A shortage of spoons

Photo by Amina El Shazly on Unsplash

This is not the next post I had planned. You may have noticed this is my first post since January – it’s March now, and February was a silent month for the blog. Lots happened – I’d love to tell you about the books I read, the films I watched, what else I’ve been up to – but first I thought I should say a little something about spoons. 

I’ve found spoon theory incredibly helpful ever since I first read about it. I can’t remember exactly when or where that was, but I now know that it originally comes from a 2003 essay by Christine Miserandino. Miserandino explains that when she was asked by a friend what it feels like to have lupus, she used spoons as a visual aid to represent units of energy. For some people, spoons are limited, and may be used up quickly by performing even simple, everyday tasks.  

The way I interpret spoon theory and apply it to my life is that I start every day with a number of spoons – the number varies according to the state of my mental and physical health. Everything I do throughout the day costs spoons, so I have to pick and choose where to spend them, especially when they’re in short supply. I have to ration my energy appropriately to ensure I can do everything I want or need to get done. 

Some fantastic artists have illustrated spoon theory in more effective ways than I could ever explain it – while researching this post I came across an art blog by Rachel Wann, who has an incredible comic about various elements of spoon theory. You can find the whole thing here, and I’ve included one of the particularly helpful illustrations below.  

Image by Rachel Wann, link to the full post above

Spoon theory provides an apt metaphor for energy levels, in my experience, particularly during times when my mental health is low. When anxiety and depression flare up, I can go from a high-functioning Project Manager and graduate student who writes in her spare time to what feels like a useless lump of wasted space unable even to get out of bed in the morning. The dip can come suddenly and leave just as quickly – or it can stick around for a few days. Lately it’s been sticking around. 

On those kinds of days, my spoons are very limited. I may only have a handful to get me through, and I may have to make choices about what to sacrifice: get some reading done for uni, have a work call, or write a blog post? On good days I may be able to do all three, but sometimes I can barely achieve one. Sometimes I hardly have enough spoons for the essentials: get out of bed, eat something, shower.  

What I’ve found especially helpful about spoon theory is the way it’s allowed me to communicate about my mental health, both with those outside the experience and with fellow ‘spoonies’. I even explained it to my manager at work, who now instantly understands what I’m telling her if I say I’m running out of spoons and how she can support me by helping me prioritise or delegate some of my workload. 

There’s a huge community of self-identified spoonies out there. If you’re interested in finding out more, or looking for support as a spoonie yourself, try doing a quick Google for spoon theory or search Twitter or Instagram for #spoonie. I hope to start sharing regularly again when I have a few more spoons.

Until then – so much to say, so much to do, somuchkat. 

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