Many chronically ill people eventually learn about the “Spoon Theory” of chronic fatigue, which is basically a way to explain to healthy people what it’s like when you no longer possess (or never had) virtually unlimited mental and physical energy to do what you want. Because it’s always the responsibility of the weakest and sickest to explain ourselves to healthy people innit. A person’s spoons are a visual representation of their physical and mental energy reserves for the day, where a physical or mental activity “costs” one or more spoons to perform and when the spoons are gone the sick person has no choice but to stop acting and rest. With adequate rest and recovery time, hopefully their spoon reserves will replenish by the next day but that is not always the case. Many days, seriously ill people may have no spoons at all.
Spoon Theory was described and named by a chronically ill woman and it is pretty accurate in my own experience. For the first time in my life, after putting myself through law school, studying for and passing the bar exam, and then working more than full time in a stressful and demanding career in addition to a lifetime of “adulting” meaning maintaining a household and nurturing various parasitic males I no longer have anywhere near the energy I once had and can now barely get anything done, regardless of urgency or import. It’s not a matter of how important anything is anymore, nor how badly I need to or want to do it. I am not in control of that now and it is debilitating and terrifying.
Healthy people have no idea that’s even possible and they often refuse to believe it. And that’s an example of ableism, or discrimination in policy and practice against disabled people and in favor of healthy people. Young people seem acutely aware of the concept of spoons, chronic illness and ableism while older people seem to have not a clue; the implications of that are terrifying but I will leave that for another day.
I recently attempted to describe my own limitations to my mother, and even though as a nurse who claims to have rigorously studied the issues and thinks she knows everything there is to know about health, wellness and chronic illness (LOL) she had never even heard of “spoons” or spoon theory. Considering that that information is literally everywhere if one only cares to look, her research skills get an F. Her practical knowledge gets an F. Empathy F. Effort F. Fucks given on behalf of the chronically ill F. Fucks given about me and my new normal F. Decent human being D+. Maybe. Maybe there’s hope, I think to myself, and at least a D+ is better than an F in that department, although the D+ is likely generous. It’s a pretty important department and I like to think it matters but maybe it really doesn’t. Maybe there is just no way that healthy people will ever understand or care what it’s like to be seriously chronically ill no matter how decent they are but I decide to try.