General

Talking About Spoons

Depression takes a lot out of you; when I was very depressed and untreated I (of course) hardly functioned, so I had come up with what I called a “conservation of willpower”. Essentially, it meant that I had to neglect something for the sake of completing something else more important. In particular, I would often not shower (or anything else hygienic that people may take for granted) to get homework done. As unbelievable as it may sound, I was in a state of mind where even small tasks drained me. I was a miserable, filthy dude and I wasn’t gonna be able to go outside that day, but at least I did my math homework (and emailed it in). And, to top it off, homework tended to drain me to the point where I wouldn’t do anything the day after (or even the day after).

During a random walk through Wikipedia, I discovered what is known as Spoon Theory. The idea is that, for each day, you have a set amount of spoons (which are an arbitrary unit of energy) and each activity will use up some of your spoons. It’s a very subjective model, but it can be helpful in figuring out your day. The concept of spoons has some traction with people with disabilities, chronic illness, or disorders who may find some aspects of daily life challenging and therefore have to ration out their energy. In many ways, it is similar to what I used to do.

I think there’s a lot to be said about keeping track of your energy, even if you don’t have a condition. There is only so much one person can do in one day, and it will be different for everybody. If you have a handle on how much you can handle in one day, then you can avoid pushing yourself too hard and burning out.

It’s easy to want to do everything. After all, there’s a lot of great stuff you can do. But you really can’t do it all. If you find yourself overwhelmed and exhausted all the time, that means its time to have an honest look at your schedule. If you always push yourself to do everything, one day you’ll find yourself doing exactly nothing.

The spoons concept appeals to me because it is entirely arbitrary and adaptable for everybody. If you have a lot of energy, feel free to think of your spoons as roughly forklift-sized. The idea is not exactly cataloging how many spoons do you have and how big they are; the idea is to honestly examine your day and have realistic expectations for your day.