As an “academic” (as much as I loathe that phrase) with a research focus in disability studies, I have recently become more familiar with the spoon theory. I think it’s a useful disability/illness metaphor as it visually represents what it’s like to live with a certain condition.
The theory gained traction in 2003 with Christine Miserandino’s essay “The Spoon Theory.” I recommend reading it, but, essentially, Miserandino hands her friend a number of spoons and asks her to take one away for each daily activity. The gist being that someone who doesn’t have a disability/disorder/illness might not have to worry about rationing their energy (spoons) to complete daily tasks. Just getting out of bed, for example, for someone with depression might take a whole spoon — whereas for someone without depression, it wouldn’t be considered an activity at all.
In short, it takes a lot more energy (spoons) to do seemingly normal tasks for those with certain disorders. So, oftentimes, while it might seem like they’re “lazy,” in reality they might have already used up all of their spoons or might be conserving one or two extra for the next day if it’s more busy than usual.
I like this metaphor because I think it visually represents what so many people fail to grasp: “simple” tasks means different things for different mindbodies. An able-bodied person might say, “Yeah? Well I’d rather sleep in, too. Get up anyway.” — without realizing how much more of a process (energy-spoon sucker) it is for someone with a certain condition.
This is something my husband and I are constantly working on improving in our relationship with each other. He has Lyme disease. I have anxiety/depression/eating disorder. And we both have mild OCD. Seeing that (for the most part) they are different conditions, we both consciously have to remember that not only will each day (and its accompanying activities) look different for the both of us but also that we have to listen and be patient and most of all be kind. Even if we don’t understand what the other is going through, we try to support one another. Surround yourself with kind people. They are out there. I promise.
If you have a story about mental illness—whether personal or concerning a loved one—please consider sharing your experience by writing a guest post, doing an interview with one of us, or joining the team as a regular contributor. Even if you aren’t at a place yet where you feel comfortable disclosing your name, the church body needs your voice. Let’s shine a light on the darkness, together.