Using the Spoon Theory to Explain Depression

Feb 24, 2019 | Depression, Mental Health | 0 comments

The Spoon Theory is a way of describing the lack of energy often experienced by people with chronic illness. It can also be used to describe how depression can feel for it’s sufferers

I stumbled across the Spoon Theory relatively recently. I was having a particularly bad day with my depression. One of those days when simply getting out of bed seemed as difficult as climbing a mountain.

As I started reading something clicked for me. It so perfectly described the way I feel when I am in the throes of depression. It explained why I sometimes find it difficult to do the things I love. Simple things like seeing friends or taking a trip.

Christine Miserandino came up with The Spoon Theory 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. They have more than enough to do everything they need and want to do in a day without 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 use energy that would have otherwise been used for something else later on.

The Spoon Theory aims to explain this using the idea of ‘spoons’. You only have a certain amount of spoons each day. Everything you do uses up one of those spoons. When they are gone you are drained and have no energy left for anything else. 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 on makeup and doing my hair uses a spoon. Driving to work, walking into the office, making small talk with colleagues and trying to appear normal uses two.

Now I have only 9 spoons left 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. When I’m really not feeling well, I can feel overwhelmed and drained by something as simple as deciding what to eat for dinner.

On days like that it is not uncommon for me to come home from work and go straight to bed. 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 good days when I have lots of 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 before about the fact that my mental health is 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.

READ MORE – Everyday Habits I Use to Manage My Mental Health

Someone who is mentally and physically healthy may find it difficult to comprehend. But for someone living with depression it can be a reality. That is why it is so important to ensure that you look after yourself and avoid 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.


Why It’s Okay to Take a Day Out of Life
What to Do If You Think You Have Depression

Spoon Theory - Pinterest 1

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