Spoons for Mental Illness?

By now most of you out there have heard of The Spoon Theory, by Christine Miserandino. She opened up the discussion about having an invisible illness, what it was like living with something that hurt but didn’t make you look sick. Since then millions have started using the words “I am out of spoons” for all manner of illnesses.

Yet, there are people who still cock their heads or roll their eyes when someone with a mental illness says they are out of spoons. How can a mental illness even need spoons? I’m going to answer that.

So, the spoon theory says you start out the day with just so many spoons to complete tasks and do self-care. Well, in someone with a mental illness you may just start the day arguing with your brain as to the number of spoons you can have.

“I’m taking these spoons, you don’t need ’em. You can make do on just those.”

“But I have to give a presentation today. I need more spoons, give those back.”

“No. I’m keeping them. So there. Nyah.”

And then you have to negotiate using spoons for things that require you to really focus, think and respond. Like driving. Yes, driving takes a lot of concentration, but for someone with a mental illness, it can be lots harder and use up precious spoons.

“You just used up 10 spoons driving to your appointment.”

How am I going to drive back?”

Don’t ask me, you insisted on using your spoons.”

For someone who is struggling with mental illness, running out of spoons can lead to all sorts of bad things. Meltdowns. Crying jags. Stomach upset. Vomiting. Disconnection from reality. Hallucinations. Or just wanting to be away from people and noises in a classic ‘blanket fort’.

Trying to do things while negotiating with a mental illness can play havoc on any sort of well-being. Taking medications can only shore up the spoons you have, it cannot replace or add any.

“I’ve taken my meds today.”

“Oh good, you can use the spoons you have.”

“Great. Today I have to clean out my room, I can’t function or find things anymore.”

“On second thought, you shouldn’t do that. You don’t have enough spoons.”

Even if you want to do things, your brain may not want you to. And it starts taking spoons and flinging them everywhere. Oh look – shiny! Whereupon you cannot finish a task. And you get further lost in trying to sort out your life.

Spoons do apply to mental illness. And today I have just enough spoons to write this for all you out there.

2 thoughts on “Spoons for Mental Illness?

  1. Yes – Very true. As someone who’s spent most of their adult life with mental illness, I never really thought of the “spoons” metaphor as applying to me until you put it down here. Thank you for stretching my brian in a good way today.

  2. Yes – Very true. As someone who’s spent most of their adult life with mental illness, I never really thought of the “spoons” metaphor as applying to me until you put it down here. Thank you for stretching my brian in a good way today.

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