Many people don’t think twice about the energy it takes to shower, get dressed, or drive to work. Most people can go to the grocery store in the morning and make dinner in the evening. When you have chronic illness, like mitochondrial disease, you’re not like most people. Mito and many other conditions can cause extreme fatigue. On a bad day, you may not have the strength to even brush your teeth.
In a blog titled “The Spoon Theory,” Christine Miserandino describes how she showed her friend what it’s like to have lupus. Lupus often causes fatigue, fever, and joint pain, among other symptoms. While sitting at a diner, Miserandino handed her friend a “bouquet” of 12 spoons. Each spoon represented a unit of energy. She then asked her friend to describe what her typical day looks like. Miserandino took away a spoon for every task that she completed: showering, getting dressed with painful joints, standing on a train. Skipping lunch would also cost a spoon. When the spoons were gone, it meant there was barely energy to do anything else. This idea of quantifying energy as spoons, and the idea that people with chronic disease only get a handful of spoons each day, hit home with readers far and wide.
“Spoon theory” is now part of the lingo of autoimmune disease. Legions of people call themselves “spoonies,” connect on social media as #spoonies, use spoon theory to explain their chronic disease limitations, and plan their days around the number of spoons they have when they wake up.