Spoon Theory: An Understanding of Chronic Illness and Disability

Chronic illness can be debilitating, even more so because it can be invisible to the human eye. That person who you met on the bus this morning could be suffering from long term arthritis. That person who served you your coffee could have type 1 diabetes. And that person you accidentally bumped shoulders with in town could have chronic fatigue syndrome. You wouldn't know.

Like anything, it's difficult to understand chronic illness when you're not suffering from it personally. But a method used to describe chronic illness is called Spoon Theory. It's a metaphor to explain the amount of energy that can be given to activities when suffering from a disability or chronic illness.

It began with a woman called Christine Miserandino. She was talking to her friend when she was asked what having lupus felt like. Using the spoons surrounding her to explain, she asked her friend to list off her daily tasks, taking a spoon away for each one. Christine explained that chronic illness and disability limits the number of spoons available for each day. This means only a certain number of tasks can be done before running out of energy and needing to recharge. Taking spoons from the future might be a risky business as she could run out of energy for a long period of time if she's not careful. Whilst Christine was limited to a set number of spoons per day, her friend had enough to complete all her daily tasks and more.

This explanation of chronic illness is a simple but effective one. If there's only six spoons for today and I have to walk onto campus, study, meet a friend for coffee, walk home, make dinner, shower, dry my hair (and some of those activities cost more than one spoon) the activities at the end of the day get more and more difficult to do. So eating healthy food, and not ready-meals, can get scrapped for the easier option. Coffee with a friend can sometimes get cancelled as I know I need to shower that night so it's easier to rearrange coffee than not be clean. This can start to cause ruffled feathers with friends as it can be difficult to explain that their coffee has to wait until tomorrow because you need to shower later that day!

Spoon theory can be an easy explanation for the difficult days. Increased understanding from the people around you can not only make you feel more accepted and empathised with, but can make others feels more connected to you and what you go through day to day.