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For most people, things like getting out of bed in the morning, taking a shower, and running errands come easily. On the other hand, those who live with chronic pain or a mental illness might not always have the energy to do these things. It’s tough to explain this to a healthy person, which is why blogger Christine Miserandino of the website butyoudontlooksick.com coined the spoon theory.

 

What is the Spoon Theory?

The spoon theory is a metaphor that explains the limited energy that people with chronic illness often have. The idea is that a person can divide the amount into measurable units. The theory uses spoons as these units, and that every action that is taken during the day uses a certain number of spoons. For example, someone with major depressive disorder might find it difficult to get out of bed in the morning, take a shower, or even sit down and eat a healthy meal on certain days. Getting out of bed might use up one or two spoons, while taking a shower might use up a few more. As long as that person has plenty of spoons, they can accomplish what they intend to do during the day. Once they run out of spoons, they will find it difficult to do anything at all unless they can rest and replenish their spoons. 

The number of spoons that a person has depends on the day and their chronic illness. Some days are worse than others, and a person could use up all of their spoons just to take a shower and get ready for the day. They would most likely have to stay home and rest until they feel better. On other days, that same person might only use one or two spoons to take a shower and go to work. They might in better spirits on that day, or their chronic pain might not be that severe. They have spoons to spare, and they can more or less function like a healthy adult. 

In any case, the spoon theory has been very helpful in explaining what life is like for someone with an invisible illness. Many people who live with these conditions feel ashamed when they cannot function, but being able to quantify what they are capable of does make things a little easier. If you live with an invisible illness, ask your doctor about the spoon theory. It is more of a way of thinking than what someone would call therapy, but it has helped countless people since it was first coined back in 2003.