Woman looking at the ice cream on a spoon

How the 'Spoon Theory' Relates to My Life as Someone With Bipolar Disorder


In the past week, I have been out of the house more and seen more people than I have in years. It’s almost like having a social life. In the past week, I have also slept more than I usually do in my sloth-like, torpid existence. I think the two are not unrelated.

If you follow the Spoon Theory, then you know each spoon represents an amount of coping you are able to do. Every day you get a certain number of spoons, not the same number every day. You use them to perform everyday tasks that most people think nothing of, things like getting out of bed (a spoon that some days you don’t even have,) taking a shower (1/2 spoon for Janet’s patented “super-fast smelly-bits sink wash-up,”) getting dressed, finding something to eat and fixing that something. (Keep a box of Cheerios by the bed in case you run out of spoons at this point.) All this is without even leaving the house. Some days, that’s all the spoons you have, and when you’ve used up your spoons, that’s it.

Other days, you can manage to do all this and leave the house, go to work, run errands and an assortment of other normal activities. However, for those of us who have mental disorders, such days are few and far between. You hear people with depression talk of not being able to get out of bed, and for the most part, this is caused by a lack of spoons. I am usually notoriously low on spoons. My husband now understands the Spoon Theory, and we use it as common shorthand for, “I’m too tired,” or “That’s all I can handle right now.”

Dan, however, is an over-scheduler. I often have to rein him in by pointing out his proposed slate of activities will not be possible because I, for one, will run out of spoons, and he may too.

The dry run for my recent spurt of socializing began last week. After I went for my final session with Dr R., I managed a trip to the bank, a trip to the place where I could pay my power bill and since it was right next door, a stop at Kmart to buy underwear. It was a good thing that was a hypomanic day, but it floored me for the rest of the day and the next. It started a cycle of bipolar up-and-down oscillations that were clearly related to spoon usage.

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My spate of social endeavors started with a double-header. On Saturday, I had lunch with a friend at a favorite restaurant I almost never get to go to. We talked about politics, social issues and book proposals. Then, I went home and had a little nap.

That evening Dan and I went to Monkey Bones for Zombie Dogz. I know that takes a little explaining. Monkey Bones is the tattoo studio where I got my semicolon tattoo. Zombie Dogz is a local food truck. (Also, it’s fun to say, “We went to Monkey Bones for Zombie Dogz.”)

Notice that in a single day I had to get out of bed and get dressed twice. That’s a lot of spoons. Sunday I was not able to get out of bed at all. Monday did not involve socializing, but it was another hellacious spoon-eater. Dan and I spent the day scrounging for documents and information that the IRS wanted. It was taxing. (See what I did there?)

Tuesday was an extra-special social event (though it did not involve getting dressed and going out or even interacting with other people.) It was Jenny Lawson’s online book launch party. Better known as the Bloggess, Jenny has severe social anxiety. At this stage in my life, I certainly would not be able to dress up, mingle and make polite conversation with both friends and complete strangers. The online party was a genius idea.

I sat at home in my pajamas with some red wine while the Bloggess read chapters from her new book, “Furiously Happy.” (You should get it, by the way. It’s about mental illness, but it’s funny.) As low-key a social situation as that was, it still used up spoons because it was something I had never done before. Making sure I had the right URL, converting Central Standard Time to Eastern Standard Time, not being able to ask questions because I don’t tweet and worrying Dan was getting bored. I did not have a lot a lot of spoons but still some.

The effects were getting cumulative. Again, I was unable to get out of bed the next day. In fact, Dan and I both slept away most of the daylight hours. For him, it’s understandable because he works third shift, but I have no such excuse. My only excuse is that if you borrow from the next day’s spoons or try to keep going without them, you will pay.

Thursday, I was determined, with or without spoons, I was going to meet a friend for coffee. I’ve seen her only once, briefly, in several years. In a way, it was a test of my ability to maintain anything approaching a real social life. I put forth the extra effort because a mutual friend cut her ties with me because I canceled so often on social engagements. I suppose I really have nothing to prove to anyone but myself, but it seems important that I do so. It’s not like coffee with a friend is an ordeal or anything. I just know I’ll be using a spoon for more than stirring my coffee.

I hope I have enough spoons left over to work on my other blog.

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