Three spoons representing the spoon theory.

Spoon Theory For Depression And Anxiety

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Have you heard of the spoon theory yet? I just learned about it and I must say I am completely blown away with how it applies to mental illness.

What Is The Spoon Theory?

The Spoon Theory is an awesome concept created by Christine Miserandino, the owner of Butyoudon’tlooksick.com. According to her page, it started when a friend at a restaurant asked her what it was like to be sick with Lupus.

After a few seconds of thoughts, she went and grabbed as many spoons as she could and handed them to her friend. As her friend counted them, she explained that each spoon represented the things she could do that day.

You see, unlike those who are healthy, people who suffer from chronic illnesses, like Lupus, have a very limited amount of energy. As a result, they have to choose very wisely how to spend it.

That day, as Christine sat with her friend, she explained that getting up costs one spoon. Making and eating a meal costs a spoon or two. Getting dressed costs a spoon. Showering may take two. As she continued, her friend became quite emotional realizing how difficult life could be for someone with chronic illness.

What Does This Have To Do With Anxiety or Depression?

While I am aware that some people don’t understand this, and many will argue against it, anxiety and depression are sometimes classified as chronic illnesses. In my own life, I can relate perfectly to what Christine is saying.

While I am not limited by physical health problems, I only have so much mental strength before I curl up into the fetal position and call it a day.

How Do I Spend My Spoons?

I have seen a few different images of the “cost” of each daily activity, so I thought I would share with you a few of the things I do daily and how much they “cost”.

If you look at this graphic, you may think, “But you pretty much have to do most of those things every day! How can you do that if you have only twelve spoons?! That’s kind of the point – I can’t.

Each and every day, I have to choose between what to do. Some of them are obvious. I mean, I have to get out of bed. Laundry and the dishes are pretty important too. That alone means I’ve already lost 8 spoons and I haven’t even eaten yet.

On days that we homeschool, my spoons are gone. I am mentally exhausted and generally can’t handle any more than that.

When I drag myself to church, there’s just not enough energy left to do the housework that day.

How Can I Get More Spoons?

According to Christine, you can’t. Of course, with some issues, and I believe with anxiety and depression, there are things you can do to improve your situation in the long term but as far as right this second, today, you are stuck with the number of spoons you wake up with.

There is one exception though. You can borrow spoons from another day. That is honestly what I have to do on church days because it just takes so much from me and 12 spoons aren’t enough. I pay for it the next day, however, as I have to start out with much fewer spoons.

How Do I Spend My Spoons?

I would like to answer this question based on four separate types of days. The following will show my “spoon choices” for a homeschool day, a cleaning day, an errand day, and a church day. I do want to say here that each day and priorities are different, so things are never 100% the same from day to day.

I also want to say that I typically have more than “12 spoons.” Rather, I would say that I have 15. So that is what the following is based on.

Homeschool Day

  • Get Out of Bed – 1
  • Read my Bible – 1
  • Unload the Dishwasher – 1
  • Load the Dishwasher – 2
  • Start Laundry – 1
  • Fold and Put away laundry – 2
  • Make and Eat Meals – 2
  • Homeschool – 4

And at that point we are at 14, leaving me with one spoon left. Depending on if it’s at the beginning or the end of the week, I may choose to borrow a spoon or two from the next day so I can have enough energy to either do some light housework, play with my kids, or take a shower.

Towards the end of the week, however, I tend to be short on spoons and so I will simply take an afternoon nap to try to recoup a little bit of energy.

Did you notice that no one even gets dressed on these days? Obviously, sometimes we do, but more often than not homeschool days are “PJ days.”

Cleaning Day

We homeschool 4 days a week, so typically the first day of the week is a “cleaning day.” On these days, we don’t do school, but rather my focus is on cleaning up the mess from the week.

  • Get Out of Bed – 1
  • Get dressed – 1
  • Unload and Load Dishwasher – 3
  • Wash, Dry, and Put Away Laundry – 3
  • Serious Cleaning – 4
  • Make and Eat Meals – 2

Errand Days

Because of my driving anxiety, errand days are¬†always¬†days that my husband is home as he works as our chauffeur. That being said, these days don’t happen often and are very, very difficult on me but thankfully he handles some of the issues such as cooking and helping with the kids.

  • Get Out Of Bed – 1
  • Get Dressed – 1
  • Get Kids Dressed – 2
  • Go Somewhere – 3 or 4 depending on where we have to go
  • Shower – 3
  • Light Cleaning – 3

At that point, I may have enough spoons left over to sit down and talk with my husband on his off day if I am absolutely lucky.

Church Days

These are by far the most difficult days I have and that is because I am on my own generally with no help. I also suffer from a lot of anxiety and depression triggers at church so it is really, really difficult. That being said, these days lunches are more like Ramen Noodles, bowls of cereal, or re-heated leftovers because making truly nutritious food is nearly impossible.

  • Get Out of Bed – 1
  • Get Dressed – 1
  • Get Kids Dressed – 2
  • Go To Church – 4
  • Make and Eat Meals – 2
  • Take A Shower – 3

And again, I’m at 13 spoons so I can borrow spoons from another day, or I can collapse into a nap and try to conserve for the other days that I will need those two leftover spoons (If I haven’t already borrowed from them before the start of that day).

Determining To Do Better

Despite Christine’s statement that you can’t get more spoons, I believe for those of us who suffer from anxiety and depression that isn’t exactly true. No, we can’t just create more out of the drop of a hat. But there are some things we can do to improve our capacities. Here are some things that I have found to be truly helpful in “giving me more spoons” over the long-term:

  • Staying hydrated
  • Staying up to date on my medications/supplements
  • Making sure I really do eat
  • Focusing on my thought habits and patterns

What About You?

How many “spoons” do you have every day? How do you use them? Let me know in the comments below.

 

4 comments

  1. Melissa Cassidy

    I really identify with this. Especially the extra energy needed to go to church. It doesn’t feel very Christian-like does it? I’ve just recently switched churches and find that the format of the new one is less stressful than the old one because it only has one Sunday AM service instead of two back to back. Had no idea that was stressing me out but it was! Great article! Saving it!

  2. Sara Beeksma

    I can definitely identify with this! Mental Illness is just that. Illness and illness is limiting. This is a beautiful analogy and something I hope more people are able to see as I think it’s a great way to open the eyes of those who may not understand in a gentle way. Thank you for sharing these thoughts!

  3. Jennifer

    Thanks so much for your kind words! I’ve found with all illnesses, mental or physical, it is very difficult for people who haven’t experienced it to understand (in fact, I sometimes don’t understand myself lol). Please feel free to share with your friends/family in the hopes that it can help someone else.

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