Spoon Allowance: Understanding Life with Chronic Conditions

Depression, anxiety, lupus, and diabetes are a few examples of chronic illnesses. For those who do not live life with a chronic illness it can be incredibly difficult for to understand what it’s like for those with these concerns on a daily basis. Typically when someone is asked to describe what it is like to have any given condition they talk about the medical symptoms but trying to explain the experience itself is a challenge. Christine Miserandino developed the most well-known theory to illustrate what it is like to live with a chronic illness. Her theory is known as spoon theory and gave birth to a community of ‘spoonies’ who connect through their shared experiences with chronic illness.  

So, let’s dive into spoon theory! We all understand that energy is a resource needed to do any task, however energy is not easily quantified. When Christine was asked late one night in a diner by her best friend to describe what living with lupus was like she looked around for anything she could use to demonstrate her experience. She quickly rounded up as many spoons as possible to use, twelve in total. She used each spoon to represent a unit of energy. She explained that most people have a seemingly infinite number of spoons but, those with chronic illness have a limited daily supply. She then walked her friend through a typical day, taking away spoons for each task. While a non-spoonie may think of getting ready in the morning as a singular task, in actuality it is comprised of several tasks- getting out of bed, showering, brushing your hair, putting on cloths, making breakfast, eating, etc. If not careful a spoonie can blow through their spoons in no time and be left without the energy to complete the day. As a result they must budget their resources each and every day and make informed decisions so that they do not end up in a situation that exacerbates things.  

This means that some spoonies frequently have to make sacrifices to make it through the day. This looks different for everyone, while one person may be able to skip a shower and put off their errands for a day others may end up needing to power down for a few days doing the minimum so that their spoons can be replenished. In time spoonies learn what their needs are and how hard they can push themselves. However, no matter how skilled they become at managing their spoons there are numerous factors that out of their control, catching a cold, getting stuck in traffic, or having to defend themselves to those around them.  

I am so grateful that Christine found a way to illustrate what spoonies, like me, experience. While some spoonies are open about what condition(s) they manage not all are, so it is important to respect their privacy. No one should have waste spoons on defending themselves and the reasons they function differently. I encourage all spoonies to take care of themselves first and surround themselves with a community of support and understanding. Also, remember to praise yourself for your accomplishments. What may seem like a small task to an outsider may be a large feat for you when working with limited spoons!  

Whether a spoonie or not, I invite you to subscribe to my site to learn more about mental health and wellness. 

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