The analogy made perfect sense to me. My dear friend, who has courageously struggled with several disabilities throughout her life, passed on a story about a young woman who was trying to describe what it’s like to have limited energy.
“Imagine you are given twelve spoons at the beginning of the day,” the story goes. Each spoon represents energy expenditure . . . physical, mental, and emotional. For most people, twelve spoons are more than enough to sail through the day, and they can always go to their silverware drawer and get more, if needed. However, in the case of someone with a chronic illness or disability, seemingly small activities can cause a spoon to disappear before a “normal” person has even touched one.
For example, the simple act of getting up, taking a shower, getting dressed, and preparing breakfast may swallow up a spoon. Driving to work or taking the kids to school might slurp up another utensil. If the morning involves an especially busy day in the office or running errands, the spoons might be close to gone by noon. Add heightened stress to the mix, and any remaining silverware is sure to go “poof” into thin air. For people with chronic fatigue, there is no back-up drawer. And when the spoons are gone, the spoons are gone.
Oh, how I can relate! Every day it is a careful balancing act to try and stretch my spoons to last through the expectations of the day. Each day I analyze my work schedule and personal life, making constant adjustments to maximize my precious spoons. I build in margin, take rest breaks, eat blood-sugar-stabilizing food, and regrettably say “no” to many activities. But still, those darn spoons often slip through my grasp, long before the day is over. It’s no exaggeration to say that most days I finish the work day hanging by a thread and “running on fumes.” By the time I reach home, I haven’t much strength left to do anything but eat dinner and collapse in the recliner. Evening activities are usually out of the realm of possibility. Along with Elvis, the spoons have left the building.
Not long ago I experienced a bad case of vanishing spoons. A relative had passed away, and I planned to attend the graveside service in his honor. I went to work briefly in the morning and then headed home to rest for an hour or so before I went to the cemetery (I thought this might replenish at least part of the spoons I had already burned up that day). At the service, I stood with my relatives in 100 degree heat for over an hour, which sapped my strength. Then it was off to a (thankfully) air-conditioned church for lunch. I sat at a round table with family, getting reacquainted with many who I hadn’t seen in years. It was a lovely time of re-connecting, but each conversation, each hug, and each smile for a camera used up part of a spoon.
I went home mid-afternoon, clearly exhausted. However, I didn’t want to miss the joy of spending additional time with relatives from out-of-state that evening, so I tried “power-napping” until dinner time. That night I delighted in getting to know my cousins better as we shared deeply from our lives. It fed my spirit to be in the fellowship of loving family. And it decimated my spoons. As I drove home that night, I knew I would pay the penalty the next day.
Please read the conclusion in Vanishing Spoons (Part 2).