The Spoon Theory by Christine Miserando is an excellent way to describe what living with a chronic illness is like.
You are allocated a certain number of spoons each day – this your energy bank.
Each task you do, even when they are comparatively simple tasks like hair washing, uses one spoon. You don’t get any spoons back until the next day.
If you use more spoons than you actually have, you have fewer spoons the next day or several days, as you pay back your energy debt.
Christine came up with this description when struggling to explain what Lupus was like to a close friend – physically demonstrating by using all the spoons on the table at a restaurant.
She gave the spoons to her friend, and asked her to step through a normal day. The catch – Christine remained in control of when spoons were taken away – just like the control that the chronic illness has over the patient’s energy levels.
It’s the way I’ve described living with endometriosis and fibromyalgia for many years. And it’s great when you can physically demonstrate the spoon-rationing.
But there isn’t enough emphasis on the more extreme fluctuations in energy and pain that I seem to deal with.
So, an old rechargeable laptop battery might be a better analogy.
The Spoon Theory improved – the old rechargeable battery theory
Batteries are like piggy banks – you have to recharge them (sleep, rest) in order to have enough energy for the following day. And there’s finite space in a piggy bank – you can’t recharge indefinitely and have an unlimited energy supply.
If you don’t sleep enough, you don’t recharge properly, and you’ll have less battery reserve the next day. Sounds just like the result of insomnia to me!
All the systems in your body need enough energy to function, just like a modern computer. If there are only low levels available, these bodily systems won’t function properly, causing nerve pain, muscle cramping, headaches, bowel disruptions, dizziness, and so on.
Older, less healthy batteries don’t perform like new ones
When new and healthy, batteries can last for hours, perhaps even days of normal use before needing to be recharged.
Of course, if you push your laptop hard – lots of gaming with a bright monitor, you’ll chew through the stored energy a lot quicker, even when the battery is new. Just like a healthy person trying to pull continuous all-nighters in college – at some point they also need to rest and recharge.
But when the batteries don’t hold their charge so well, the energy levels are lower to begin with, and drop faster. Just like a person with chronic illness.
A battery and its energy use
Light tasks, reading, a bit of web browsing, some writing, don’t reduce the battery level too quickly.
But start to do some more heavy duty things, like photo editing, serious word-processing of longer documents, watching a video or gaming, and the charge can drop drastically. Cooking, light gardening or cleaning, or attending events, even when they are enjoyable.
Old batteries can’t support some energy hungry tasks at all. Like moving house, traveling long distances, working at a stressful or physically demanding job.
When battery life is shortened
The longer a battery sits without being used, the less total charge it can hold. This is why most chronic illness sufferers are told to keep doing light exercises and activities. Don’t just lie in bed or on the couch and do nothing.
Also, parasitic drains, like keeping the laptop on standby, just in case you need to see an email arrive, eat battery power. Just like being alert and ready to react to changes, events or invitations, or continuing to deal with toxic people over a prolonged period.
With older style batteries, completely discharging the battery can completely kill it. Or at the least, it will never charge properly again.
Pushing past energy limits is also very bad for the chronically ill – they might need days, or even weeks to recover. Flying to or from Australia (28+ hours of travelling) knocks me out for at least a week! Recovery from operations may take even longer.
How the charge in a battery level is affected by weather
If the weather is too cold, the battery can’t provide the energy as quickly as needed and stops working (internal resistance is higher and the held charge is less). If you’ve ever taken your camera into temperatures well below freezing and had it stop working – that’s why.
In extremely hot weather, the life of your battery is shortened by up to half!
Chronic illness sufferers also have a lot of problems in hot and/or cold weather. Personally, I shut down when it gets hot, and pain goes through the roof.
Wet weather can mess with the connections between device and battery, and can even short the battery and stop it from working.
I know many people for whom humidity is a problem. Personally, I prefer humid weather, very dry weather makes my sinuses extremely grumpy.
A spare battery can help
A carer or helpful friend is like having a spare battery. They can pick up the tasks that are beyond your capacity, and help you to better regulate your energy usage, leaving you with a more reliable charge each day.
Automating tasks can reduce the drain on your battery – shop online using the same list each week or fortnight, cook from a rotating menu plan so you don’t have to make so many decisions, wear the same clothing, go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day.
And definitely avoid corrosive parasites!
What do you think?
Is the battery theory more accurate than the spoon theory for chronic illness and pain?