The Spoon Theory

There’s a famous blog post written by Christine Miserandino called The Spoon Theory (click here) which details a metaphor she came up with to explain fatigue due to chronic illness to her friend.

This theory has gone on to spawn a thriving online community who refer to themselves as spoonies and has been detailed in numerous publications from WebMD to Healthline.

Christine came up with the theory when she was at a diner with her friend and her friend asked her what it was like to live with chronic illness.

Trying to find something to illustrate the struggle, Christine used the example of spoons. She related the spoons to the amount of energy she had each day to do normal everyday things like chores, tasks, errands and seeing friends.

Essentially, each activity required a set amount of spoons that needed to be spent in order to complete that activity.

She explained that neurotypical people (normal people) or those without chronic illness seem to be dealt an unlimited set of spoons throughout their day allowing them to complete all their tasks like normal.

Chronically ill or neurodivergent people (people with mental health issues) on the other hand seemed only to be dealt a limited number (Say 5). Because of this, those who are suffering with illness need to be very diligent about how they spend their spoons.

I remember when I first read this, it blew my mind and finally gave me a basis to explain why I had so little energy to do things during the day.

I had always worried that I was just lazy, but the phenomenon is very real and it’s called executive dysfunction.

It seems that most people who are suffering with mental illness are familiar with the feeling of not being able to do everything they’d like to because they simply don’t have the energy.

It takes a lot of work to deal with mental illness and chronic illness in general, and there’s so many things neurodivergent people have to take into account through their day that their energy is always sapped pretty quickly with just the most basic tasks.

They just don’t have enough spoons.

I, along with my family, have taken this theory to heart and still today, many years after I first introduced them to the idea, I’m able to tell them I don’t have the spoons when I just can’t get myself to do something.

This theory has changed the way my family sees the everyday implications of living with mental illness and it’s brought clarity to so many people that just didn’t have a way of explaining the energy expenditure of dealing with chronic illness day in and day out.

It’s important to know, as a person who’s struggling, that what I’m feeling is not uncommon, that it’s been well documented and that there’s even a name for it.

Labels for the things you’re going through provide a sort of stability and comfort in that, whatever it is, it’s not just happening to you.

Today I am still a proud spoonie and I use the metaphor consistently to explain what it’s like to live with a mental illness.

I’ve included a link to the original post here, maybe it will help those of you who are struggling everyday and give you a better understanding of why you are the way you are.

It’s a great read for your family as well.

All in all, It’s important to know you’re not alone in how you feel and there are reasons for the things you do. You’re gonna be ok.