What does “Spoonie” mean? The Spoon Theory explained!

So to understand why I named this community “The Spoonies Community”: this blog post will answer the question “What does “spoonie” mean?”. I’ve only started hearing about it a few years back and actually only once I became a part of the chronic illness community. Which is a shame, because I am loving this theory and explanation! It is a very visual way to learn about the possibilities and limitations of living with a chronic illness. So here we go:

Photo of different colours and sizes of spoons, which are used as a metaphor to describe the Spoon Theory by Christine Miserandino
What does “Spoonie” mean? Spoons Theory explained!

What is a “Spoonie”?

A spoonie is what people dealing with a chronic illness or disorder within the community call themselves. This chronic illness can be anything: from chronic pain to lupus, from chronic fatigue syndrome to endometriosis. You name it. I actually see it as a loving, supporting way of referring to each other. We all know what limitations we have and what we go through. So don’t be ashamed to call someone a spoonie, as long as it is with the right intent! 

LOOKING FOR TIPS & TRICKS TO GET through the day, BEING A SPOONIE? THen click here to read the blog post

“The Spoon Theory” explained

You might wonder why it is called the Spoon theory. Well, just continue reading and then you will understand!

The “Spoon theory” is a visual metaphor for how much energy you have per day. Unfortunately, for people dealing with a chronic illness, there is no unlimited amount of energy. You only have a certain amount for the day and this amount changes per day: How did you sleep? Are you in pain waking up? Are you on your period? Did you have a busy day yesterday? These are all situations that might influence the amount of spoons you have on that day.

Every task you need to do during the day will take away a spoon (or several). Imagine having 12 spoons on a good day. Waking up and getting ready (without showering) will take away 1 spoon, making breakfast and going to work will take 2 spoons and work for 4 hours might take away 6 spoons. Now you only have 3 spoons left for the day and you still need to do groceries, cook, have dinner, go to the shops to get your mom a birthday present and go to bed. 3 spoons won’t be enough for all these activities, so this is where you need to decide what you will cancel and where you are going to spend your limited energy left on.

Do you always have the same amount of “spoons”?

Nope usually not! As I mentioned before, it really depends on external circumstances that you can’t always control how many spoons you have per day. 

If you had a bad night of sleep, wake up in a lot of pain, or had an argument with your partner the night before, you might wake up with only 6 spoons.

However, if you are well-rested, slept well for the week, have lower pain levels, you might have 15 spoons on the day! 

And this is exactly the reason why for us, spoonies, it can be difficult to plan ahead (and the reason why sometimes we cancel last-minute!). It really isn’t out of not wanting: you can really assume that we only cancel if our health is not allowing us to rock up and socialise. 

Photo of two hands holding a coffee. A good way to create that little moment for yourself to recharge and regain some "spoons". This is part of what "spoonie" means
Coffee and taking that moment for yourself could be a great way to regain some spoons.

Can you borrow spoons or regain spoons during the day?

The good news is: sometimes you are able to borrow spoons, yes! However, it does mean that the day(s) after, you need to be extra conscious about how you divide your energy/spoons. So if it means you took an extra 3 the day before, you might not have time to do the dishes or shower the day after. So there’s always a compromise to be made!

And to the question if you can regain spoons: I feel this is a personal matter. I am not really able to regain full spoons, however if I have a busy evening coming up, I rest during the day to make sure I have enough spoons left to be used during that evening. So instead of spending spoons on cooking, washing, etcetera, I will lay in bed and rest and waste the most minimum amount of spoons.

What happens if you use too many?

Also this is quite a personal case-by-case question, but also here: it usually ends up in a flare-up of your chronic illness (of pain, fatigue, nausea, etc). My own experience is massive nausea and vomiting, fever, extreme pain flare-ups and spasms. Which in itself uses up a lot of spoons already, so that means it can take a few days/weeks before I am back on normal routine.

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I bet it wasn’t you coming up with this Spoon theory, was it?

Nope, you are absolutely right! The award-winning journalist and writer/blogger Christine Miserandino came up with this theory in 2003 when explaining to her healthy friend what it was like living with lupus. On her blog But You Don’t Look Sick you can find more information and metaphors. On her website you can find printable posters and PDF’s to be help you explain to your friends & family what it is like to live with a chronic illness. 

So to answer the question “What does “Spoonie” mean? Just explain to the people around you that the spoon theory is used as a metaphor to explain what living with a chronic illness is like and the “spoonies” are the people living with this chronic illness!

The Spoon Theory explained: A person under white sheets, only the leg sticking out. This refers to the fact that the only thing you can do once you've gone through all your "spoons", is resting. This is also part of what "spoonie" means
Also what “spoonie” means: Resting is the only thing to do once you’ve gone through all your “spoons”

Want to find out more about the vision of The Spoonies Community? Then click here

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