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How This Video Game Explains My Spoon Theory for Depression

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I often hear talk of spoon theory as a way to explain the challenges of chronic illness. People argue whether mental illnesses also use spoons. One day as I was struggling after using all my energy to walk the dog, I began to think of my energy and mental illness not in terms of spoons but in terms of one of my favorite video games: Chibi-Robo.

To be clear, I like spoon theory and personally believe it applies to all chronic illness, whether physical or mental. However, I find that the people in my life without chronic illness find spoons to be too abstract to understand. My family cannot comprehend how a simple shower or meal can be draining. I hope that my Chibi-Robo battery theory is a little less abstract and easier to explain to our loved ones and friends.

To quickly explain Chibi-Robo, it is a game about a tiny robot who cleans for a family and helps different toys along the way. In the beginning, Chibi only has a very small battery that runs out of power quickly and must be recharged by plugging into an outlet. Throughout the game, Chibi gets larger batteries that last longer. However, each task he performs costs him a different amount of battery power and if he does not recharge soon enough, he faints and ends up in bed. This also happens if he gets hurt; he automatically loses all power and faints.

I imagine my mental illness as waking up each morning with a Chibi battery. Some days I wake up with a large one and some days only a tiny one. Each task I must perform uses up some amount of my battery and I need to be careful not to let it run dry. Recharging my battery throughout the day is crucial. I might be able to recharge by watching a TV show, reading a book or having a meal. But sometimes, I need a larger recharge that requires a nap. If I do run out of power, I end up in bed for hours or even an entire day. Some tasks are like getting hurt in Chibi-Robo as they drain all my power at once and send me straight to bed. For me, this is often doctor appointments but could be many other tasks for other people. No two people have the same batteries or drain their batteries at the same rate.

In the same way as spoons, people with chronic illnesses have to check in with the amount of power they have in the morning and decide which tasks can be completed on that amount of battery power (or spoons). I have to decide which tasks are necessary and how much battery power (if any) I have left for hobbies and socializing. The hardest part is not knowing how much battery power I will have each day and not being able to plan ahead in case I wake up with a tiny battery. Accepting this uncertainty and the need to recharge without guilt is one of the hardest aspects of my chronic mental illness.

That day, walking the dog had drained my battery completely. I was laying in bed feeling terrible and wondering why some days I cannot do the simplest things such as walking, bathing or cooking. That is when I realized that I had drained my small battery for the day and the best thing I could do was recharge.

What do you do to recharge your Chibi-batteries?

If the Spoon Theory doesn’t work for you, check out this list of other alternative Spoon Theory metaphors.

Getty Images illustration via Nadia Bormotova

Originally published: March 2, 2021
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