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#26 Why Do ND Talk About Their Spoons?

·        Spoon theory was created by someone with a chronic illness

·        Spoon theory is able to represent that the impact of being ND is dynamic

·        How to apply spoon theory to being ND

Spoon theory was created by someone with a chronic illness


Spoon theory has its origins in a conversation that Christine Miserandino had with a friend trying to explain what it is like to live with a chronic illness, in her case - lupus. Christine and her friend were at a diner so spoons were to hand to be able to use as a concrete way to explain how each day, due to her lupus, Christine only had a limited amount of energy to use for tasks like getting up, going to work and making a meal. 

Christine explained to her friend that when you start off with limited resources because of having a chronic disease – using an analogy of having 12 spoons a day – when just getting out of bed takes one of those spoons you need to really be mindful of what you spend that energy on. You may be able to “borrow” one or two spoons from the next day, but then that means you start the following day with even less resources. 

If you would like to, you can read this in Christine’s own words here.

Spoon theory is able to represent that the impact of being ND is dynamic


Spoon theory is able to represent that being ND is dynamic in its impact on day-to-day life. Some days you have more spoons than others, and some days activities take more or less spoons than other days. 

Spoon theory can represent why some days you get loads done and the next day you need to cocoon. Or how one day it only takes 1-2 spoons to do an activity, but the next day it can take double or more. It can also represent why some days you get to mid-afternoon and you are completely out of energy/spoons, but on other days you have just enough or even a spoon or two left over because what you did that day felt easier because you were psychologically safe, or that you had a chance to decompress in the middle of the day and add some spoons back in to your reserves. This is where it can be different to using this analogy for a chronic illness where adding some spoons back in during the day may not be possible. 

How to apply spoon theory to being ND


I like the simplicity of the spoon theory for conceptualising both for myself, and others, how much effort it takes to do something, and how much capacity I have at any one time.

There are some that like to split up their spoons into categories like executive function, sensory, social and others to explain why they may have enough energy to chat with a friend but not go to the supermarket. For me that would take spoons in itself to think about it that way, and I would explain that situation by saying that chatting to a true friend may not even take a spoon, it may even give me a spoon, but that going to the supermarket might one day be a 2 spoon activity, but if I’m not well rested or it’s a busy time at the supermarket it might be a 4 spoon activity. Hence why I have the “energy” to talk to a true friend but not be up to going to the supermarket.

I’m not sure for others, but for me I don’t literally think of how many spoons I have or how many spoons a task will take. What I do like though is having that concept that I don’t have infinite energy or resources, and that tasks can take more energy for me because I’m ND and living in a world where sometimes I have to do things in a way that suits NTs instead of my neurotype. In turn that means it is OK to sometimes have to ration what I do, and not get everything done on my to do list for that day. And for me that’s where it ties into self-compassion – which you can read more about here - I can be kind to myself and recognise my legitimate limits and not “over-spend” my spoons.

It can also be a useful shorthand to use with others, and by others in your life who are ND, such as your children. Rather than having to explain in full - right now I’m not feeling up to walking the dog because I didn’t start off the day with a lot of energy because I didn’t sleep well, and when I went to the supermarket it was really busy and so that took more energy than I thought it would but I had to push myself to do it because we were almost out of milk, so I don’t have enough energy to go back out and walk the dog and maybe run into a neighbour who wants to have a chat, as I’ll need to make sure I make appropriate eye contact so they don’t think I’m not interested in what they are saying, and I’ll need to work out just how honest to be in my answers as they may not really want to know how we are all going, and then I’ll have to ruminate on the conversation to try and figure out if I said or did something wrong. Instead of all that you can say – I don’t have the spoons for that right now.

Is spoon theory useful for you?

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Please note all information and strategies shared as part of the blog are for information and educational purposes only and do not constitute advice for any particular individual or circumstances.