Spoon Theory

We have heard many times about being gentle with others as we don’t know what kind of journey they are walking. People may appear fine on the outside but may not be so fine on the inside. This has recently landed closer to home than I would have wished. My granddaughter has been diagnosed with a chronic and sometimes debilitating illness. The impact of this illness on her life has been significant and, at times, heart-breaking. In watching my daughter help her daughter navigate these difficult waters, I have come to be much more aware that there are many such illnesses that people are trying to manage and still live their lives. We really don’t know who might be having that struggle because on the outside, they can look just fine.

When things look fine on the “outside”, it can be hard to find real understanding for what someone is going through. Christine Miserandino found a way to help others understand. She has Lupus. In trying to convey to her best friend what having Lupus has meant to her, she developed the “spoon theory”. The theory is that when we are ill, we only have so many spoons to use in a day. For those of us who are blessed with health, we get up with energy and motivation (starting out with an unlimited number of spoons to be used in the day),giving us unlimited possibilities and energy to conquer our day in whatever way we please. For those who are chronically ill, they know they have a limited number of spoons each day. It takes a spoon to get up, a spoon to get dressed, a spoon to fix hair, a spoon to fix breakfast . . . and by the time one might get him/herself out the house for the day, the spoons have been half spent. The prioritizing of everything is needed to get the important things accomplished. (Miserandino, 2003)

The interesting thing about this spoon theory is that Christine Miserandino created it back in 2003 to explain the reality of living with a chronic illness. From that time #spoonie or “I am a spoonie.” has become a common term for those with chronic illness. On her Facebook page, ButYouDon’tLookSick.com, she has 133,000 followers. Chronic illnesses impact a lot of people. (Miserandino, 2003)

One gift that comes from this process of watching my granddaughter is that I know now, after watching my granddaughter struggle with the simple daily tasks of getting to school, taking the dogs for a walk, eating breakfast, or climbing the stairs at night, I have changed my perspective of my life. I know that my high energy life is a gift that I have taken for granted and so I want to assume nothing anymore. I want to realize that we want to have gratitude for the smallest of things as when we don’t have the capacity to do those small things, life becomes much harder and getting to the bigger things is not even in the picture. Perhaps you want to read the article that Christine has written about her daily life with Lupus. Or maybe you know of someone whohas a diagnosis that you really don’t understand, whether it is chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia or an autoimmune disease. Consider reaching out to learn more about the struggles that come from a chronic situation. Step into that person’s shoes a bit and try them on. It may give you compassion for others and gratitude for your own blessings.

Works Cited:
Miserandino, C. (2003). www.ButYouDon’tLookSick.com. Retrieved from www.ButYouDon’tLookSick.com: www.ButYouDon’tLookSick.com

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  • Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker
    Licensed Independent Mental Health Practitioner

  • Janie Pfeifer Watson, LICSW, is the founder and director of Wholeness Healing Center, a mental health practice in Grand Island, Nebraska with remote sites in Broken Bow and Kearney. Her expertise encompasses a broad range of areas, including depression, anxiety, attachment and bonding, coaching, couples work, mindfulness, trauma, and grief. She views therapy as an opportunity to learn more about yourself as you step more into being your authentic self. From her perspective this is part of the spiritual journey; on this journey, she serves as a mirror for her clients as they get to know themselves—and, ultimately, to love themselves.


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