Spoonies have traditionally been thought of as people with serious, chronic illnesses of the body (outside of mental illnesses), but are people with serious, chronic mental illnesses really spoonies too? Personally, I identify as a spoonie and I think many people with serious, chronic mental illnesses are spoonies too. Read on to learn about what a spoonie is and how using the spoonie lexicon can help those with serious, chronic mental illness.
What Is a Spoonie?
Sorry if I’ve been using a word you don’t know. “Spoonie” is a word we commonly see online and it’s used around serious, chronic illnesses.
I’ll summarize what a spoonie is for you, but I encourage you to read the whole Spoon Theory by Christine Miserandino.
Basically, healthy people get close to an unlimited number of “spoons” when they wake up in the morning. Each thing the person does uses up one or more spoons. So, showering might take two spoons while making breakfast for you and the kids might take four and, of course, getting through a workday would take many.
But if you’re a “spoonie,” you don’t have an unlimited number of spoons. Depending on how sick you are that day, you have a limited or even very limited number. This means you don’t have enough spoons to do everything you need to or want to do that day so you have to “spend” your spoons carefully. If you only start with eight, for example, would you choose to spend two showering or would you spend those two feeding yourself? Being a spoonie means making these hard decisions every minute of every day.
And while understanding what spoonies go through doesn’t give you a full understanding of what living with a serious, chronic illness is like, it does give you a sense of some of the limitations placed on people in these situations. It also gives you insight into why a spoonie might not be able to attend social events or even leave the house at times — they are simply out of spoons.
People with Serious Mental Illnesses Being Spoonies
As I said, the concept of being a “spoonie” isn’t seen a lot in the arena of mental illness. This is just typical of the way people separate mental illness from other physical illnesses. So if you have a serious, chronic illness that affects your spine, for example, you’re automatically a spoonie but if you have a serious, chronic mental illness, you’re not thought of in the same way just because the illness is in your brain. I don’t think people are generally doing this with malice or ill intent, it’s just kind of what happens.
But many mental illnesses are serious and chronic. Yes, some people achieve remission and that’s great, but many don’t. Many people live with serious mental illnesses in a chronic way that is a disability for them. This puts them directly into the spoonie camp.
And just for myself, personally, when I read about the struggles of spoonies, I identify with them tremendously. I know I stand with them whether people realize it or not.
Why Should Those with Mental Illness Care About ‘The Spoon Theory?’
So I think we should bring the spoonie concept into our world. It’s incredibly useful in terms of explaining some of what’s going on for us. It also provides us with a shorthand — sorry, I can’t talk to you right now, I’m out of spoons.
When I talk about spoons today, some people get it and some people don’t. I would like to be more prolific so we can use this language to speak to each other. Because people with serious, chronic mental illnesses are just like those with serious, chronic illnesses of other types. I am just like a person with a serious autoimmune disorder. We are really all together. And we all really can support each other with common terms and ideas. We are all part of the spoonie community. We can also lead the way in helping people understand that mental illnesses are simply disorders of the brain and belong in the same categories as other physical illnesses. Us starting to use The Spoon Theory concepts can actually help do that. It promotes equality.
So yes. My name is Natasha Tracy. I have a serious, chronic illness of the brain and I am a spoonie.
Image by Flickr user scribbletaylor.