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Using The Spoon Theory to Explain Chronic Illness

March 21, 2018

This is a guest post submitted by Victoria Abbott-Fleming from CRPS awareness charity Burning Nights (

Aside from the substantial physical challenges faced by people with chronic illnesses, one of the most difficult things about living with arthritis, lupus, fibromyalgia or something similar is the lack of understanding and empathy from able-bodied people. Illnesses like those I just mentioned are often invisible to the naked eye, so when a person with arthritis parks in a disabled spot, they unfortunately are sometimes castigated by observers who don’t realise that the person is genuinely entitled to be there.

In an attempt to convey to an able-bodied friend what it is like to live every day with a chronic illness, lupus sufferer Christine Miserandino explained it by taking 12 spoons from tables at a café and equating them to her daily energy levels. She then handed the spoons to her friend and asked her to describe a typical day, taking spoons from her for activities such as getting up, showering and cooking breakfast. It was only upon completion of this exercise that Christine’s friend had an accurate picture of the struggles of living with a chronic illness.

People with chronic illnesses begin each day with 12 spoons and need to use these carefully throughout the day. If they do too much before lunchtime, they’ll be exhausted by the evening. They can exert an additional effort to use more than 12 metaphorical spoons in a day, but the excess would then be taken from the following day, which is likely to be an enormous struggle. Christine Miserandino deserves huge credit for being able to vividly communicate to the world at large what it is like to endure chronic illness.



One Comment leave one →
  1. Shaun127 permalink
    March 23, 2018 3:59 pm

    Analogies, are extremely useful devices for conveying concepts to those who have not direct experience of what they’re about. And the spoons one is good, but I would an additional aspect for those who also suffer from chronic pain. May be in jest, this would be to add tapping yourself on the forehead with the spoon (stipulate it’s to be a tablespoon) each time one is picked up. This would convey, in a relatively humane way, how the level of chronic pain can be both cumulative and so more irksome. You could then ask them how they think their mood might be changed as the day progressed.

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