Spoonies spoon header image

What’s spoon theory? The metaphor helping people with chronic illnesses and disabilities plan their days

The #spoonies hashtag unites people who struggle with energy management

Ever heard of spoon theory before?

Believe it or not, it has absolutely nothing to do with eating and everything to do with fatigue and chronic illness. If you have these, you may have found it difficult in the past to explain to those around you why seemingly minor tasks can seem huge, or why performing basic elements of self-care can drain all your energy reserves.

Christine Miserandino created a metaphor to help people explain their fatigue after she herself was living with Lupus.

She was eating in a diner with a friend, who asked her how it felt to live with her condition. In response, Christine grabbed hold of every spoon she could find and began to explain her condition in the best way she could.

To simplify it, spoons equal units of energy. People who are not living with health conditions wake up each day with an unlimited amount of energy; they can get up, shower, dress, make meals, exercise, go to work, visit friends – all without a great deal of thought or planning.

People living with mental or physical health conditions only start out each day with a certain amount of energy – or ‘spoons’. It varies person to person and only you know how many spoons you have.

Let’s say you have 12, which is the amount Christine used to illustrate the theory to her friend. In an average day, you might want to:

1. Wake up
2. Brush your teeth
3. Wash your face
4. Get dressed
5. Eat breakfast
6. Go to the doctors
7. Come home
8. Make and eat dinner
9. Change into your pyjamas

Right away, we have nine activities. Some of these tasks, like brushing your teeth may only use up one spoon, while going to the doctors has a number of stages and could use up six spoons. This only leaves you with five spoons for everything else… and there’s no way you can make five spoons stretch that far.

So what are your options? You can opt to ‘borrow’ spoons from the next day’s allowance, but that means you start the next day in deficit – and imagine trying to get all those tasks done with an even smaller number of spoons. It’s easy to get trapped in a cycle of overdoing it and exhausting yourself, due to not managing your spoons well enough.

People who struggle with energy management often feel fatigue

#Spoonies is a growing hashtag used across social media to unite and identify people who struggle with energy management.

It’s being used to spread awareness that not everyone can take their energy reserves for granted and to encourage people to support one another. The next time a friend cancels plans at short notice, or seems lethargic or irritable – check in with them like Christine Miserandino’s friend did.

You never know, they might be a #Spoonie too.

Category: Features

Published: 18 July 2021