Spoon Theory

Spoon Theory And Living with Chronic Illness

Living with a chronic pain situation can be incredibly debilitating, especially during a flare-up. Some days just waking up can be a real challenge, with your batteries feeling drained before you’ve gotten out of bed. By the time you’ve showered, dressed, and found something else, you’re already ready to go back to sleep. Every day may not be like this, but it happens often enough to feel crippling. Spoon theory is one approach to explaining and understanding the lives of those living with chronic pain. Family Psychiatry & Therapy helps educate our patients suffering from chronic pain and their families to help them better understand the chronic pain patient experience.

Spoons And Forks: Taking Chronic Pain A Bite At A Time

Even if you don’t live with chronic pain, you can conceive of how exhausting it can be to be in significant pain. Even a mild amount of pain can steadily siphon away at your energy and leave you feeling ready to fall into bed at the end of the day. Those living with severe chronic pain rarely, if ever, experience a pain-free moment in their lives. Managing their energy every day is an essential part of their experience and critical to helping them ensure that as many needs are met as possible. Many chronic pain sufferers use the “Spoon Theory” to describe their experience and manage their day.

Spoon theory is a concept first developed by Christine Miserandino. The reason for spoons as a means of measurement was nothing more than a matter of circumstance. She was trying to describe her experience living with Lupus and how it impacted her ability to function each day. She was at a cafe then and grabbed a handful of spoons to represent her daily ability to do things. She noted that some days she started the day with more energy than others and thus got more spoons. On other days, she had almost no spoons to get by with.

She described how her choices about what to accomplish each day were based on the spoon cost of those activities and how many she had to spare. The cost of these activities wasn’t static either; on bad pain days, even simple tasks could cost her multiple spoons. To make matters worse, things that helped restore other people’s spoons, such as showering, cost her. If she ran out of spoons in a day, sometimes she’d have to borrow against tomorrow’s spoons, leaving her at a deficit. To make matters worse, borrowing against tomorrow’s spoons could leave her starting the day in worse pain, meaning that the deficit was being counted against an already shortened supply.

Those who live with chronic pain and benefit from using spoon theory often suffer from conditions like the following:

  • Migraines
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Back Pain
  • Lupus
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis

However, those suffering from mental health concerns, such as depression and anxiety, can also find the spoon theory helpful. So what are forks? Forks are a concept introduced by the internet to indicate when an activity doesn’t just cost spoons but actively aggravates the symptoms of your chronic health condition. Rather than just costing their limited energy, these activities actively hurt them.

Learn More About Spoon Theory With Our Team

If you’re living with chronic pain, or have a family member who is, schedule a consultation with a member of our team by calling 201-977-2889. We can introduce the spoon theory and help the entire family gain an understanding of the chronic pain sufferers experience. 

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Helene A. Miller / And Other Providers
Family Psychiatry and Therapy brings compassion, understanding, and skilled care to patients throughout New Jersey. Our team of mental health professionals focuses on providing a positive and uplifting experience that aids our patients in facing life’s toughest challenges.