Some of my followers will be aware of this, many of you wont. In May the Cape Breton Post published an article called “Feeling tired? Conserve your precious spoons“.
The basic gist of this article was that the author had read about spoon theory and had applied it to her life. Which would be fine but as she says herself, “[she doesn’t] have lupus or any other seriously fatiguing chronic illnesses”.
Now I can see why she might find it makes sense, she says she is stressed and tired since having children, and things do get more difficult. I totally sympathise with that. Obviously she sees sense in this idea that your have finite energy in a day. What she’s missing though is that spoon theory is about way more than just feeling stressed and tired.
Spoon theory specifically refers to conditions which involve chronic pain and/or chronic fatigue. It refers to conditions which are debilitating and disabling. Conditions which severely limit those suffering from them. Often conditions which are utterly invisible.
If you’ve never suffered from anything like this, you need to know that not only is it hard to live with it is also incredibly isolating. Having this language allows us to find others like ourselves, and the ability to communicate what we are going through. You spend a lot of time flailing about for the words to describe what you are going through, and referencing spoons is such a powerful and simple way to get around that.
I remember the first time I read spoon theory it was like a massive weight lifted off me. Not only was their relief at not being alone, there was relief at there being a way to articulate my day to day life, and then it opened up a whole community to me. Suddenly I could find others who’d get it when I said I just didn’t have the energy to do the simplest tasks.
By using spoon theory to describe her experience she is not only appropriating the language of a group who are often disadvantaged, and who find this particular phrase to be massively important. She is also minimising what it means to be low on spoons.
There is one particular phrase in her article which has really upset people.
When Bernard and I are both low on spoons, we tend to get into more squabbles and the kids don’t seem as happy. When I’m low on spoons it makes life much easier if he’s high on spoons. We have one philosophy we are adhering to right now: We both can’t fall apart at the same time.
The implication here being that she can adjust her spoons, gaining extra from somewhere. Something a spoonie cannot do, when you are out of spoons you are out. There’s no leeway, it’s not a matter of positive thought or willpower, our resources are finite.
I know I am not the only spoonie to have been told that I could “do more if [I] put my mind to it”, or that I needed to “stop being so pessimistic” when I say I cannot manage something. So perpetuating this idea of spoons being adjustable or a choice of some sort is harmful.
As I pointed out on twitter you cannot schedule having more spoons on days when your partner has less. It doesn’t work like that. I’d love to be able to schedule having more spoons when I have a lot on.
There is a world of difference between chronic illness lack of energy and mostly healthy lack of energy.
I don’t think any harm was meant by the author, but I do think she should have thought about how important language can be for marginalised groups. We don’t just find spoon theory helpful to explain what we are going through, it’s also a way of coping with our bodies, reaching out and gaining strength.
So please, think carefully before using a phrase like that.