sense as being a very different issue that distorts the language we use when people apply the same language of spoons to things that are actually quite different, but then at the same time, I kind of feel like if it helps explain disability maybe expanding the meaning helps….
I am torn though lol, because as soon as I type that I think “but sometimes it obfuscates the issue”.
But that issue aside… I really could relate so much to the author’s annoyance at a friend who found that sex is the key to getting more spoons. Not specific to sex, but I have definitely had trouble with people understanding that spoons is not something limited to “difficult” activities, or chores- relaxing, fun activities take spoons too. I actually had been thinking to blog about this for awhile and just struggled with how to phrase my issues.
But I have recently run into people who seem to think that “fun”, “relaxing” activities don’t count for spoons for me, they should recharge me, they should help me with my stress not add to it. Which in terms of stress- yes, relaxing activities and seeing friends can help. But spoons isn’t code for stress, my disabilities are not code for stress. It’s not about stress. Spoons are about the energy needed for things, and that includes watching netflix on my couch.
“Just for fun/To relax” activities also, in my experience, cost more than healthy people realize, too. It’s often not just the activity itself that costs spoons but the spoons to be presentable for it- showering, putting on clean clothes, bushing my hair. I feel like people often forget the true meaning of spoon theory- which is in large part how healthy folks take these things for granted. When Christine Miserandino’s friend starts her day by “getting ready for work” Christine has to correct her- getting ready for work is not one thing, you don’t get up and get ready with a chronic illness, as she puts it:
It looks a bit different for me and probably different for many different spoonies, but there are similarities. I often wake up late, I slept through my first 3 alarms again because when I push myself too hard alarms will not wake me up, I am already exhausted and my whole body hurts but I have to force myself out of bed, then I have to shower but I have to actually plan out what I can do in the shower day to day… shaving is usually too costly for me. I do that once in a blue moon, usually on a weekend, when I’m feeling well. What I wear is based on spoons available as well. Make up and doing anything special for my hair costs more spoons and yet there is an irony that many people, women in particular, with chronic illnesses tend to wear makeup and spend more time on our hair than healthy people, because makeup and hair products and styles are camouflage for us. When things are the worst for me health-wise, wearing make up does not feel like an option. I’ve learned some tricks to try to lessen the appearance of the thinning in my hair. I wear makeup to cover up under eye bags and petechiae from vomiting, so that I look healthy. So that I’m not constantly being told how tired and sick I look or being asked what’s wrong all day.
Luckily my morning medicines do not need to be taken with food so I get to skip on breakfast in the mornings. Thankful for that.
But this is what it means to have to think about “spoons”. Healthy people don’t have unlimited energy. Healthy people can’t do everything they want or need to in a day all the time. There is limited time and energy for work, volunteering, taking care of kids, working out, spending time on hobbies, and keeping up with your chores. That’s normal. Spoon theory isn’t about managing all those activities, though they are part of it too, but it’s about all the little things that healthy people don’t have to plan out and factor into their energy reserves for the day. Healthy people have to plan out how they will manage and fit those obligations and wants, spoonies have to manage that and also make careful decisions about things like showering, dressing, what clothes we can or can’t wear that day, managing medications (I always feel an irony in needing to budget out the spoon needed for medication set up each week…. but if I come up short and don’t have it I will be screwed because I won’t have my meds ready to take for the week). It’s also about the fact that some days we have so few spoons those small things are the only things healthy people take for granted are all we can manage.

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