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  • Writer's pictureDr. de Castro

How Spoons Help Explain Chronic Illness

If you work with, have or know someone who has chronic illness, you may have heard of the "Spoon theory" or people using their "spoons"

But what is it?

The spoon theory is a metaphor for those with chronic illness, helping to explain the daily struggle to their loved ones.

For those lucky enough not to deal with chronic issues, they can sometimes have a difficult time understanding why their loved one might be struggling.

"You don't look sick"

"You were fine a few hours ago, what happened?"

"You're just lazy"

"It can't be THAT bad"

"You're just trying to get out of ______ (insert home/school/work here"

Those of us with chronic issues hear things like this all the time. And trust me when I tell you, it sucks.

We don't WANT to feel exhausted

We don't WANT to feel excruciating pain out of nowhere

We DO WANT to feel good, and contribute to the world around us. but sometimes, we just don't have it in us.

For me, this happened on a monthly basis, that week leading up to my period. Usually just some normal PMS symptoms for most, but for me, I'm in so much pain that I can't eat, or move, sometimes even breathing hurts. I can't eat even though I'm so hungry. It goes on for days. And then...boom I'm ok again, like nothing happened.

This is a common struggle of those with diseases like chronic fatigue, endometriosis, adrenal issues, fibromyaglia and a host of others

So here is where spoons come in...

In 2003, writer Christine Miserandino came up with this way to describe how having Lupus impacts her daily living.

Basically, people with chronic pain or disease start each day with a set number of metaphorical "spoons". Each spoon represents the physical/mental energy to complete a task.

Smaller tasks...taking a shower, taking your meds...cost only one spoon. But BIG things like, cleaning, cooking or big mental tasks like work or school take more spoons, maybe 3 or 4.

So if we start with 12 spoons each time (for example) we have to pace ourselves so we don't run out of spoons too fast, and burn ourselves out. If we run out of spoons in a day, we start borrowing from the next day...and get hit with paying the price.

Let's use me has an example, and them 12 spoons we mentioned.

I need to get up, take the dog for a walk, feed myself and get ready for work. All in about spoons.

Then I need to go to work...if it's a light patient day, I get to use less spoons, but if it's packed, or there are complicated patients, I could use the rest of my spoons up at work alone.

If I'm lucky, when I get home, I have a spoon or two left to make dinner, and spend time with my partner and pup. If not, I'm borrowing from tomorrow, and when I wake up I can already feel the fatigue and flare up of my symptoms on the way.

So if you or someone you love has chronic illness, remember the spoons. Self pacing and knowing you limits is key to managing life, and avoiding crashes. Sometimes they will happen, and it is important to have a support system and self care habits in practice that can maybe add a spoon or two to your daily quota.

Chronic pain and illness can be debilitating. And it's not just the physical pain itself. It's the exhaustion. It's the mental drain. It's the lack of concentration or ability to focus. It's the social isolation.

You're not alone if you deal with chronic issues. Use this metaphor to help explain to your loved ones how and when you need support. And stay tuned for more ways to help with chronic issues on the blog.

Hope some of this information helps you make informed decisions about your health, advocate for yourself, and live your most blissful life!

In joy and happiness,

Dr. Samantha de Castro DC, BKin

DISCLAIMER: This information is intended to be educational, NOT medical advice. Always communicate with your health care professional about your health when making changes.

Dr. Samantha De Castro is a licensed chiropractor and doctor of chiropractic, but she is not YOUR chiropractor. She can not diagnose you. This does not replace being seen by your own health care provider. This information should not be used too self-diagnose or self-treat. This is informational ONLY and we do not accept responsibility for any outcomes.

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