If you think I’m talking about flatware, this paragraph is for you. “Out of spoons,” in this case, is a reference to Spoon Theory, which is a method of explaining life with chronic illness and the way it can impact day-to-day life. Essentially, spoons represent energy. Someone without chronic conditions has many, many spoons to use throughout the day, and can reliably replenish their supply with things like cat naps, coffee, a leisure activity, or eating. People with chronic illness have a much more limited number of spoons, and must carefully evaluate what they will use those spoons on each day. This is why someone who is healthy may not think about the energy it takes to get dressed, prepare a quick meal, or drive to an appointment, whereas someone with chronic illness has to think it through and prioritize what has to happen, what could or should happen, and what will just have to wait another day. There are lots of infographics about Spoon Theory online that break it down. This one was made with depression in mind, but is applicable to most chronic conditions in one way or another. The image below was made by Dysautonomia International.
Before chronic illness, I thrived on busyness. For a long time, I tried to maintain that momentum, working multiple jobs and keeping up with several extracurriculars and managing a home and going to school full-time and having some semblance of a social life while learning to manage chronic pain and PTSD. I fought desperately to maintain the same kind of life I was used to, never resting or slowing down. Inevitably, it caught up with me.
As my symptoms increased in number and severity, I have had to learn to prioritize rest and find ways to maximize my spoon usage. This is part of what sparked my choice to ruthlessly pursue minimalism, because I no longer had the energy to maintain everything I did and was supposed to have. I don’t have energy to waste washing clothes I didn’t wear, preparing food I don’t like, or cleaning space I don’t use. I’m not a killjoy and I have plenty of things that I don’t “need,” but that’s because I’m not trying to be the extreme minimalist that owns no furniture or can fit all their items in a backpack. I’m trying to be the kind of minimalist that can have a friend over without having to reorganize and remove knick-knacks, with a capsule wardrobe that makes getting dressed easier, and with a fridge that makes meal prep easy.
I’ve also learned to combine tasks whenever possible. I get the mail and check for packages while I walk my dog, and use that walk as a warm-up for my physical therapy exercises. I start cold brew while food is in the microwave. Little combinations and forms of multi-tasking like that help me minimize the time upright that each task requires, which is especially helpful during a flare.
Still, there are days that I am especially low on spoons. On those days – like today – I have to prioritize. My doctor’s appointment is a necessity, going for a walk is not (and the weather is kind of crappy anyway). I want to work and build my career, but I can do that while laying back on a heat pad. I have to eat, but I can microwave leftovers instead of making a whole new meal. I can handle going on a fun dinner date, but I can’t be the one driving or planning. A couple years ago this would have driven me absolutely insane, but I am learning to be patient with myself and rest when I run out of spoons.
When I run out of spoons, I curl up with a glass or mug of whatever takes the least effort, curl up with a blanket, and soak up the quiet. I put on a favorite old podcast or re-read a favorite book that doesn’t take a lot of effort, but lets me feel a little less drained and life feel a little less sucky. I could try to force myself to do more, but at best that ends up with sub-par work, and I know I’m better off resting up so I can start with my full spoon count the next day, and do what I need and want to then.
I’m almost out of spoons today. That’s okay. I will rest, and hopefully wake up with a couple more tomorrow.