Thursday Therapy: The Spoon Theory

Over the years, I've been told I'm fearless so many times that I've run the gamut of feelings on that concept. I've embraced it, I've denied it. I've tried to become as fearless as people seemed to think I was, and I've hated the idea that maybe I had become fearless.

For those who are curious: that last bit was due to the realization that fear - like happiness, anger, excitement, arousal, jealousy, etc. - is an essential emotional reaction, and I wanted to stay emotional. These days, I often swing between being too emotional (often feeling all the feelings at once) and underemotional (feeling numb, or very close to nothing), which is part of how I learned that even fear is an essential emotion. This is also one of several reasons I've chosen not to try medications to help me cope with PTSD - the desire not to further deaden my ability to be emotional.

So, all that to say this: I'm not fearless. I have PTSD and I spend every single moment of my life in varying degrees of anxiety (which is, in it's most basic form, borne of simple fear). Even sleep isn't free of this - I sometimes wake up in an utter panic in the middle of the night, terrified of "nothing," for "no reason."

I am not fearless. As stated above, fear is an emotion essential to human life - fear is what triggers your need and ability to do things like outrun lions and lift cars. It's the thing that reminds us of how much we want to keep moving, how much we long to experience that next moment, even if it's gonna be a bad one. It's the intuition that has told me so many times that something was wrong, that I needed to pay attention.

Ignoring it as many times as I have has ruined more aspects of my life than I care to mention here - but thankfully, ignoring it doesn't make it disappear. This is why I chose long ago to shed "fearless" and embrace "courageous" instead.

You see, I can be trembling in fear as I lay awake at night, covered in sweat and biting back sobs, and still (usually) muster the strength to carry my own burdens. The courage to bear it in such a way that I don't (again, usually) have to call for help. I don't need to seek company; I just rest in it, just give myself grace and patience to process it. There are days when I'm nauseated with it all day long, my mind giving me one worst-case scenario after another (sometimes they're realistic and sometimes they aren't) and I shed them as best I can, going through the motions of getting my children fed, keeping my dog cared for. I am fighting invisibly, behind the curtain of a smile, while outwardly I work to be useful to those who need me. I battle the demons with what my therapist calls "evidence";

I spend each day in an argument with myself, trying to convince me that while all is not well today, there is hope that one day, it will be.

I move through the noise of my own racing thoughts, answering timers and checking calendars, typing words like these, taking photos to share with my supporters. Juggling the immediate needs of my family, struggling under burdens of my own. Some days are better than others, but the truth is, each day has its set of struggles.

But how do you explain that to people who don't (or can't) get it? Because you can't see PTSD - it's not the same as losing an eye or a leg, not the same as having burns all over my skin, not the same as having a body literally bent and broken for the world to look upon. The sad truth is, unless I'm in the kind of full-blown panic attack that I can't hide, you can't see the panic beneath the surface. You can't smell the smells that haunt me, or see the replays that loop constantly in my mind. You can't hear what I'm still hearing ... echoes of a past you didn't live through (which is not to say you don't have your own things, because you're human - of course you do). You can't see the headaches that plague me, can't see the knotted shoulders. You can't see the aching back. You can't see the shame, or the sadness, or the sheer weight of embarrassment that hits me when it's ten in the morning, we've been out of bed for an hour, and I'm already watching the clock with a desperate hope that it'll move a little faster so that bedtime will come again - because while I know that bedtime doesn't always mean sleep for me, it does at least mean rest, a quiet dark that I can lie alone in, battling undistracted, unfettered by the responsibilities of my daily life.

Recently I learned about the "spoon theory," and I fell in love with what it means to people battling illness - particularly when the illness is "invisible" like mine. Because you see - spoons don't work quite the same way when you live with an invisible illness:

Allergies. Arthritis. Cancer. Celiac. Crohn's. Fatigue. Fibromyalgia. Depression. Diabetes. Lupus. Lyme. Sjogren's. There are countless others - each with varying degrees of severity and debilitating effect, each virtually undetectable unless confessed.

Sadly, sometimes this all gets still more complicated - where a healthy person waking up from a good night's sleep might begin their day with 15 or 20 spoons, many invisible illnesses (visible ones too, of course) don't just cause every aspect of the day to "cost" more spoons. It's not uncommon for people living with illness to simply start out with less spoons to get them through the day.

I often joke that while I'm happy God takes the time to breathe life into each of my children each morning, I sometimes wish He wouldn't breathe quite so hard - because while I start out with 10 or so spoons every morning to get me through the day, it's not uncommon for my children to each wake up with 80 of their own. Some days it's just my way of noticing the difference (and a helpful way of expressing that difference to the girls when they're overwhelming) but other times, it's outright envy - I imagine what I could do with a full set of spoons, and while my heart swells at the potential I see in my beautiful children, it sinks in regard to my own.

Lucky for me, I made a point to learn about budgeting early on, and the concept of planning ahead to provide for upcoming needs applies to daily life energy just as well as it applies to money. I know that on therapy days, I should plan to take it easy. If I need a blog written for a therapy day, I write it beforehand. I plan easy dinners for those nights - something I can make in the crock pot or throw in the oven. Doctor's appointments, social outings, and other "high cost" items are accounted for in the same way. Sometimes, it even seems possible to "save" a little in advance, taking time to mentally rest up in preparation for something I know is coming.

But in the end, I'm just trying to live with the "spoons" I'm given. I'm spending my moments in the best way that I know, and I'm playing my hand with all the skill of my experience.

So just know - if you're living on a limited daily "spoon" budget too, you are not suffering alone. We, the silent warriors of invisible illness, are an army of strength and courage and determination. There is a fountain of support to be found among us, and understanding for the variety of our struggles. And while we may not be able to share spoons, I have learned over the years that finding compassion amongst friends is truly the next best thing.

(NOTE: Sometimes you need more than just a good coffee date with a girlfriend to help you cope with what's going on in your life - which is why, after much research into the differences between therapists and psychologists, including this article from BetterHelp, I ended up choosing to see a therapist. I wanted the flexibility of a therapist because I often struggle with feeling trapped and over-committed in my life, and the idea of a more flexible and less structured treatment plan felt like the right way to go. That being said, a more in-depth psychologist might be beneficial for others - make sure you do your own research in choosing mental health professionals.)
If you liked this post, I encourage you to share it. If your life is impacted in some way by this message, or if you just want to say something encouraging, please feel free to leave a comment below. You can also access more exclusive content by supporting me on Patreon, and if you'd like to be sure you never miss a post here, make sure you subscribe to this blog.

Either way - whether you're a first time reader or a loyal follower of this site ... thank you for reading.

NOTE: This post is a partnership with, in conjunction with my love of their site and content combined with their love of giving people a better, more personalized way of accessing quality mental healthcare. All thoughts, opinions, and ideas expressed in this post are my own - and as you know, I would never recommend any site, service or product I didn't authentically love.


  1. I love this idea and I'm still at my age trying to budget and do it correctly.
    One of these days I might actually get it
    My PTSD makes me want to hid in the house but I make myself get up and actually do things (besides going to work)

    1. Well if you figure out how to get it right consistently, let me know! I'm always trying. I even have some days now and then when I get it, and it's so exciting to think I've finally figured it out. But then the next day will hit me like a brick and everything looks different again.


Post a Comment

Like this post? Leave me a comment - and don't forget to check "notify me" so you'll get an alert when I reply!