So what exactly is ‘the spoon theory’?
The spoon theory is a disability metaphor used to explain the reduced amount of energy available for activities of daily living and productive tasks that may result from disability or chronic illness. Spoons are a tangible unit of measurement used to track how much energy a person has throughout a given day. Each activity requires a given number of spoons, which will only be replaced as the person “recharges” through rest. A person who runs out of spoons has no choice but to rest until their spoons are replenished.
One of the tenets of the spoon theory is that many people with disabilities or chronic illness must carefully plan their daily activities to conserve their spoons, while most people without any disabilities or chronic illnesses do not need to worry about running out. Because healthy people do not feel the impact of spending spoons for mundane tasks such as bathing and getting dressed, they may not realize the amount of energy expended by chronically ill or disabled people to get through the day.
Spoons are widely discussed within autoimmune, disability, and other chronic illness communities, but the concept of spoons is otherwise considered a neologism. The term Spoonie is sometimes used to refer to a person with a chronic illness that can be explained with the spoon theory.
The term spoons was coined by Christine Miserandino in 2003 in her essay “The Spoon Theory”, which is posted on her website ButYouDon’tLookSick.com. In it, she recalls a conversation in which her close friend and roommate asked her a vague question about what having lupus feels like. The two were in a diner and Miserandino took spoons from nearby tables to use as a visual aid. She handed her friend twelve spoons and asked her to describe the events of a typical day, taking a spoon away for each activity. In this way, she demonstrated that her spoons, or units of energy, must be rationed to avoid running out before the end of the day. Miserandino also asserted that it is possible to exceed one’s daily limit, but that doing so means borrowing from the future and may result in not having enough spoons the next day.
For some people spoons may be replaced after rest or a night of sleep. However, people with chronic diseases, such as autoimmune diseases, and various disabilities may have concurrent sleep disorders which result in a particularly low supply of energy.[original research?] Some disabled people may not be fatigued by the disabilities themselves, but by the constant effort required to pass as non-disabled.
- Christine Miserandino (2003). “The Spoon Theory”. But You Don’t Look Sick.
- Emily Band (2012-09-24). “How the spoon theory helps those suffering chronic pain and fatigue”. The Guardian.
- “The Spoon Theory”. FibroAction. 2008-06-05. Archived from the original on 2008-09-08.
- Meredith Daniels (2011-05-01). “Spooning Out Understanding”. NY Newsday.
- Lashley, Felissa R. (March 2003). “A REVIEW OF SLEEP IN SELECTED IMMUNE AND AUTOIMMUNE DISORDERS” (PDF). Holistic Nursing Practice. Retrieved 27 January 2016.
- Brune, J.; Wilson, D. (2013). Disability and Passing: Blurring the Lines of Identity. United States: Temple University Press. ISBN 1-439909-79-2.