My daughter Kate introduced me to an interesting concept recently: the idea that for people with a chronic illness, they have a certain amount of energy to do things on a given day, and they can only get more energy by resting. How do you measure that energy? The idea was explained by Christine Miserandino, on her blog But You Don’t Look Sick as the Spoon Theory, and apparently, it is a popular metaphor in certain corners of the interwebs, but I had never heard it before.
The idea is, on a given day, you have a certain number of spoons per day to represent the energy you have available. Like a virtual gas tank. To get up and dressed and ready for the day, it takes 4 spoons. Then you get to yoga class, and I have you holding down dog while I ramble on and on about intention and rainbows and unicorns. How many spoons does that take? Then you have whatever else is on tap for your day, like work, meetings, taking care of your family, cooking, eating, driving to soccer, gymnastics, martial arts, chores, before you can rest. Each activity takes some spoons. Overnight, you recoup your them.
Okay, fair enough, so how many spoons do you start the day with? For healthy people, a lot. Not an infinite amount, obviously, because usually most people do fall into bed at night tired. But a large enough amount that most people don’t have to prioritize much. For example, I might decide to have my son buy school lunch rather than stopping to buy a jar of peanut butter on the way home from work. So how many spoons is that, for a full day teaching middle school, being relatively social, exercising, cooking, eating? 50 spoons? 100?
If you have a chronic illness, you might have 12 spoons for the whole day. You have to prioritize your days so you have enough energy to get home. Miserandino mentions that spoons can be borrowed from the future, but that starting out the next day at a deficit is a bad idea. There’s also the question of not being able to know exactly how many spoons you have- what happens when you think you have a lot, but then the stupid yoga teacher (who, me?) holds you in down dog forever on your bad wrists (more about bad wrists in a future post). What then?
Well, for starters, take a break. The stupid yoga teacher isn’t holding you there, you are. You can choose to rest in child’s pose just like you chose to put on that sports bra and come to class.
We can recognize that spoon theory is a useful metaphor for all of us. It helps understand people with a chronic illness better, but we can also know that sooner or later, we will be measuring energy with spoons. We may get a nasty virus, or break a bone, or need abdominal surgery. We might come down with something where we’ll get better, but we won’t get well.
Even if right now you don’t have a chronic illness, you can recognize that you get tired and need a break. We tend to expect a lot from ourselves, and in that list of responsibilities a few paragraphs back, work, meetings, peanut butter, I forgot to mention taking care of yourself.
When you do make it to yoga, you don’t have to stay in down dog, while I keep on talking; you can decide to take a break.
Heck, you don’t even have to come to yoga. I don’t pretend to be an expert on chronic illness, but I’d like to open up the conversation- what is your take? Do you have a metaphor you like better for how much energy you have? Feel free to reply in the comments.
Citizens of NoCo- I am subbing for Debbie of State of Grace Yoga at 9:00 AM Sunday, Mother’s day. Please come for a gentle hatha class! Location: Oriental Moo Do School, 2981 North Garfield, Loveland (next to the dollar store).