What is Spoon Theory (Spoonie Theory) and How Does it Work?

spoonie theory spoon theory

The Spoon Theory is a metaphor created by Christine Miserandino, a person living with lupus, to help explain the limited energy and daily challenges faced by individuals with chronic illnesses or disabilities. This metaphorical concept is often used in the context of conditions that involve chronic pain, fatigue, and other symptoms that impact a person’s daily life. The Spoonie Theory describes  ‘spooonies’ as people living with chronic illnesses and how they use their energy.

How the Spoon Theory Works

The spoon tIt started with a conversation she had with a friend about being chronically ill.  It applies to so many different types of people and has become common verbiage as we “spoonies” go through life.  The conversation was about how more “abled” people get an endless number of spoons or an abundance of them each day.  As a spoonie, we are only given a few and/or use ours more quickly.

Each person has a set number of spoons.  Each event in life requires spoons.  Getting out of bed, walking to the bathroom, going to the bathroom, washing hands, brushing teeth, putting on deodorant, putting on makeup, and so on.  Imagine, this is only the first 5 minutes of a day and some spoonies may already have used up their supply. 

spoonie theory spoon theory

The Concept of Spoons

In the metaphor, “spoons” represent units of energy. Each day, a person with a chronic illness is given a finite number of spoons that represent their energy resources for that day. 

What is the Spoonie Theory?

Daily Energy Budget

Healthy individuals may not need to think about the energy required for routine tasks because their energy supply is abundant and replenishes naturally. However, for those with chronic illnesses, every activity, no matter how small, requires the expenditure of a spoon.

Counting Spoons

Throughout the day, individuals must carefully manage and budget their spoons. Every action, from getting out of bed to taking a shower to going to work, consumes spoons. When a person runs out of spoons, they may lack the energy to perform additional tasks and may experience increased fatigue or pain.

The only way I can recoup spoons for my next day is by using fewer spoons in a day and resting.  This is often seen as lazy and that drives me crazy.  My resting is saving spoons which allows me to use them later.  And let’s be honest, I don’t get a chance to rest that often therefore I’m not saving much. I’m not lazy, I’m building and saving my supply. 

Trade-offs and Prioritization

The Spoon Theory helps people with chronic illnesses understand the importance of prioritizing activities and making choices based on available energy. It also emphasizes the need to communicate effectively with others about the limitations imposed by their condition.

Pacing my Spoons 

So how do I deal with having a handful of spoons in a world that requires thousands?  I rest, I pace myself, I prepare, and I plan.  My husband used to get up for work and leave.  Now I have asked him to get the kids out of bed and start them on breakfast.  This takes him 5 minutes of his day before he heads out the door but saves me a few precious spoons.  If I can sit and drink a cup of coffee without bouncing back and forth from the refrigerator a few times, I save spoons I need for the dreaded battle of getting dressed and out of the house with two small children.

Borrowing Spoons

In some situations, spoonies may “borrow” spoons from the next day’s supply to accomplish a particularly important or enjoyable activity. However, this can lead to increased fatigue and potential consequences in the following days.

The Spoonie Theory has become a popular and widely recognized way for individuals with chronic illnesses to communicate the challenges they face to friends, family, and healthcare providers. It fosters empathy and understanding by providing a tangible and relatable framework for discussing the daily struggles of managing energy levels in the context of chronic health conditions. It has been especially embraced within the online chronic illness community as a means of fostering awareness and support.

What is a Spoonie?

A person is given spoons that reflect their energy.  Every event is thoroughly thought through on how and where to use spoons.  While getting out of bed may use up one spoon for a “normal” person, it takes 3 for me.  While buttoning a shirt may not even take a spoon from you, a person with arthritis may use 4.

Each person gets a different amount, uses a different amount, and requires a different amount for each task.  The whole point of the spoon theory is that people who are chronically sick have fewer spoons, use them more quickly, and run out fast!  Some days I feel like I’ve used my spoons by 10:00 am and still have a long day ahead of me.  On those days I feel like I steal spoons from the next day leaving myself more depleted than the day before.  This borrowing makes me exhausted, and worn down and triggers a migraine.

Spoonie Theory and Chronic Pain

Some days I’m straight outta spoons. At the end of the day, I ask him to help with bath time.  Bathtime uses way more spoons than I have in the evenings.  I am low or out of spoons, plus a loud bathroom, cranky kids, and no spoons to use seems near impossible.  Drying off, lotion, brushing teeth, potty, reading books, hugs and kisses (I always have spoons for those), and more.  The last hour before my children’s bedtime is by far the toughest time of my day depleting any supply of spoons I have rationed for my day!

I do small things each day to help conserve spoons and help for the next day.  It’s all about pacing myself and preparing for how I’m going to use each spoon.  It sounds crazy, but that’s the life of a spoonie.

How do you spend your spoons? 

How do you save your spoons and when?

Are you a spoonie?

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Sarah Rathsack

Sarah tells stories of My Migraine Life. Living life through Migraine consists of advocacy, treatment, prevention, and searching for health and happiness in a positive honest way. Her kids, husband, dog, family and friends motivate her to make a difference in the Migraine World.

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  1. cherished79 on February 22, 2017 at 4:27 pm

    Reblogged this on living in stigma.

  2. TradeRoutz livingStyle on February 23, 2017 at 5:14 am

    Hi there, I posted a reply to your recent mail on migraines and how you suffer. As a fellow migraine sufferer, I have used everything from acupuncture, to essential oils, to natural remedies to actual migraine meds prescribed, but nothing stopped them. Then I went for Botox for migraines. It works a treat! Unbelievable difference. They don’t inject botox into your face to stop lines or anything, but rather into the back of your neck, shoulders, forehead, temples etc…and this actually works. Every 3 months I go in again, (just as the migraines are starting severely again and botox has worn off), and then I’m fine again! I highly recommend it. x

  3. mymigrainelife on February 23, 2017 at 7:02 am

    Thanks for the recommendation,I do get Botox. It is hit or miss for me on the effectiveness and different every time. I recently stopped after a year due to some complications. I find it to be the most helpful in prevention also

  4. TradeRoutz livingStyle on February 23, 2017 at 11:54 am

    Migraines are so debilitating it’s unreal. I don’t believe it’s possible to lead a normal life with them. I know when mine hit, I’m finished. I find that drinking lots of water seems to help an attack too. I don’t know, people have said ‘try coffee’, but that doesnt help me either. I hope you’re not feeling too awful x

  5. bekahrigby on March 6, 2017 at 7:19 pm

    My biggest spoon sucker is getting out of bed in the morning and getting ready for the day. It takes everything, and on some days, I don’t even have enough spoons for that. Thanks for your insightful blog, friend! Looking forward to reading much more 😀

  6. mymigrainelife on March 6, 2017 at 7:29 pm

    Getting up is my hardest time too. At bedtime my pain raises too but I’m not expected to go on with my day at that point.

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