Something I talk about a lot on this site is spoon theory. A lot of folks don’t know what that is, exactly, so I get a lot of questions. Today I want to explain: what is a spoonie, why do I call myself one, and why does it matter?
What is a Spoonie?
A spoonie is any person with a chronic condition that leaves them with limited energy. This can be a physical or emotional issue. Spoon theory is a term that was coined in a 2003 essay by Christine Miserandino. Sitting in a restaurant, she was trying to explain to a friend what it was like living with lupus and came up with a visual metaphor.
She gathered up a bunch of spoons from other tables. Then she asked her friend to describe her daily activities. For each activity, she took away a spoon. When she ran out of spoons, she was out of energy and couldn’t do any more, even if there were still tasks left.
The concept is that we have to budget and prioritize how we use our energy. We may look fine at work, in the grocery store, or meeting friends for coffee. What people don’t see is how they then go home and collapse, unable to muster the energy to do anything else. Most people only see us when we have spoons left to use. They don’t see what life is like when we’ve run out.
Why I Identify as a Spoonie
In my case, I have both chronic pain issues and a long list of anxiety disorders. Most people understand the pain part. When I’ve had too much physical activity, the pain gets to be too much. I need to sit, or lay down, and generally just rest. There are limits to how much walking I can do, but too much standing or even sitting in one position for too long wears me out.
My anxiety is the result of repeated trauma. I’m not a fan of crowds, loud noises, and unfamiliar situations. This manifests in three ways. First, anxiety causes stress and that exacerbates my chronic pain. Second, it can trigger panic attacks. My body hits me with a fear response turned up to 11, and it feels like I’m having a heart attack. Third, it sets off executive dysfunction. I can’t focus, become unable to remember things, and generally become confused until I can de-stress.
Why Does It Matter?
Creating awareness for invisible illnesses is important. People that “don’t look sick” often get labeled as lazy. If the collect any sort of disability, they’re accused of being scam artists. There’s a general distrust that stems from ignorance and a lack of empathy. This increases when the person with the invisible illness is able to do something on their own. They have a limited capacity to function on their own. The assumption is that they’re faking having a condition.
The term spoonie also allows people with different conditions to come together in shared experience. We can offer each other support. I don’t have to have the same condition as someone else to understand how regular daily life can take a lot out of you. There are tips and tricks that I use in my daily life that I’ve learned from people with conditions as wide-ranging as Bipolar 2 disorder, multiple sclerosis, COPD, and ADHD.
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About Simplify – Create – Thrive
About Berin Kinsman
Berin Kinsman is a writer, simple living minimalist, and spoonie. By day he works as the owner/publisher at Dancing Lights Press. An American by accident of birth, he currently lives in Finland with his wife, artist Katie Kinsman.