Updated: Sep 30
Spoons are a creative way or analogy of measuring the amount of energy a person has per day. It was created by Christine Miserandino, who herself suffers from Lupus, which has chronic fatigue as one of its key symptoms – as do many other chronic and autoimmune conditions. Christine based it on the use of actual spoons because it is something tangible and allowed her to demonstrate to a well person what it can feel like to have someone or something (in her case, Lupus) take away energy from them.
Many others, including health professionals, have now adopted this term because it does provide a very visual way of understanding the concept of limited energy and how it can get used up so easily. A well person does not have to even think about energy levels as they have unlimited energy.
Someone with chronic fatigue as part of their palette of symptoms will however, only have a limited amount of energy and once that is used up, it is used up for that day. Healthy people have many more spoons than a person with a chronic or autoimmune condition.
The graphic below illustrates this concept much more clearly than words can describe it, but I will have a go. So, a person with this kind of illness can have a different number of spoons, or amounts of energy, available each day, and sometimes it’s difficult to know how many spoons you actually have to use on a particular day. A lot of people think that we have roughly the same number of spoons available to us each day, but the reality is that on some days, we have more than on other days and it is a really difficult task to know in a quantifiable way how many spoons we actually have. So we can appear inconsistent, and because this is a poorly understood concept, it can create issues for employers who expect us to work the same number of hours each day. It can also create difficulties for us sufferers as we try to keep up with the demands of our working lives and the rest of our lives.
These limited amounts can get used up in routine daily activities such as cooking, eating a meal, or even showering. Once they are used up, they are gone. Some activities use more spoons than others.
All this means that we not only have to ration our activity level, but we also have to think about which activity we think we can manage on which day. If a person with chronic fatigue over-exerts or tries to use more spoons than they actually have, they will pay the price either that night or the next day in terms of other symptoms flaring up like pain or exhaustion at waking up.
Once a person with chronic fatigue starts to use the concept of spoons, they can start to plan their day better, and make thought-through choices about the activities they engage in each day. In many ways it forces us to be in each moment – to be present – as we need to keep monitoring our energy levels constantly.