Lessons Learned: Using the Spoon Theory to Prioritize My Health

Last updated: September 2022

If you don't know the Spoon Theory, you should read it. It was written by Christine Miserandino. She talks about explaining dealing with chronic illness, using "spoons" as an analogy for the extra energy required to live with her chronic health condition. The moral of the story is powerful: We can only do so much within our limitations. The Spoon Theory can be applied to everyone's life, not just those with chronic health conditions.

People fall into a few categories

As someone living with chronic migraine for 8 years, I've learned some lessons where the Spoon Theory really helps. One is that there tend to be a few categories people can fall into within any classification system. In this case, there are those inclined to do for others, those who give money to others rather than time and effort, or those who always need from others.

I was the one others relied on

I was one of those people who always ended up being the responsible or helpful person to call on. As my condition worsened, I struggled to find a way to make everything work. I was attempting to maintain a job and complete my double bachelor's, which was a huge task all on its own. But I also attempted to do everything that everybody else needed or wanted, especially when it came to my family.

I couldn't do it anymore

Despite all of my efforts, I found myself sitting on my living room floor thinking, "I can't, I just can't ." It wasn't because I was asked to help with anything crazy or intense. I was just out of gas and fumes. I began to see that everybody else was doing what was best for them. Why shouldn't I follow suit?

Applying the Spoon Theory with migraine

The spoon theory comes into play in these moments. Everybody has a set amount of energy to get them through the day. Those of us with migraine can feel the impact of fatigue stronger than most healthy people. The Spoon Theory breaks down the available energy into "spoons."

How many spoons are used is subjective

Following the theory, we can both start the day with ten spoons. The difference is in how we spend those ten spoons and how many spoons it takes to complete the task. For a healthy person, taking a shower and getting ready to go somewhere may simply cost one spoon, while for me or another person with migraine, it could cost four spoons. It leaves the healthy person with nine more spoons to use today, but the person with migraine is down to just six spoons. Everything we do drains away our strength and energy for that day.

I have learned to say no

As horrible as I've felt telling a family member that no, I couldn't do something like run to the store and get something for them, I have realized that this is a must.

Energy levels have to be factored in

Regardless of who you are, there are only 24 hours a day. There is only one of you, and there is likely a million things you want to get done each day. When I try to plan my day, I also have to factor in my pain and energy levels. Unfortunately, those factors vary day to day or even hour to hour. I've found that there is no special equation that is key to getting it right, either.

I prioritize and make no promises

I've learned to prioritize. I try to put the must-do tasks at the beginning of my day because I cannot say how I will feel by the end of the day. I have also learned not to over-promise. Instead of saying I will definitely be there, I say I will do my best.

Self care is not selfish

Living with chronic health issues showed me how to put myself first. Some may say it's selfish, but it is actually the only way to survive. My immediate concerns are for my health and the life of those in my household. I don't always get this equation right, and sometimes I try to push through knowing that I will regret it later.

For loved ones

You need to know, we are trying. The best thing you can do is talk to us. It gives you the chance to express your feelings or frustrations and is a chance for us to remind you that we do care, but we simply ran out of spoons. We truly need you to remember that we love you.

For those living with migraine

Don't place guilt on yourself. Your body is fighting a war inside. Sometimes, all we can do is rest. Take the time to learn how to make the best use of your spoons because it will take practice. Don't forget to express yourself. Communication is key. If you cannot do something, remind your loved ones that even though your body is drained, you care and love them.

Be sure to read part two, Lessons Learned: Pushing Too Far To Avoid the Disappointment of Migraine.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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