Spoons and Batteries and Chronic Illnesses

What do batteries and spoons have to do with mental health?

When I first heard about Christine Miserandino’s spoon theory, I laughed.  It seemed really absurd to me, even as someone living with chronic mental health problems.  I mean, seriously….spoons?  Surely there’s a better comparison when talking about how health issues affect us on a daily basis?  In fact, when I shared the theory with my husband one evening, he laughed too and we spent the next few minutes coming up with a ton of different ways of describing energy.

Lengths of string. Minutes and seconds.  Puppies.  It really didn’t matter.  Anything that could be enumerated, divided, stolen. Okay, admittedly the puppies were a little less realistic, but they’re so cute!  Who wouldn’t want to measure their energy in puppies?

A Drawer Full of Spoons

Eventually, though, we settled in to really discussing the analogy and the truth is, it does a good job. When you live each day with an invisible illness, everything takes more work than it “should.” It may seem strange that something as simple as getting out of bed could take away an entire spoon out of 12, but that’s the point.  Some days are like that.  Not all days, thankfully, but some.  On those days, you can easily find yourself out of spoons before you get out the door for work, let alone actually doing the work, and spoons are a great way to share that with others.  It’s something tangible.  Countable.

But what about the days when startup isn’t quite as expensive?  The spoon analogy can break down a little when getting out of bed only takes the equivalent of 1/8 of a spoon. You can get a bit of a funny look when you explain it only took about .745 spoons to get up, get dressed, and eat breakfast. Even my brain does a bit of a jerk when it tries to visualize a fraction of the spoon (and then promptly meanders through the questions “Which part of the spoon is gone?” and “If I’ve still got the scoop, I suppose it’s more useful than .255 of the handle.” These are the big questions, apparently).

On those days, I’ve learned a new way of thinking about my energy.

My Personal Rechargeable Battery

On the good days (or, at least, the not so bad days), I think of my energy as a giant rechargeable battery. Depending on the activity, my battery either drains or charges, and the amount may change depending on the day.  It’s not perfect, but it works for me and it’s easy for my family to understand.  In fact, we’ve all started to think about life in terms of power usage.

puppy sleeping on a couch
Looks like our puppy is out of spoons!

For example, my husband knows that cooking dinner will take a bit of my energy, and even more if I have to clean first, but he also knows that if all the prep is done that helps bring back a little energy.  My daughter knows that socializing at the end of the day is hard for me and steals a lot of my power, but she also knows she can help reduce that drain by coming to me in my room and doing stuff quietly together. A good day at work can steal half of what I have, but a nap in my bed will usually restore a portion of that.

But what’s the point?

Well, ultimately the point is in how you use it.  For some people the analogy is the key to making a connection for their support team.  I know that my husband struggled to understand how I was feeling, and I fought to find the vocabulary to describe it, until we found the spoon theory. For others, it’s a helpful way to break away from the realities of chronic illness. Turning your energy into something quantifiable can make it easer to mentally “budget” your day and tasks.

In the end, whatever the reason, what matters is finding something that works for you. Whether that’s spoons, or batteries, or even puppies, you get to decide what works!

So tell me, what’s your favorite analogy?

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3 thoughts on “Spoons and Batteries and Chronic Illnesses

    1. Oh…I’d totally forgotten the spell slots! That was another one Mike and I had discussed. That said, not sure how well it translates outside of gaming culture…. heheh

  1. I really like the ‘battery’ idea, though, I should say. It handles the scalability problem in a different way, but it’s still right on the money for the ‘feel’ of the issue.

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