“Spoons” are stand ins for a measurement of energy a person with disabilities has.
Christine Miserandino wrote an article called “The Spoon Theory” and a lot of people started using this as a measurement of their level of mental energy as regards their disabilities. (Note: they have it translated into English, Spanish, French and Hebrew.)
The basic Idea is that abled people don’t have to count down their spoons because theirs are comparatively limitless, especially when it comes to the things society considers normal or basic tasks. But those of us with disabilities might start out with a limited amount of spoons, and might have to expend them on the “basic” things. We might have to use more of them on the basics, or have to allocate them to access or even survival.
Christine has Lupus, so a lot of her description is based specifically on how Chronic illness and Chronic pain consumes spoons. But having other disabilities consumes spoons in both similar and different manners. Below, I have some examples on how I use spoons.
Someone with other disabilities might also have to use up spoons arranging for accessible transportation, seeking out transcripts or hiring ASL translators, or using assistive tech (especially if it’s a new program or tool).
Examples on how my own spoons are spent
I’m Autistic, and have Generalized Anxiety Disorder and PTSD, as well as Chronic pain from Fibro and unspecified digestive and other health issues. On Bad days, I wake up with fewer spoons. If I had a bad pain day, or I’m having an Anxeity spike, getting out of bed spends down my spoons a lot. Some days it isn’t so hard.
Some days I get in the shower and have to sit down, and I might not even get through washing my hair or shaving or any of those things because I’ll not be able to function properly afterwards- I’d have to lay down again in an attempt to regain enough spoons to do anything other than watch kittens on youtube. If I have to get out by a certain time, there are days when getting out of the shower takes spoons because I don’t have an inherent sense of time. Getting ready for- or even attending, if it’s at someplace that triggers my anxiety- certain appointments is heavy in spoons.
Being in public wears down my spoons very quickly. When I go to conferences, I have to have a couple of days where I don’t do ANYTHING after, including being interactive online. I borrowed those days spoons already.
Speaking of online, producing something worth reading takes them up. Some days, I don’t even have enough to read certain things and comprehend let alone retain what I’ve read. It’s the end of January as I write this, and on my Wordpress Blog I haven’t posted since November- and haven’t posted something substantial for longer than that. I have drafted posts that I haven’t had the spoons to allocate to finish that have been sitting there for a year.
There are days when language itself consumes a lot of spoons for me. For some Autistics, they use a LOT of spoons speaking compared to others. Some who can’t speak might use them on assistive tech- and even more if the tech available to them is poorly designed or disorganized.
Being triggered- either for anxiety or PTSD- can be very spoon consuming. After being triggered, I might not even be able to verbalize for a while. I might need to go and hide, or withdraw, in order to not lose more spoons. (Also, because being triggered is absolutely hellish.)
Spoons, Ableism, and Appropriation
There are some people who think non-disabled people using spoons is appropriating. I think it is, but I usually don’t call people on it if they are using it properly. Does it still make me uncomfortable? Yeah. It does. But I need my spoons for other things, and overcoming the anxiety about calling someone out- especially if it’s verbally- is very hard for me.
Additionally, some people might have difficulties with the Medical establishment, and may have decided that it costs too much to deal with some of the ways professionals treat us in order to obtain a diagnosis. Some people might have disabilities that a doctor is reluctant to diagnose, or might have refrained from getting a diagnosis in the past because of fear that they wouldn’t be able to get health insurance. (I have met a number of people for whom this was true. Hopefully, the protections for people with preexisting conditions from Health care Reform don’t get repealed.)
So Avoid jumping to conclusions if someone you don’t see as disabled- or who might not even be “out” about their disability- uses it. Especially in the latter case- They are trusting you enough to be relatively out to you about something that they aren’t out to the public with.