Have you ever heard of the spoon theory? Blogger Christine Miserandino came up with it one night in a diner when a good friend asked her what it was like to live with a chronic illness—in her case, lupus.
She grabbed a handful of spoons and had her friend hold them like a bouquet as she described an ordinary day. Wake up, get out of bed—that costs a spoon. Make breakfast—that costs a spoon. Clean up and get dressed—two spoons. And so on.
You get only a certain number of spoons per day and if you run out, you have to stop and rest until you get more. (See butyoudontlooksick.com for more detail, and do an internet search for “spoon theory” for much more.)
It’s a metaphor for the way people who live with chronic illness must ration their limited supply of energy. Do we decide to take part in something we know will wear us out?
[bctt tweet=”It’s a metaphor for the way people who live with chronic illness must ration their energy. “]
Well, if we really want to, we plan accordingly—staying up late to dance at a beloved niece’s wedding is worth spending the next day snoozing on the sofa, but staying up late to watch the end of an extra-innings ballgame probably isn’t. (Unless it’s the Cubs. That’s different.)
It’s not just physical exertion that can cost us our spoons. Emotions like fear or anger cost spoons too. Stress—physical, emotional, mental—carries its own price tag in the flatware drawer.
People who live with chronic illness don’t always make their situation known to others outside family and medical professionals.
Disclosure can carry risks, and responding to others’ reactions can be more stressful than simply dealing with things privately.
So if a friend turns down an invitation or a colleague asks to reschedule a meeting, it’s not that she doesn’t love you or that she’s unreliable. She might just be conserving her spoons.
Audrey Riley, director for stewardship and development for Women of the ELCA, has been conserving her spoons since 1994.