Thursday, May 28, 2015

How Many Spoons Does It Take To Live A Productive Life?

“A person who is chronically disabled or ill only has a limited amount of expendable energy each day. The spoon theory uses a metaphor of spoons to turn energy into a measurable concept. A person living with chronic illness or disability only has a certain number of spoons in their possession each day, and every small action a person takes can result in a lost spoon. Once a person loses a spoon, it is very hard to get that back until after a full night’s sleep. Simple actions like getting out of bed, taking a shower, walking, and driving can require enormous amounts of energy that people don’t have.“

Quoted from thespoontheory ‘s faq

There are times where I have about zero energy to do just about anything. For example, I'll want to go to the gym and work out, but the muscles in my legs have weakened where I can barely walk. I'll want to write in my journal or on this blog but can't work up the mental capacity to think of anything. I've also gotten physically and emotionally overwhelmed during family trips in humid or tropical climates, despite really loving the vacation itself. I recently barely had enough energy to slice limes and set the dinner table for my father's birthday, in spite of wanting to contribute more to the festivities. I've never quite known why this keeps happening to me and has been a reoccurring source of frustration for me and everyone I know.

Then I discovered Spoon Theory.

Coined by Christine Miserandino of "But You Don't Look Sick", spoon theory postulates the challenges disabled or chronically physically or mentally ill people face presents them with a limit to energy and possibilities to get through the various facets or life than others do. Ergo, every performable task has to be carefully thought out as to what is feasible for that person to do each day and how to deal with every possible scenario. Time and energy has to be thought out in a way many people would never think about. It's not being lazy, it's being strategic given a cap of mental and physical ability.

There's a lot to consider with spoon theory as it pertains to me. I have a lot of energy and capacity to do a lot of things that other autistics might not. I can withstand a lot of sensory sensations (I can wear a variety of fabrics, I can handle exercise as long as I drink a lot of water, I can stand hot weather with an abundance of fans or air conditioning, I love being hugged), I can care for myself (I cook, shower, clean, engage in self-care), and engage in a variety of activities like work and social activities. But I do often find myself limited by the amount of energy I have to do many of the aforementioned given the day and time.  I've taken more mental health days from work and school than the average person, I feel limited in exercising my cooking skills, and I don't have the capacity to follow multiple conversations with multiple participants. And it manifests itself in physical weakness and mental and emotional exhaustion.

I'm trying the find ways where I don't exhaust myself doing certain activities. And it's only been recently that I've found any sort of success. If I have to move a lot of heavy objects over a long period of time, I have to take frequent rest breaks so I don't go into meltdown mode. When I train, I know that I can only jog two short laps without my knees buckling down. During large family dinners, I often need to leave the gathering to lie down and rest away from others so I can clear my head and let my stomach rest. All of this is done to make sure I don't exhaust myself, even if I feel like I need to do more. And I'm lucky that I have family and friends who understand and let me do this - no one wants to see me when my limits have been pushed.

As much I like to define myself by what I'm able to do rather than what I'm unable to do, it's critical for people to recognize other's limits disabled or otherwise. Not everyone has the same amount of ability to do things as others and recognizing that leads to greater understanding of others' experiences. If empathy is defined as understanding and valuing other people's personal perspectives and experiences, then understanding others' limitations is a great exercise in practicing empathy. And practicing empathy is critical to progressive growth in the world.

I'm definitely able to do a lot but I have a limited amount of spoons to do it. The more people understand and respect that, the more comfortable I and others will feel operating in the world at our own pace.