Reposted from a late-night email I wrote a while back that is rather interesting to revisit at the present time. Concentration warning – longish.

I was pondering the many applications of the original Spoon Theory recently, at some unearthly hour of course. One of the things on my mind was that the concept has been taken up more widely by healthy people, usually to describe general stress and weariness, e.g. “I should get this piece of work done but I just don’t have the spoons so I’m going home.” Understandably this has caused some opprobrium in chronically ill/disabled circles, partly because run of the mill tiredness at the end of the day is not really comparable to literally not being able to get out of bed because you used up your energy having a shower yesterday, and partly because it can feel like yet another thing created for or by a minority group that gets taken away and distorted by the majority.

So how do you reconcile that with the fact that the concepts of spoon theory do strongly resonate with a lot of healthy people as well? I think the answer is that even though the two examples earlier are an order of magnitude different, they are in fact still on the same spectrum. It’s not that chronically ill/disabled people have spoons and healthy people don’t, it’s that the spoon economics operate under different rules and pressures.

And so…

Spoon Economic Theory

1. Everyone has daily ‘paycheck’ of spoons.

2. On average, a person’s spooncheck is highest at the beginning of their life and decreases gradually over their lifetime. In the very early years, spoonchecks come in increments of hours rather than days. People are sometimes, but not always, able to become more savvy and efficient in the way they use spoons over time.

3. Each person’s daily spooncheck is a different size, depending on many many factors (food, exercise, workload, stress, genetics, social etc.) Even within a group of healthy people spoonchecks can vary significantly. Chronically ill/disabled people (“ill people” for brevity) frequently have a massively reduced spooncheck compared to a even a low-end healthy person. All the other factors come into play as well but are heavily outweighed by the illness/disability.

4. Because of the range of factors that affect the size of their spooncheck, healthy people usually have a lot of options for trying to increase their spooncheck. Depending on the nature of the illness/disability, ill people have far fewer options for increasing their spooncheck, particularly if the illness/disability is resistant to treatment or simply untreatable. A common issue is that a side-effect of the treatment itself is reducing the person’s spooncheck.

5. A person’s spooncheck varies from day to day and month to month based on the external factors in their life. Even so, for healthy people this variation is usually within a small range and relatively predictable. An ill person’s spooncheck can vary wildly from day to day, often for no apparent reason and with no clear pattern.

6. Like money, spoons can be disposable or essential. Ill people tend to have little to no disposable spoons after the essential spoons are taken out.

7. Not all spoons are equal. The more spoons in your balance, the easier it is to use them. As you get closer to emptying your account, it gets progressively harder to pull out each spoon. This is exacerbated by your body throwing out warnings about low spoon levels, which themselves use up spoons. (Some types of disorders/disabilities mess with the warning system itself!)

8. Once your account is empty that’s it, you physically can’t do anything more until your next spooncheck. Ill people empty their spoon accounts on a regular basis however this actually happens quite rarely to healthy people. When it does, we normally refer to it as some level of collapse or breakdown. Most healthy people who are feeling like they’re out of spoons are either getting down to the low end of the account or carrying an unsustainable spoon debt – see next point…

9. You can borrow spoons from future spoonchecks.

10. Healthy people who take out a spoon loan go down to a reputable spoon bank, negotiate a loan agreement and walk away with a loan that will be repaid over a reasonable period of time at a reasonable interest rate. The amount of spoons they can borrow will depend on their circumstances and negotiation skills. Of course people do frequently fail to read the terms of their loan, mess up their calculations, borrow beyond their means, miss payments and otherwise not take the loan seriously.

A healthy person struggling to make repayments can usually negotiate an extension, take on multiple loans or work with a financial advisor (friend, GP, ‘life coach’, naturopath…) to consolidate and pay down spoon debt. Paying off a significant loan can restrict a person’s disposable spoons for quite a long period. Defaulting badly enough on a spoon loan is one of the things that can actually drop someone, temporarily or permanently, into the ill people category.

11. Ill people who need a spoon loan have no option but to go to a payday spoon lender. There are limits on how many spoons they can borrow, due to their low income, interest rates are unreasonably high and repayment schedules are punishing. Defaulting on a loan means losing one or more entire paycheck to a lender, which can also further damage the person’s credit rating.

12. At its most basic, earning an income is trading spoons for money. One of the reasons health and well-being are correlated with economic status is that richer people can use money to buy other people’s spoons, leaving them more spoons to spend or hoard as they like. It also costs more spoons to be poor than rich.

13. The spoon price of activities and tasks is highly variable and individualised. A task such as cooking may be relaxing and enjoyable for one person and an incredible drain for another. Spending time with other people may be taxing or energising depending where you fall on the introversion/extroversion spectrum.

A few further points for consideration:

  • The distinction between ‘healthy’ and ‘ill’ is not always black and white. Disability and illness are not always the same thing, especially in this context. A chronic, cyclical illness/disability by definition involves moving backwards and forwards between the reputable bank and the dodgy spoon-lender.
  • The interaction between money and spoons could probably be unpacked even further, especially the variation in societal perception and judgement of the way in which people spend their spoons at different class/income levels. E.g. people on lower incomes can be judged for spending money on “luxuries” that contribute to self-care.

Happy pondering. Or stibbonsing, if you have a Discworld bent…


2 thoughts on “Spoons

  1. I quite like this version of the theory. It makes sense to me, as a disabled spoonie. I haven’t heard any healthy individuals using the spoon theory, but that doesn’t surprise me.
    I would lend you some spoons if I could!


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