Who Is…a Spoonie?

When I first heard anyone refer to themselves as a spoonie, I was, needless to say, confused. I thought of spoons as tools to use for eating a lot of our food, not for something we called ourselves.

I would learn later on that the people who called themselves spoonies were people whose experiences with chronic illness (whether physical or mental) could be described with this thing called spoon theory.

But what is spoon theory?

Spoon theory, a term first coined by Christine Miserandino when describing her experience with lupus, is a shorthand for describing how, because of someone’s illness or disability, they have a very limited amount of physical and/or mental energy to do tasks throughout the day (in other words, a very limited number “spoons”) before they are just unable to do any more tasks.[1] For example, let’s say that you have only twelve spoons for the day based on how you feel and how much energy you have, and driving to and from work is three spoons, cooking for the family is four spoons, and work itself is three spoons. That leaves you with only two spoons, and that’s before we’ve even gotten to hygiene, housecleaning, taking care of any pets, laundry, or any other of the basic day-to-day tasks that many of us may take for granted (before we even get to socializing with friends or anything like that).

This shorthand spoon theory is supposed to help people who don’t have that shared spoonie experience (like me) understand that people with many illnesses have limited energy to do the tasks they need to do, let alone the tasks they’d like to do. Through having that understanding of spoon theory and the experiences of spoonies, some of us, particularly those of us who (like me) don’t have that shared experience of living with a chronic illness or other disability, can become more understanding of our friends and family members who do have a variety of illnesses or disabilities. Learning about spoon theory has certainly helped me become more understanding of friends whose day-to-day experiences with various illnesses or disabilities could be described with spoon theory.

All that being said, I would be interested in hearing from any friends or other readers who have experiences with various chronic illnesses and disabilities. Do you, as well, find it helpful for able-bodied people to have an understanding of spoon theory, particularly as it relates to your illness? If you don’t find it helpful in your case, why not? I know that not all illnesses are the same, so I’m interested in hearing from people who have a variety of illnesses, whether it relates to physical health, mental health, or both.

[1] In this piece, Miserandino also explains how spoon theory works: https://cdn.totalcomputersusa.com/butyoudontlooksick.com/uploads/2010/02/BYDLS-TheSpoonTheory.pdf

20 Replies to “Who Is…a Spoonie?”

  1. This is one of the best theories I’ve ever seen to describe how someone who looks ok on the outside can suddenly be without the ability to move. I’ve been living with stage IV metastatic breast cancer for three years and I’m in constant pain. The intensity of my pain is something I never know beforehand. Sometimes I have an inkling but pretty much everything is a game time decision. That can be confusing and difficult for others, sometimes even more so for me! I’m still not used to being the sick one, the one who everyone needs to adjust for rather than the one doing the adjusting. It’s the most humbling experience I’ve ever been in before.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m glad that this theory helps to explain some of the ways that breast cancer affects you, even as it affects you in ways that may puzzle or confuse people (you included).

      Out of curiosity, have you noticed any theories that are as good as (if not better than) this to describe how someone who looks okay on the outside can suddenly be without the ability to do certain things?


    1. I’m glad that, from the sound of things, spoon theory has helped people visualize what it’s like for you to live with autoimmune disorders and severe migraines. I know that the theory was created with trying to (hopefully) give people an opportunity to be understood better, and it sounds like spoon theory has helped people understand what you go through a little better.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I think we can all benefit from understanding the spoon theory. I have a friend with MS and I know that doing certain things will have the capability of knocking her out for days. I get migraines and while they are not chronic(thank God) when I do get them my abilities to do anything are reduced and when they are one I still have reduced ability.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I found the spoon theory very helpful getting my friends to understand why I may have to cancel at the last minute, why I say ‘ask me on the day, and even then it’s iffy”. Right now I am self-isolating, which is pretty much my life anyway, except now I have no homemakers to come and clean and do laundry and shop. So I try mightily to keep up with dishes, do minimal cooking, wash things by hand in the bathroom sink, and order groceries to be delivered. General cleaning just does not happen. No one has vacuumed in almost a month, since the last time I had a homemaker. ‘Homemakers’ is what they are called by the agencies they work for. I really like the fork theory, too, because some days the cat acts up, my laptop is slower than slow and oh, so frustrating, the filter pops off the Brita sink attachment and spews water everywhere, there is nothing handy that can just be eaten without prep, and okay, I am stabbed to the point of looking like a pincushion and I just have to go couch and read on my Kindle. Somehow, when you think of life in terms of these theories, it makes it easier to accept your limitations. Sometimes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad that spoon theory has been helpful in getting your friends to understand why you may have to cancel at the last minute.

      I’ve heard of fork theory as well, actually through fellow blogger (and one of my readers) Ashley. I think fork theory (at least the way Ashley explains it) could be useful for some at least, but fork theory doesn’t seem to be known as much yet as spoon theory.


  4. I have fibromyalgia as well a few mental illness problems that make me call myself a spoonie. I remember the first time I read Christine’s explanation, I felt like I had hit gold. THAT’S IT!!!! The best illustration ever. And sadly there are just too many of us that fall into this race of spoonies. It is invisible illnesses, you can’t see what is wrong with me. You can’t see my pain, fatigue, fear, any of it. But what a blessing it was to come across something I could share with people to make it kind of make sense. You’re never going to get it full on, and I wouldn’t wish it on you! But it gives you an idea. I sometimes wonder how many spoons I had in a day before I got sick, but I am very careful with them now.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad that Spoon Theory has helped others understand what you’re going through with your fibro and your mental illnesses. It seems like Spoon Theory has explained what so many others are going through with various illnesses, as well.

      Liked by 1 person

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