If you have a chronic illness (or know someone who does), you may already be familiar with the term "spoonie." People living with one or more chronic illnesses may use it to self-identify as a member of the larger chronic or invisible illness communities.
For some, the name is a mark of solidarity between themself and other members of the community. It's a way to instantly connect with people who understand your experiences first hand—an important thing for anyone feeling isolated, different, or alone. "You're a spoonie too?!"
A spoonie can be someone with any form of chronic illness, but is used most often to refer to people with invisible illnesses. An invisible illness is any chronic illness that isn't immediately evident to others. For example, someone with Lupus or hemophilia may look able-bodied or healthy to others, even while suffering from severe symptoms of their illness. Their disabilities are simply not as "visible" as, for example, someone who uses a wheelchair, so they are easier to overlook.
For some people with invisible illnesses, the ability to "fly under the radar" is a plus: they may not like extra attention or the constant "eyes on them" that is common for people with more visible disabilities. For others, the lack of attention and recognition can be confusing and isolating, and may present a real barrier to receiving adequate accommodations and healthcare. In situations like these, it can be so helpful to find a community of individuals who just get it. But where does the name come from?
The Spoon Theory is an analogy used to illustrate how much energy it requires to simply live with a chronic illness. In this analogy, the person living with a chronic illness has a set number of spoons to use each day. The total number of spoons a person has each day depends on their unique condition: generally healthy people may have a seemingly unlimited supply of spoons, while someone with a severe chronic illness may only have a handful of spoons to use each day.
Each activity, including seemingly "small" things like brushing teeth or getting dressed, requires the person to use a certain number of spoons. For a healthy person, it may take one spoon to get out the door in the morning. In contrast, a spoonie might need a whole spoon to get out of bed. Getting to work could use half of your spoons for the day.
The energy required for these activities can add up quickly, so it's necessary to plan ahead set reasonable expectations. Once a spoonie has used all their spoons for the day, they're done—there is no more energy left for anything else.
There are things all of us can do to make sure we get the most out of our spoons, no matter the number. Taking care of your mental, emotional, and physical health is crucial in maintaining your spoon supply. Stress, anxiety, depression, poor nutrition, and so on can leave you with less spoons than you started with yesterday. On the other hand self-care, whatever that means for you, can sometimes help budget spoons—and maybe have an extra for tomorrow.
Here are some ways to take care of your mental health and keep that spoon count up!
- Take deep breaths. There’s a reason mediation and breathing are so popular! Do yourself a favor and take ten deep breaths while focusing on the rise and fall of your chest.
- Soak in the sun. Open the windows or go outdoors if you’re able to. Feeling the wind on your skin and the smell of fresh air can do wonders. If you have sensitive skin, try indirect light or an extra comfy soft sleeve.
- Smell something nice. Appreciate the things you love, even the little things like a scent. Light a candle, take a bath with your favorite bath bombs, or use your favorite essential oil.
- Clean up, a little. Clutter can cause anxiety, but the depression cleaning cycle is real. Even five minutes organizing your end table can help you feel a little more in control.
- Keep a journal. Writing can be therapeutic for the heart and soul. In a journal, you can express your biggest dreams, deepest fears, silliest doodles, or anything else. Give your permission to write what you feel, not how you think you should feel.
- Practice Gratitude. Write letters to the people you love detailing the parts of them that you are thankful for. If you can’t imagine your life without them, then tell them what they mean to you.
- Do a body scan. Practice some mindfulness while you close your eyes and analyze the senses in each of your body parts from head to toe. What do you feel? Is there pain or discomfort? If so, name what you feel and where. Are you holding any tension in your body? If so, where?
- Squeeze something. Whether it’s a person in your family, a friend, yourself, or even a stuffed animal, muster up all your love and give something a big tight hug! The compression will relieve some pent-up pressure you didn’t know you had.
- Submerge yourself. The feeling of water can be rejuvenating. Going swimming, running through sprinklers, taking a shower/bath, or even washing your hands can bring a refreshing sensation.
- Massage your hand. Have you heard of reflexology? Give it a try by opening and closing your fists a few times. Then squeeze each palm and apply pressure to different areas, noting how it feels. Then work through each section of each finger on each hand.