What Is A Spoonie, And How Can The Concept Help You?

//What Is A Spoonie, And How Can The Concept Help You?

What Is A Spoonie, And How Can The Concept Help You?

Have you heard someone with a chronic illness mention the word “spoonie”? This actually refers to an incredibly important metaphor that allows chronic patients to describe their illness and the challenges they face to another person. It can refer to any individual who suffer from a chronic illness. The term “spoonie” originated from The Spoon Theory, a blog post written by Christine Miserandino. Essentially, the Spoon Theory illustrates the challenges that someone living with a chronic illness faces every day. Each day, spoonies have a limited amount of energy and ability. This energy is represented by a handful of spoons. Activities of daily living take away “spoons.”  This makes it harder for chronic patients to keep up with daily tasks and responsibilities.

What is the Spoon Theory?

In 2010, Christine Miserandino was a college student living with lupus. She and her best friend were sitting in a diner, chatting about life in general. When Christine pulled out medicine to take with her food, her friend asked what it was like to have lupus. Christine was shocked. She recalled her reaction:

“I was shocked not only because she asked the random question, but also because I assumed she knew all there was to know about Lupus. She came to doctors with me, she saw me walk with a cane, and throw up in the bathroom. She had seen me cry in pain, what else was there to know?”

As anyone living with a chronic illness can attest, taking medicine, crying in pain, or struggling through the simple tasks of life are hard enough. If the illness happens to be “invisible,” even good friends and family can have a hard time truly understanding what it feels like. Invisible illnesses are those that are not readily apparent and include things like fibromyalgia, lupus, chronic pain, depression or other mood disorders, and chronic fatigue (among others).

What does spoonie mean? 

Christine realized that her best friend needed a concrete way to understand what her daily struggle was like. The Spoon Theory was born.

If you assume that the day starts with ten spoons, then a morning for someone working and living with a chronic illness might go like this.

What Is A Spoonie? | PainDoctor.com

One spoon

Wake up and get out of bed. This may be challenging because chronic pain makes an early start difficult due to poor sleep and the fact that many pain conditions are worse in the morning.

One spoon

Brush teeth and get ready for work. This should actually be more than one spoon, as there are numerous actions that make this incredibly challenging, including all of the bending and stretching involved (drying feet, holding one arm up for two minutes to brush teeth). Getting dressed is another challenge, especially if clothes have multiple buttons or difficult closures. Many people with chronic illness have to resort to easy-to-pull on clothes with zippers and no buttons.

One spoon

Make breakfast. Many medications for chronic illness must be taken with food, so breakfast is essential. Trouble is, with so much activity already, a spoonie may be feeling tired to the point of nausea already. If there are children in the house to feed before school or lunches to pack, this part of the day can consume many more than one spoon.

One spoon

Drive to work or doctor’s appointments. Those who don’t have a chronic illness take for granted the act of driving, but a spoonie has to consider all steps involved, from actually getting into the car (Is the seat too high? Then lifting their bodyweight into the car. Too low? Easing into the driver’s seat engages muscles that may already be exhausted) to sitting up straight and focusing on the road. While medications may ease symptoms, they can also cause drowsiness, making attention difficult.

One spoon

Walk into appointment or work. Those with invisible illnesses are often eligible for handicapped car tags but may choose to forgo those. Because there are no crutches, canes, walkers, or wheelchairs, a spoonie may be subjected to nasty looks from those who see them park. Rather than deal with that, spoonies may decide to just park in the regular spaces and face a long walk to their desk.

The above example is a conservative view of what a morning with a chronic illness might look like. In reality, many spoonies use up all ten of their daily spoons in the first few hours of their day. They can “borrow” spoons from the next day, pushing to get through, but they will pay for it in fatigue.

Put even more simply, spoons represent energy. And using those spoons has a real consequence for people with chronic conditions.

What Is A Spoonie? | PainDoctor.com

Who is a spoonie? 

Healthy people have a theoretically unlimited supply of spoons every day and can take this for granted. Those living with a chronic illness know that their spoons are limited. They must plan their day accordingly, conserving what energy they have when they can. That way they can focus on what is most important for that day. It is important to understand that this dance with the spoons is an ongoing, daily occurrence. There is no break or holiday for those with chronic illness or pain. Spoonies cannot “just do it.” Whatever “it” is must be planned and prepared for, sometimes days or weeks in advance.

The good news about the Spoon Theory and being a spoonie is that it can help to not only explain to people exactly what life is like with chronic illness but also to empower the person with a chronic condition. It may be difficult to always have to budget energy. This model though can help a spoonie plan their day around the things that are most important.

Especially for those with a spouse and children, this model can help make clear what a spoonie can and cannot accomplish in any given day. This might also encourage family members to pitch in and take over tasks that might be necessary but not crucial for a spoonie to complete. For example, even the youngest family members can make their own breakfast, help load a dishwasher, and pack their lunches. If the bus stop for school is in sight, developing a ritual of kisses, goodbyes, and waves at the door instead of a walk all the way to the bus might be an option. Every spoon-saving little bit helps.

Why is the spoon theory so important?

Having a solid metaphor explain what life is like with chronic illness can help you share more with your loved ones. But it can also help you understand how chronic illness affects your life.

Again, in Christine’s words:

“[It’s] hard, the hardest thing I ever had to learn is to slow down, and not do everything. I fight this to this day. [I] hate feeling left out, having to choose to stay home, or to not get things done that I want to. [Spoon theory helps loved ones] feel that frustration. [It also helps loved ones] understand, that everything everyone else does comes so easy, but for me it is one hundred little jobs in one. I need to think about the weather, my temperature that day, and the whole day’s plans before I can attack any one given thing. When other people can simply do things, I have to attack it and make a plan like I am strategizing a war. It is in that lifestyle, the difference between being sick and healthy. It is the beautiful ability to not think and just do. I miss that freedom. I miss never having to count ‘spoons.’”

Chronic pain patients, especially, get really good at hiding their pain and finding ways to cope. Sometimes sharing how it affects you can help others better help you. It can also combat the social isolation many chronic pain patients feel. It can help them connect with other patients who feel the same.

How to find other spoonies online

Naming the Spoon Theory can help. But, using social media with the term spoonie and the hashtags #spoonie and #spoonieproblems can be an even greater support. Finding other spoonies online can help those with invisible illnesses to connect to others just like them. In the past, there has been a stigma behind not looking sick, but as more people reveal their struggles, that stigma may be lifting slowly, with growing understanding and acceptance.

You can find other spoonies on any social media site, but especially Twitter or Tumblr. You can also find many people who use the spoon theory to describe their pain in our chronic pain support group on Facebook. Having someone to talk to about your illness and the challenges it creates in your life can be incredibly therapeutic. Spoonies united can also help create a real impact in the way we talk about people with chronic pain and other conditions.

You can also find other spoonies talking about their chronic illness on YouTube. Annie Elainey is a vlogger who talks about the Spoon Theory on her channel.

Other communities of spoonies exist around the self-care packages that Spoonie Essentials releases. Opening up your box each month with other Instagram users is a fun way to talk to other spoonies. Bonus! You get to find products that help your everyday life.

You can find even more spoonie inspiration in our posts on:



Are you or someone you love a spoonie? Have you used the spoonie theory (or something like it) to explain the hardships you face? 


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By | 2017-10-05T14:45:54-07:00 October 5th, 2017|Tags: , , , , , |14 Comments

About the Author:

Pain Doctor
Pain Doctor was created with one mission in mind: help and educate people about their pain conditions, treatment options and find a doctor who can help end their pain issues.


  1. Avatar
    Darla an Cyrus July 31, 2017 at 3:33 pm

    I live with CRPS everyday since 1989 an I’ve only met 2 doctors who even understood an this will be a good way to explain it also I’ve been on opiates since 1990 with horrible pain an I am scared to death of what’s going to happen to me an I’ve had all the procedures they try an nothing worked so I’m really very anxious about all this, I read the study the government did an I thought it was ridiculous they didn’t see people like me who really needed this, they talked to people who were addict prone, people trying to scam an make money by getting multiple prescriptions to sell an dealers who laced their drugs with high concentrations of Fentynol killing people not a very good survey

    • Pain Doctor
      Pain Doctor July 31, 2017 at 6:43 pm

      Hi Darla — Thank you for sharing your thoughts here.

  2. Avatar
    Lori Perez September 15, 2017 at 8:44 am

    Where have I bèen lol?? Have been very ill since “forever” with EDS, fibro, etc….
    Today I looked up spoonie and found this! Thank you!! What a great way to explain to people who don’t get it or even with family members on a bad day!! I will try this out, even with myself and see how it goes! 👍

    • Pain Doctor
      Pain Doctor September 18, 2017 at 6:24 pm

      Yah! We’re so glad this helps.

  3. Avatar
    Donanne Blankenship October 12, 2017 at 12:05 pm

    I am living with post polio syndrome. Every doctor I have ever seen says to exercise to prevent further weakness. Pool therapy worked for a while. Now I run out of energy and strength before even reaching the gym. I feel like a failure at preventing further weakness and have a lot of guilt. Did I try hard enough? My family is very supportive however. I try to avoid going to see any physician now because they just don’t get it.

    • Pain Doctor
      Pain Doctor October 16, 2017 at 1:07 pm

      Hi Donanne — We are so sorry to hear about the challenges you’ve faced. We’re so glad your family is supportive and probably echo their sentiment when we say that any one living with chronic pain is definitely trying hard enough. You are doing the best we can–we know it. We recommend reaching out to support groups for extra help or ideas for treatments: https://paindoctor.com/chronic-pain-support-groups/. If your doctors aren’t helping, we also recommend looking for someone who specializes in pain management to help. You can find a pain doctor near you at https://paindoctor.com/find-your-pain-doctor/.

  4. Avatar
    Ruby December 12, 2017 at 10:26 am

    I caught the end of something about “spoonies” on NPR day before yesterday. I couldn’t get to the room where the radio was soon enough to hear it all. It was time for a nap, so I promised myself I’d google it when I got home from the doctors yesterday. After my appointments I had to run to the store so when I got home, I was just too tired to sit at the computer. So……here I am 3 days later finally reading about “spoonies”…..I need a nap so I won’t run out of spoons today and can get my Christmas cards done in time to send out in the morning…maybe. I joke about naps and procrastination with a few friends I still have. But they don’t really know what it’s like and sometimes I get tired of hearing them say things like “Oh, I know. I hurt so bad when I come home from work…blah, blah, blah.” Job? Oh you have a job??? Do you know how fortunate you are? Of course you don’t.

    • Pain Doctor
      Pain Doctor December 18, 2017 at 6:39 pm

      Hi Ruby — We’re so glad this article helped you learn more about this term. Even with this explanation, it can be hard for others to understand. We recommend reaching out to support groups to find people who really understand and can empathize with what you’re going through. We have a list of those here: https://paindoctor.com/chronic-pain-support-groups/. Hope that helps!

  5. Avatar
    Kashif Ansari March 2, 2018 at 2:36 am

    Pain is such a personal thing. We cannot pass judgment on each other since there is no way to tell how much pain the other person is feeling. All we can do is empathise and help. We cannot actually feel another person’s internal pain short of sympathising with him or her. For some people a pin prick may feel like a gaping wound. For others just gettting out of bed every morning is a Herculean task. Cold showers help and so does rubbing ice on the aching joints. Them there is the spice known as turmeric which when dissolved in a warm glass of milk makes for an excellent pain remedy. It beats inflammation. Finally, writing your daily frustrations down can also ease the psychological element of chronic pain. Prayer and meditation are spiritual solutions that can do wonders for someone who is in pain too.

    • Pain Doctor
      Pain Doctor March 5, 2018 at 11:23 am

      Thank you for your comments Kashif!

  6. Avatar
    Jhoei May 22, 2019 at 8:29 pm

    I never heard about Spoon Theory until now. I find it very interesting and relevant. Thanks for the new knowledge I got from reading this.

    • Pain Doctor
      Pain Doctor May 24, 2019 at 12:07 pm

      Glad it helps!

  7. Avatar
    1 sweet rose June 17, 2019 at 12:38 pm

    I have just learnt what a spoon is an yes I am a spoon …I usually use the eg of a tank of fuel. ..most people start with a full tank of energy every day but I start off on a good day with half a tank an the more I do the more fuel I use …but now I can find other spoonies ….yaaaay

    • Pain Doctor
      Pain Doctor June 17, 2019 at 5:44 pm

      We are so glad this helps!

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