Spoons and Forks
Updated: Feb 4, 2022
Despite this being the season of holiday dinners, I’m not talking flatware today. Instead, I want to discuss a common term that is used by people living with chronic illness, self-described “Spoonies”. Spoon Theory was developed in 2003 by blogger and chronic illness advocate Christine Miserandino to help her explain to her friends and family what it's like living with lupus.
Christine used the visualization of spoons to represent units of energy. A person starts with a certain number of spoons on a given day (the total number of which can vary day to day) and each activity uses a given number of spoons. For example, if I start my day with 12 spoons and showering uses 3 spoons, getting dressed uses 2 spoons, and going to work uses 6 spoons, I’m down to 1 spoon by the time I’m done work for the day. So much for cooking supper (4 spoons). Ordering take-out again and vegging on the couch it is (1 spoon). Once a Spoonie is out of spoons, they are out of energy and must rest in order to avoid causing their body harm or instigating a flare-up of their symptoms.
Sleep is usually the best way to renew spoons, but as I talked about a few weeks ago in my post on sleep and stress, we often don’t get the amount or quality of sleep our bodies need to function at a minimum, let alone optimally! Depending on the person, other activities may be capable of adding spoons (enjoying a favourite hobby, spending time with loved ones or a pet, meditating or doing gentle yoga).
The opposite side of this is Fork Theory, a complementary idea thought up by Jen Rose, a blogger living with both physical and mental health conditions, in 2018. This more recent twist on Spoon Theory is a play on the phrase "Stick a fork in me, I'm done" and uses forks to represent external stressors. Everyone has a limit of how many forks they can cope with, and when you're sick or in pain, that number is probably lower than when you are feeling better/well. Very stressful events can even be multiple forks. And forks can really drain your drawer full of spoons quickly.
Overall, I think the best use of Spoon and Fork Theories are not necessary to literally put numbers on these units of energy or stress, but to use it as a general guide towards self-awareness and as a useful tool for explaining to others in a way that might make them get it, even just a little bit.