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I was having a particularly bad time with my depression the other day. I woke up and instantly knew it was not going to be a good day. Simply getting out of bed seemed a task akin to climbing a mountain.

Over the years I have learned that on days like that I just have to take it easy and let it pass but it’s still frustrating. It’s frustrating because I have things that I want to do and people that I want to see . On the day in question I started googling, looking for tips on how to motivate myself whilst depressed. And that is when I stumbled across the Spoon Theory.

As soon as I started reading about the theory something clicked for me. It so perfectly described the way I feel when I am in the throes of depression that I wondered how I could not have heard of it before. It explains why sometimes I find it difficult to even do the things I love like seeing friends or taking a trip.

The Spoon Theory is basically a metaphor coined by Christine Miserandino when trying to explain to a friend what it feels like to live with a chronic illness. Christine was using it to describe a physical illness but it has also been used a lot since to describe how it feels to live with a mental illness such as depression (which is what I will be referring to when explaining it below).

The basic premise of the Spoon Theory is that everyone has a certain amount of mental and physical energy to get them through each day. A healthy person may have no real limits to their energy, having more than enough to do everything they need and want to do in a day without giving it so much as a second thought.

But for someone suffering from depression, it can be a different picture entirely. You often don’t have limitless energy so you have to pick and choose what you do, knowing that even the smallest of tasks can take away energy that would have otherwise been used for something else later on. In this theory, that limited energy is represented by having ‘spoons’. You only have a certain amount of spoons each day. Every task you decide to do uses up one of those spoons and when they are all gone you are so completely drained you can’t muster the energy for anything. Life becomes a series of choices and sacrifices.

On a bad day like the one I spoke about above, I wake up with very limited mental energy. For illustrative purposes, let’s say I have 15 spoons. Getting myself out of bed uses one spoon. Showering uses another. Putting my makeup on and doing my hair uses one spoon. As does driving to work. Walking into the office, making small talk with colleagues and trying to appear normal may use two spoons.

Now I’m left with only 9 spoons to get me through the day so you can see how quickly my energy can get depleted. And sometimes, small things can use up much more energy than they would on another day. If I’m really not feeling well, the simple act of making a decision about what to eat for dinner can cause me to feel overwhelmed and drained. Ridiculous I know. But unfortunately sometimes my life.

On days like that it is not uncommon for me to come home from work and go straight to bed. The effort of getting through the work day and trying to appear normal being just too much to cope with. Some days I can’t even leave the house at all. Exercise, cooking, seeing friends or doing anything else productive is simply out of the question.

On other good days, when I have seemingly limitless mental energy, I still have to be very mindful not to overdo it. If I do too much on good days I can sometimes exhaust myself and cause myself to spiral downwards into a bad place.

I’ve written about this before. About the fact that my mental health is quite heavily dependant upon me maintaining a very careful balance in my life. That means making enough time to rest and recharge. If that balance starts to tip in the wrong direction I immediately feel my mental health start to deteriorate.

This might seem quite a difficult concept for someone who is mentally and physically healthy to comprehend. But for someone living with depression it can be an unfortunate reality. That is why it is so important to ensure that you are looking after yourself and not putting too much pressure on yourself.

If you want to read more about the Spoon Theory, check out Christine’s blog post. To read more about it in a mental health context, check out this post on The Mighty.

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