Spoons are a term used by some people with disabilities, as a metaphor for their energy budget and calculations related to it. The metaphor arises from Christine Miserandino's article But You Don't Look Sick.
- At that moment, the spoon theory was born. I quickly grabbed every spoon on the table; hell I grabbed spoons off of the other tables. I looked at her in the eyes and said “Here you go, you have Lupus”. She looked at me slightly confused, as anyone would when they are being handed a bouquet of spoons. The cold metal spoons clanked in my hands, as I grouped them together and shoved them into her hands.
- I asked her to count her spoons. She asked why, and I explained that when you are healthy you expect to have a never-ending supply of “spoons”. But when you have to now plan your day, you need to know exactly how many “spoons” you are starting with. It doesn’t guarantee that you might not lose some along the way, but at least it helps to know where you are starting. She counted out 12 spoons... I asked her to list off the tasks of her day, including the most simple. As, she rattled off daily chores, or just fun things to do; I explained how each one would cost her a spoon. When she jumped right into getting ready for work as her first task of the morning, I cut her off and took away a spoon. I practically jumped down her throat. I said ” No! You don’t just get up. You have to crack open your eyes, and then realize you are late. You didn’t sleep well the night before. You have to crawl out of bed, and then you have to make your self something to eat before you can do anything else, because if you don’t, you can’t take your medicine, and if you don’t take your medicine you might as well give up all your spoons for today and tomorrow too.” I quickly took away a spoon and she realized she hasn’t even gotten dressed yet. Showering cost her spoon, just for washing her hair and shaving her legs...
Because of the author of the metaphor talking about lupus the "spoons" terminology is perhaps most often used by people with invisible fatigue and/or pain disorders, but it is also used by people with other types of disability including mental illness.
Note for abled allies
People without disabilities sometimes get sick or tired or overcommitted, which are in some ways analogous to having a spoon budget in terms of needing to specifically allocate limited energy to 'routine' daily chores. However disabled people have asked that the 'spoons' terminology not be appropriated by abled people.
- the illnesses of abled people are acute, and they do not have to plan how to maintain a job or social life or a household long-term with their illness energy level
- abled people do not have to face long-term constant scrutiny over whether they are "really" sick, whether they are trying hard enough to get well, whether they "deserve" any assistance they receive, and so on (including from carers and medical personnel)
- abled people do not experience chronic pain
- many abled people can voluntarily reduce their commitment level at or before the point where they become too tired to do routine chores such as dressing.