Part 1 Lessons Learned: Through the Eyes of a Person with Chronic Migraine
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Part # 1 – spoons

If you don’t know the Spoon Theory, you should read it. It was written by Christine Miserandino on youdontlooksick.com, 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 a powerful one: we can only do so much within our own individual limitations. It can be applied to everyone’s life, not just those with chronic health conditions.

Applying the theory to my everyday life

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

I was one of those people who always ended up being the responsible or helpful person to call on. As my condition continued to get worse, I struggled with finding 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 in its own. But I also attempted to do everything that everybody else needed or wanted, especially when it came to my family.

Despite all of my efforts, I found myself sitting on my living room floor thinking “I can’t, I just can’t.” This wasn’t because what I was being asked to help with was 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?

This is when I realized that I had to set my own priorities 

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.”

Following the theory, we can both start the day with ten spoons. The difference is in how we spend those ten spoons and in how many spoons it takes to complete the task at hand. 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. This 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.

Due to this reality, 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 come to the realization that this is a must.

Regardless of who you are, there are only 24 hours in 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’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.

While everyone may not like it, those who value you will learn to accept it

Living with chronic health issues showed me how to put myself first. Some may try to 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 the caregivers, family members, and friends

You need to know, we are trying. The best thing you can do is talk to us. This 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 others dealing with migraine

Don’t place guilt on yourself. Your body is fighting a war inside of you, 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 you love them.


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