What Exactly is a Spoonie?

If you are new here or new to the chronically ill and disabled community, you may be wondering why I keep talking about spoons. What are spoons in relation to the life of a disabled or chronically ill person – and what exactly is a “spoonie”?

Three spoons - What exactly is a spoonie?

Birth of the Spoonie – Spoon Theory Explained

In 2003, a chronically ill woman named Christine Miserandino penned an article about what life was like in her shoes. The article was an account of her attempting to relate the concept of living with chronic illness to a friend. 

In her story, she uses spoons as an example, since the story takes place in a restaurant where they were readily available. In the story, Christine gives her friend a handful of spoons and tells her to think of them as the amount of energy and physical ability that she has for the day.

She called this idea the “Spoon Theory”. 

In her theory, her friend held a total of twelve spoons. While a normal person might have a seemingly-endless supply of “spoons”, a disabled or chronically ill person would have a limited supply. After her friend counted out those twelve spoons, Christine told her to think of every task she would have to do on an everyday basis – and subtract a spoon for each one.

Very quickly, her friend realized how difficult it would be to navigate a normal daily routine with limited “spoons”. Improper sleep, skipping medicine, or missing meals would subtract spoons from the total as well. 

By the time the friend was done with her theoretical day, she had a much deeper understanding of what life was like for Christine.

Spoonie refers to anyone who is chronically ill or disabled.

Changing the Disabled Vernacular

I don’t know if Christine knew just how much her story – and the article she wrote about it – would change the way disabled and chronically ill people talk about themselves to other people. The idea of “spoons” became a commonplace one in the community over time, and people began to refer to themselves and other chronically ill or disabled people as “spoonies”.

Being a “spoonie” has given many people – myself included – a sense of community. It’s a way to relate to other people who have similar situations, even if their individual illness, injury, or disability is different. 

The Spoon Theory has even given many people an easier and more concise way of explaining life with chronic pain and illness to their healthcare providers, family members, and friends!

So, next time you hear someone refer to themselves as a “spoonie”, you’ll know what they’re talking about. You’ll know that they’re living with some kind of chronic condition and limited energy as a result. 

And, hopefully, you’ll do what you can to help them manage that condition by being patient, understanding, and kind.

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