No, I’m not asking you to go count your silverware drawer, although you’re more than welcome to if that’s your thing. I’m talking about spoon theory.
What is spoon theory?
For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, spoon theory is a way to help explain/understand living with chronic illness. Feel free to go right ahead and click that there link for the full story. If you don’t have the time or aren’t interested enough, here’s the long and short of it: the difference between being sick and healthy is that people who are sick “have to make choices or consciously think about things when the rest of the world doesn’t have to.” In essence, people who are sick have a certain number of spoons to use in a day. It takes a certain number of spoons to get out of bed, shower, walk downstairs … basically all the normal parts of a day. It takes even more spoons to go walk around the block or run errands. (Seriously, go read Christine Miserandino’s explanation of spoon theory, since she came up with it. Do it.)
Spoon theory came into existence because Christine has lupus. It has helped countless numbers of people with illnesses/conditions/disabilities explain what their life is like to other people. For example, you may see me eating breakfast and wonder why I’m already so sluggish and hurting. But I know that I had to give up a spoon to get out of bed, another to walk down the stairs, a handful to do yoga, and another one to make my breakfast.
Contrary to what you might be thinking, though, explaining spoon theory is not the main focus on this post. So now those of you who haven’t heard of it before have it explained, and those of you who have should be ready for the next portion of this post.
Who gets to use spoon theory?
There has been some debate in the chronic illness community over who gets to use spoon theory. Since it was developed by someone who has lupus, it has always applied to those who have autoimmune diseases. It also applies to anyone who claims the umbrella term “sick,” as Christine uses that term in her explanation.
The real debate comes from whether or not people with mental illness get to use spoon theory. Some people who have a physical illness are deeply offended when someone with mental illness uses it.
I can understand both sides of the argument, but I am inclined to lean towards one. Many people from the physical illness side don’t see how spoon theory can apply to mental illness. (For the sake of my typing and your reading, I’m going to abbreviate. PI = physical illness and MI = mental illness, cool?) Some people with PI also see those with MI claiming spoon theory as encroaching on their space.
Because let me make this extremely clear – it is not okay to use spoon theory if you are a normal person not dealing with a chronic health concern that affects your day-to-day abilities. The entire point of it is to explain to people who don’t deal with it what life is like. It does not apply to you if you do not fall under that category. Do not use it. Do not claim it. Even if you are joking, please do not use it. It may not seem like much to you, but we take it very seriously.
It might seem silly that people with PI (including myself) feel so strongly about it. That is because spoon theory is something that has united people with chronic illness – we call ourselves spoonies. You may have seen me use #spoonie on some of my tweets. That’s because this is an identifier used across the world for people living with chronic pain/illness.
I can understand why some people are really against those with MI using spoon theory. In fact, when I first heard that people with no PI whatsoever were using it, I felt pretty upset. And then I thought about it.
I don’t know a lot about many different MI, but I do know about anxiety and depression, and I can see how spoon theory can apply there. It is incredibly impressive for someone with severe depression to get out of bed, have a shower, and walk down the street to get a cup of coffee. I know that if my anxiety is bad, there’s only so much I can take. I have a whole lot more spoons for anxiety than I do for pain, but I can see that the theory can apply there.
Like I said, I don’t know a lot of a lot of different mental illnesses. But in my opinion, if the theory can apply to two of them, it can apply to others.
So. What’s your take? Do you think that spoon theory can apply to mental illness? Do you think that it should?