Lately I’ve noticed that when people ask me how I’m doing, I say “tired but happy”. One of my colleagues at work, Megan, said that she understood perfectly. She said that it is like “the spoon theory”. I didn’t quite know what she meant and she shared with me the story of a woman who was trying to explain to her friend what it’s like to live with a chronic disease. Click here for her story: The Spoon Theory, by Christine Miserandino.
This is where the Spoon Theory was born. When you have a chronic disease — lupus, multiple sclerosis, mental illness, fibromyalgia, or other — you have a very limited number of spoons. Each time you do a simple activity – like brush your teeth and get dressed for work, you use up two of your spoons. By the time you get to work, you’re exhausted and have used up another two spoons. So you are already down 4 spoons before you even begin work. A few meetings later, you may have used up another 4 spoons. Now you only have 4 spoons left and it’s only noon. You have the whole day ahead. By the time you come home you have used up 11 spoons and there is still the cooking to do, managing family events, etc. So you use up all your spoons and borrow spoons from the next day. The problem is that you now have fewer spoons to work with the next day. If you continue this trend, you are always working from a deficit.
This is exactly how I feel on most days. Pre-cancer, I was used to having an unlimited number of spoons. There was always one available to me when I needed it. And they came in different colours and sizes. And I had so many that I would happily share my spoons with others. Now the situation is different. Some days are better than others. Some days I hide a couple of spoons in my purse when I know I might need it for a project I’m working on or an event I am attending that evening.
A limited number of spoons is not all bad. It forces you into making choices on where you put your attention. It’s about being painfully conscious of what you say yes to, and what you say no to. It is about being disciplined. I must admit that having fewer spoons has not stopped me from living a full life. In fact, it may have enhanced how I live because I now have no room for wasted time.
Would I trade away my 12 spoons with an unlimited glorious supply of spoons? In a heartbeat! I love living in the world of possibilities and having an endless collection of spoons to play with – and sometimes even squander. I would love to reclaim the freedom I once enjoyed of doing what I wanted to do, when I wanted to do it. I wish that the smallest of tasks would not tire me out. But I can’t live in wishful thinking. I have accepted that this is my new normal and am now focused on making my few spoons make a lot of noise!
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