Life with Limits: Spoon Theory and Family Life

Today we’re going to talk a little about spoon theory. Credit for this theory belongs to Christine Miserandino over at If you haven’t heard of spoon theory before, I highly recommend clicking over there and reading her essay explaining the metaphor and its origin. It isn’t very long. I’ll wait.





Okay! Spoons! [Continue Reading…]

Image: Cup of spoons

For someone like me, living with rheumatoid arthritis, or like my husband, who has major depressive disorder, we know that spoons are incredibly finite. We also know that spoons can never be counted on. You can wake up with ten spoons and plan your day only to find that a normally one-spoon task actually secretly stole three that day, and then you have to hastily revise your plans or borrow against tomorrow. For spoonies, life is a process of constantly revising your plans. It’s something you just have to get used to. Most days, the reality of my life is that I can’t go to the grocery store and put away the groceries and cook dinner and put the leftovers away and do the dishes. I can sometimes do the first three, but trying to do the last two as well would probably mean I end up sitting in bed until noon the next day, skipping a shower and maybe skipping breakfast (because breakfast after a day like that might cost more than one spoon, and it’s better to sacrifice one spoon by skipping breakfast than to sacrifice more than one by getting up to make it.). Complicated, right?

And we need to be really clear here:

  1. Spoons are not a matter of will power.
  2. You cannot create new spoons.
  3. Running out of spoons is not the same as laziness or not wanting to do something.
  4. There are few tasks that don’t cost at least one spoon.


My husband and I are both introverts, and my husband has major depressive disorder while I have generalized anxiety disorder. So for us, often doing important non-physical tasks like calling the doctor’s office or emailing someone back about a problem can cost us spoons because of the additional emotional energy those tasks require.

The one good thing we’ve discovered is that often we can work to help offset each other’s lacks. Sometimes it costs me fewer spoons to change a diaper or feed the cats than it costs my husband. On the other hand, if I can’t put the leftovers away and wash the dishes, maybe my husband can do those things, or at least one of them. Sometimes no one can do the dishes, and that’s just how it goes. Sometimes I go to the store, put the groceries away, and then realize I’ve already run out of spoons. I’ll be borrowing against tomorrow just to get my son fed, changed, and put to bed. So unless my husband has stored up a small bouquet of spoons that day that he can use to make the dinner I planned, it’s take-out or fast food for us. It isn’t ideal, but we’re fed, and then we both have a chance of breaking even with our spoons tomorrow. Living with illness requires a lot of compromises.

Image Quote: Living with illness requires a lot of compromises.

Living with illness means that we’ve learned to prioritize the things that are most important: we’re all fed, bathed, clothed, and reasonably happy. Are our floors always swept? Are our bookshelves dusted? Will we ever have empty laundry hampers? The answer to all of the above is no, but that’s okay.

There’s a lot of pressure in society (often directed toward women, but not exclusively) to achieve ideals in domestic spaces. By which I mean something like keep a clean, clutter-free, well-designed house; cook three organic, healthy, diet-friendly meals every day; maintain an excellent physique/glowing complexion/cute hairstyle; and be an eternal wellspring of stimulating and developmentally appropriate activities for your offspring.

I am physically incapable of doing, like, any of those things. On a good day, maybe I can try for one of those things. Or, like, one-third of one of those things. But honestly, I don’t think it’s just me, and I don’t think it’s just spoonies, either. I know lots of healthy people who struggle with ideals that compete for their time and attention. My sister-in-law is one of the most physically fit people I know. She eats like a nutritional guru, works out, and always finds awesome things to do with her kids, like gardening and hiking. She also apologizes for the mess every time we come over to her house. (To be very clear: there’s no judgment on our part. Our house is a disaster. I wish ours looked as good as hers.) It’s a fact of life that unless we can afford to pay someone to attend to the things we can’t, then we just have to prioritize the things we find most important and accept the reality of our abilities and the finitude of our time and energy. There are only so many hours in the day, after all.

It’s taken me a long time to come to terms with these limitations on my life. Learning about spoon theory went a long way toward reconciling my perceived failures with my reality, but I still find myself disappointed by dirty dishes, hard water stains in the toilet, a litter box that’s starting to smell a little ripe. I feel guilty when we have more fast food dinners than home cooked dinners in a week. I poke at my stretch-marked mummy tummy every so often and wonder if I’ll ever find the time and energy to work on healing my diastisis recti. I secretly worry about short-changing my kid because I haven’t made him any sensory bins to play with. Will he ever learn his colors???

I never had sensory bins as a kid, and somehow I still learned my colors. There were six of us in my family growing up, and our house was always a little messy. My mom was always stretched a little thin in caring for us and our house, but we were fed, clean, clothed, and even entertained.

We all did our best and were happy. Somehow that seems like a better ideal to be aiming for anyway: a life with limits can be a good and happy life. No illness or pain can rob you of your birthright of beauty.

Quote Image: A life with limits can be a good and happy life.

To that end, I’m launching this blog for you, reader-friend. Maybe you’re a spoonie like me and need a little morale boost once in a while. Maybe you’re a pretty healthy pal, but you still struggle to accept your own limits or the impossibility of society’s standards and ideals. This blog is for all of us seeking to find our way from chaos to order, from darkness to light, from anxiety to peace, and from despair to hope. If something I write here moves you, makes you laugh, or helps make life a little easier, then I’ll be glad.

So here’s to you, and here’s to a happy life, limits and all.



Pinnable Image: Life with Limits: Spoon Theory and Family Life