The Spoon Theory

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Do you know about the spoons? Because you should.

Written by Christine Miserandino, a well-known patient advocate, The Spoon Theory tells the story of a girl with lupus explaining her disease to a friend using 12 metal spoons late at night in a diner. The analogy she illustrates is a perfect example of how physical or mental illness can change your entire way of viewing the world and how you cope with daily life choices.

“I explained that the difference in being sick and being healthy is having to make choices or to consciously think about things when the rest of the world doesn’t have to. The healthy have the luxury of a life without choices, a gift most people take for granted.”

She goes on to explain, “Most people start the day with an unlimited amount of possibilities, and energy to do whatever they desire, especially young people. For the most part, they do not need to worry about the effects of their actions. So for my explanation, I used spoons to convey this point. I wanted something for her to actually hold, for me to then take away since most people who get sick feel a “loss” of a life they once knew. If I was in control of taking away the spoons, then she would know what it feels like to have someone or something else, in this case, Lupus, being in control.”

The Spoon Theory explains the limits you have when you live with chronic illness. It shows how healthy people usually have a seemingly infinite number of “spoons” to use throughout the day, each spoon representing the energy needed to complete an action. You wake up in the morning, so you’ve spent one spoon. You make breakfast and another spoon is gone. You go to work, dress your kids, visit a friend, and that adds up to a bunch of spoons. Again, when you are healthy, you probably have spoons left over at the end of the day and you’ll get more in the new day.

However, if you live with depression or pain, this cuts down the number of spoons you start out with each day. On a particularly bad day, you may only get six spoons to use. When you realize how many actions you take in a day, six is nothing!

This theory has been shared from patient-to-patient to help their families and friends understand and change their entire way of viewing the world and how different people cope with daily life choices. It’s about compassion and understanding.

If you have ever struggled to explain or understand how life is different for you or a loved one experiencing a physical or mental illness, this theory is very helpful. Please share it.

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