Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Perception of Spoons

The "spoon theory" has taken over the internet, and people far and wide are rejoicing that they finally, FINALLY, are able to comprehend what people with chronic illness or pain are dealing with.  They have a concrete metaphor that they can use to understand what's going on and connect to their loved ones. 

But they don't always get it. 
They think they do.  Sometimes the people they are interacting with think they do.  But they don't. 

Running out of spoons doesn't mean the same thing to everyone.  Especially when you are used to having an unlimited stash that refills quickly.  I've heard people sit down with a sigh and declare that they are out of spoons...and ready for their weekend plans.  Or out of spoons and going to take the kids out tonight.  Or out of spoons and heading to the beach to recharge. 

Or I hear them saying "I know exactly what you mean, sometimes I run out of spoons and I have to keep going so I buy some coffee..."  (Or whatever trick they've found to keep their wheels turning until bedtime) 

I'm not saying that their burn out is not valid, it absolutely is.  But it doesn't compare to what people with true chronic health challenges deal with every day.  If you really want to wrap your brain around spoon theory and "get it", keep reading. 

First...take the spoon theory.  Got it in your head? 
Now...imagine a movie where the protagonist is in the middle of the wilderness, fighting for their life against the weather.  Sun or wind and snow, it doesnt' really matter.  They're walking, slowly...until they collapse.  You see them crawl a few feet and then...Dun, duh dun! They collapse and after a brief struggle the screen goes black. 

That person has run out of spoons.  They have officially used their last spoon. 
They generally wake up to a cheery fire and someone preparing some soup for them to take just a few bites of...not too much, too soon.  They are wrapped in blankets and given fluids and told they gave everyone a nasty scare. 
They take a few days, if not weeks, to recover. 

No one would pour a cup of coffee down their throat and shove them back out into the elements. 

Minus that last bit of babying, this is a pretty accurate representation of running completely out of spoons.  Most people who have been there do everything they can not to get all the way there again, so when we say we're low on spoons or out of spoons, we really mean we're down to the last one and are scared of running out.  But the metaphor still works close enough, as long as we understand what truly running out of spoons looks like. 

Have you ever tried to stand up and your legs wouldn't hold you?  Crawled military style (arm over arm) to get to a more comfortable, or even more flattering, place to collapse and nap?  Let consciousness seep in and out as the world continued to flow around you but you were too tired, to sore, too sick to actually interact with it?  That's what running out of spoons really feels like.  And some of get closer than others on a regular basis. 

Can you imagine a trip to the grocery store sapping your strength enough to put you there? 

Because that, my dear reader, is what chronic fatigue and chronic illness and chronic pain are all about.  The knowledge that something as mundane as sitting in traffic for an extra half hour can be all it takes to make that night out you've been looking forward to completely unthinkable.  A trip to the grocery store can be literally out of reach.  Going out to eat?  Laughable. 

To those of us who have chronic health challenges, we are constantly counting and evaluating our spoons.  Not because we are paranoid, not because we are lazy or dont' know how to "push through". Coffee won't help because our bodies are physically different than yours.  They give out. 


And I don't mean that in the figurative sense. 

I'm not trying to dismiss the real, valid exhaustion that comes from every day living.  You might actually be so tired that driving to a restaurant, sitting in the bright lights with the potential crowds and eating a full meal before driving home is relaxing.  But if you were out of spoons...truly and completely out of (low on) spoons, you'd have to crash in bed for a few hours first.  The very thought of driving to the restaurant, let alone walking inside and ordering and sitting there for the entire time it takes for a meal to be ordered, prepared, served and then eaten...let alone for the check to arrive...might reduce you to tears.  Ugly, shoulder wrenching sobs that have a mind of their own and finally taper off as you drift off into a dreamless sleep...

Cereal for dinner is a thing, and it might perpetuate the problem of low energy but sometimes it's all those of us with chronically low spoons can handle making. 

Low spoons that will quickly replenish from your back up supply and actual low spoons are very different things.  Hey world, I'm sorry you're tired.  Complain all you want.  Just don't judge people who are chronically low on spoons for not being able to function as well as you do when you're tired.  There's a difference. 

Be kind to your spoonless friends.  You might not be able to make it easier for them, but you can avoid making it harder by accepting their lack of spoons at face value.