Health · Personal

The Spoon Theory and Depression

You may have heard of The Spoon Theory. You may not. Chances are, you haven’t. Much as it sounds like an underground twee-pop band, it’s actually quite a thought-provoking method of explaining the problems of people suffering from illnesses such as Lupus and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, along with other disabilities, to those in good health who do not understand the extent that the illness dictates the sufferer’s day-to-day plans. It was created by a young woman, Christine Miserandino, a sufferer of Lupus, as a way of explaining to a close friend how it felt to live with her illness everyday. The theory is, basically: able-bodied people have an unlimited amount of ‘spoons’, and can therefore go about their day without planning as they have enough energy (which is what the spoons represent) to do whatever they please, while those who suffer from chronic illnesses are much more limited and only have about twelve spoons per day. Each daily task which involves any sort of physical activity results in losing one spoon. Getting dressed? One spoon gone. Making breakfast? One spoon gone. Walking to work? Another. Doing the laundry? Yet another.

While I am reluctant to say that sufferers of mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder are “disabled”, I’ve realised recently the there are some aspects of The Spoon Theory that apply to mental illness as well.

With depression, there is usually an overwhelming sense of fatigue. It’s not simply drowsiness, when you can sort it out by having a nap (although personally I still often find myself in the mindset of, “I’m so tired – I need to go to sleep early tonight”). It’s more of a constant dull ache and inability to concentrate because you just feel so tired all over. Your bones ache, your head feels weighed down with negative thoughts, your muscles feel tense. It makes the thought of going out and socialising, or running errands, overwhelming. Even most basic tasks, like returning a library book, require you to mentally prepare yourself. A lot of the time, it gets to the end of a day and while you may still have plans, you just think, “I feel so drained. I can’t go out, it’s too much energy”. Like this evening, for example – I’m meant to be at a choir rehearsal right now, but I feel so tired and achey that the thought of having to: 1. walk 15 minutes to get to the rehearsal, 2. concentrate on learning new music, and 3. put on a brave face and chat away to everyone like nothing’s wrong. It’s even worse when someone asks you how you are, and to save the hassle of having to explain, you just say “I’m so tired”, to which they invariably reply, “oh, me too! I was out way too late last night…”

Sometimes, you need to plan exactly what you’re going to do each day because you know, in the end, you’re just going to want to go back to bed. You need to get as much done as possible once you’re out and about, because once you go home, there’s very little chance of you feeling up to going back out again. I suppose that’s what I’m getting at when I refer to The Spoon Theory – sometimes, with depression, even though it’s a mental illness and if you recover from it then your body will happily cooperate with you, it feels like you’ve got limited spoons. It’s what you do with them that counts.

For more information on The Spoon Theory, visit:


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