Explaining fatigue with The Spoon Theory

Fatigue is a common symptom of chronic illnesses. It’s different to feeling tired. It’s more than just feeling tired. There’s a sense of exhaustion; everything, even the smallest of movements, takes effort and is combined with aches and pains. I always find it quite hard to explain exactly what it’s like on those days. It’s like no matter how much I rest, I still feel tired.

Fatigue can be frustrating. You never know when it’s going to come and when it does it can knock you out for days, weeks or sometimes even longer. It’s annoying when you have things planned and then whoosh out of nowhere it feels like you’re carrying around a tonne of bricks.

The only time I’ve ever heard chronic fatigue and chronic illness in general explained really well was when I read Christine Miserandino’s Spoon Theory

So, what is The Spoon Theory?

I’m glad you asked. You can read Christine’s whole post about it here but here’s a little breakdown.

Everyone has spoons (yes, ordinary kitchen spoons) and each task you do (be that showering, going shopping, making a cup of tea) takes certain amounts of spoons. Once those spoons are gone, they’re gone and you can’t have more.

Say you have 12 spoons. Waking up can take one spoon, especially when you haven’t slept well. Then having a shower can make a spoon, maybe two on hair wash days. Getting dressed is another spoon and take another for making your breakfast. There’s half of your spoons gone before you’ve even got properly started with your day.

Things you don’t even think of can take up spoons; skipping a meal, cooking a meal, washing up, standing up for too long. So you have to think about how you use your spoons and what you do each day to make sure you get what you need done.

Recently, I’ve really being struggling with fatigue again as I’ve been flaring quite a bit (and I’ve pushed myself a lot over the past few months). I had finished work at 11p the night before. I got up at 9:30am (after broken sleep because my joints and back were really hurting), had a shower and popped to the shop. Once I got back, I made a sandwich and watched netflix in my room. That was at about 11:30am and I didn’t even remember falling asleep but next thing I knew it was 3pm and I had to get ready to go back to work. I felt horrible, everything ached, I had brain fog and overall was not feeling work. So there’s a little example of how spoon theory on a bad day can work.

How can Spoon Theory help me?

How I’ve just described spoon theory is a pretty simplistic version and I really recommend going to read it in full. Once I’d read it, I suddenly understood my body a lot more. It’s taught me to prioritise things and to not waste my time on things which aren’t necessary (although that can be a lot easier said than done!).

When I was at school, and even now at university, having a chronic illness taught me to do work early. I got into the habit of getting work done on good days because you never know when the bad days are coming and how long they’re going to last for.

Spoon theory is also a great way to explain to friends and family what you’re going through. Like I said at the beginning of this post, I really struggle to explain what having a chronic illness and fatigue feels like. However, when you break it down into spoon theory, it makes it easier for other people to understand. At the end of the day, your loved ones do want to understand, sometimes it’s difficult to truly get it though. I can’t tell you the amount of times people have replied with I get it, I’m knackered too and I just want to groan. As much as you probably are tired, and it’s mean it in the best possible way, they’re two completely different things!

Admittedly, I could probably say it better than ugh, I feel so tired. Sometimes it’s just really hard to put these things into words though.

So there’s the spoon theory in a nutshell for you.
I’d love to know your thoughts on spoon theory in the comments below.


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