Spoon Economics

I read the Spoons Theory article last night and got up today with a whole load of thoughts about it, wanting to blog all these thoughts but, guess what, I didn’t have enough spoons at that stage of my day.

If you don’t know what on earth I’m talking about, and if you have enough time (and spoons), you can click on that link and read the story of how Spoon Theory came into being when one college student suffering from Lupus tried to help a healthy friend understand what it was like for her, using spoons as a metaphor – actually their spoonness isn’t essential to the theory, the same analogy could be made using buttons or paper clips or whatever you like really – the reason it’s spoons in the story is because it was made up on the spot when this girl was sitting with her friend in a diner, and she was looking for a tangible visual aid.

If I understand her right, the spoons are a metaphor for being able to do stuff. For someone who is young and fit and healthy, when they start their day they feel they have an endless supply of spoons – so much so, that they don’t even think about it, they just go about their day, not worrying about whether they’re going to run out of steam and be suddenly unable to, say, clean their teeth and change into pyjamas before going to bed.

For someone who has a severely debilitating illness like Lupus, the day starts with an awareness that you have a very limited Daily Spoon Allocation and you have to make careful choices about how to use your spoons. You can’t afford to waste precious, limited resources. And you live with the knowledge that you never can do everything that you’d like to, everything that your more able-bodied friends around you do all the time and take for granted. You simply don’t have the same DSA (Daily Spoon Allocation) that they have.

Of course this isn’t limited to people who suffer from physical illnesses or disabilities. If you suffer from depression, doing just 10% of what most people around you are doing may cost you all of your Daily Spoon Allocation. Though with depression I think it’s more complex – part of the problem is feeling as though you can’t do anything, and one of the things that helps sometimes is confronting that feeling and saying: actually I’m not going to believe that, I’m not going to pay attention to that voice that tries to drag me further and further down, I’m going to get up and do things because I know this can actually make me feel better. Obviously you need a spoon or two to be able to do that – so it’s a kind of spoon investment, spending in order to gain. And if you have no spoons to start with, you can’t do it.

Also, some things cost different people a different number of spoons, which is where we get these annoyingly insensitive “can’t you just…” comments from people sometimes – I’m a shy, socially awkward introvert struggling on and off with varying levels of depression, so please don’t tell me to just get out more, or to just make that phone call. If you’re an extrovert who is comfortable making lots of phone calls every day, then making a phone call costs you only a small teaspoon, if anything. But for me, making a phone call costs several spoons and I therefore can’t do lots of that in one day.

Struggling with depression means I have to use my limited DSA wisely. I have to say no to some things even though they’re very tempting, because they’d use up too many spoons and I wouldn’t have spoons left for the really important stuff. I have to sometimes recognise that I’ve nearly run out and I’d better do something to restock – part of my journey has been about learning what sort of things can be helpful in that way, what sort of things can recharge me. But as that girl in the story said, you learn to keep a spoon in reserve – you’re going to need a spoon in order to be able to decide to do something recharging even though you feel like lying under the duvet with a box of chocolates/a bottle of your favourite tipple/whatever it is that you tend to use, which you really know is only a very very short-term fix and doesn’t really help.

From experience I know that stuffing my face with chocolate lifts my spirits for seconds only. From experience I know that getting out for even just a ten-minute walk has a much stronger and more enduring effect. But eating chocolate requires no spoons, and getting out for a walk does. When you’re depressed, you need spoons for doing pretty much anything that is actually good for you.

Back to the physical side of things – being fifty and unfit means I have a more limited DSA than I used to. And being unfit means that I need more spoons for doing the sorts of things that would make me less unfit… The doctor recently gave me some gentle stretching exercises to do to help my back, and when I tried getting down onto the floor to do the lying-on-your-back stuff, I found that I simply don’t have the spoons for that. So I’m doing those on the bed instead – it’s a firm mattress, and I figured that I have to start from where I am rather than focus on what I can’t do, and hopefully if I keep doing this stuff I will get less stiff and creaky and one day I might be able to lie down on the floor, and even get up without the act of getting up from the floor feeling like a whole exercise all on its own. :)

I got up to this point and my mobile phone beeped, with a text message from someone I’m going to be seeing for counselling. This saved me a spoon out of today’s allowance – not having to make a phone call to arrange the time of my appointment. I did have to make a phone call initially to get this ball rolling in the first place, and that was pretty expensive in spoon economics – some phone calls cost me more than others, and this one was especially tough emotionally, so it took a while till I was able to do it, even though I knew it was something I really needed. Back to that stuff about spoon investment – if you have no spoons in reserve, you can’t do the stuff that you actually need in order to get more spoons. Which is why I sometimes fly off the handle at seemingly trivial stuff – if I’ve got just enough spoons to get me through the day and something happens that requires me to use a spoon, then my whole plan wobbles. And sometimes it’s actually someone being nice that wobbles me – like if I’m holding a whole load of tears in because I need to get somewhere before the shops close/need to make a phone call before an office shuts, and my husband asks how I am in an “I really want to know because I care” sort of voice…

Now, if I had more spoons I’d probably come up with some decent conclusion for this post. :)

7 thoughts on “Spoon Economics

  1. Wow! I love the way she explained the spoons. And I totally agree with your addition, that some activities cost more spoons for some people than for others.

    I felt really low on spoons yesterday. It probably cost me a few spoons just being upset that I couldn’t figure out why I felt so low on spoons. (Just like it cost her a spoon being depressed that it had taken her two hours just to get dressed.) And every time someone in the family came around, I felt like I had to hide the fact that I was low on spoons by jumping up and *doing something*.


    • yes, it costs spoons to feel low about how our lack of spoons affects us. I remember how utterly pathetic I felt when I tried getting down on the floor to do those exercises – had to spend a good chunk of time recharging before I could do anything :/

      hiding the low-spoonness from family members – I wonder what makes you do that? (I can think of several possible reasons but don’t want to put words in your mouth.)


      • Well, I don’t want them to think I’m lazing away my day without doing anything. The kids don’t really care what I’m doing (unless they need some specific piece of clothing that I didn’t realize was in the laundry that they wanted me to wash). But Rob asks me what I’m up to and it makes me feel like I’ve been caught not doing anything. I suppose it’s guilt at not getting housework done when I’m not feeling up to it.


          • No. He already feels like he doesn’t get me and worries that he’s bothering me. Having to deal with him worrying about bothering me uses up my spoons. So adding another thing for him to worry about would probably just back fire.

            Part of the problem is that I don’t have a 9 to 5 job. It’s more like an always on call, work when I can sort of job. So in my head I have my “that’s my break time” schedule, but it’s not like it’s always at the same time of the day every day. And I don’t work as well when people are in the house. So I’m most active when there’s no one around to see it. I don’t know. I guess I feel like it’s too complicated to deal with easily.


          • Yeah, working at home is a lot more complicated, and if you’re at your most productive when there’s no one around (which I can totally relate to) then other people can get the wrong impression – I wish I could come over and sit you guys together to talk about this properly… Because it sounds like the way you’ve got things going, you’re wasting each other’s spoons instead of supporting each other :(


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