22 Days of Musing: 3

Day 3. The upside-down reflection in a spoon.

Some of you may have noticed that when I speak about my experiences with depression and anxiety, the challenges that they present, and the way that they draw upon my energy reserves, I’ll often talk about the said reserves in units of spoons: I ran out of spoons, I didn’t have the spoons to do such-and-such, that sort of thing. This isn’t my metaphor, it must be said; it’s originally owed to one Christine Miserandino, an American sufferer of lupus who in 2003 wrote a heartfelt and simply splendid article about the ways in which sufferers of chronic illness must manage their activities with the comparatively limited amount of both physical and psychological energy they can deploy to fuel those activities. She spoke of a time when, in discussing the challenges of a disabling illness with a friend, she made use of a bundle of physical, actual spoons from the restaurant they were eating at to demonstrate to her friend how this process rolls out. Getting out of bed after a bad night’s sleep costs a spoon. Doing something in the bathroom that requires additional energy, like shaving your legs or washing your hair, costs a spoon. Choosing clothes and getting dressed may cost a spoon. And while the average person has the luxury of a limitless supply of spoons with which to spoon out the little pieces of their day, those who do suffer from a chronic illness or a disability (such as lupus, PTSD, hypothyroidism, chronic fatigue syndrome, endometriosis, depression, MS, or any one of a cast of thousands) have to be more careful with their energy, as their condition places certain limitations on both the way they spend that energy, and the amount they have to spend. For my part, the way I experience depression can at times make the number of spoons I have to work with frustratingly unpredictable; if something takes place that triggers me to shut my emotional responses down and retreat into myself, it may strip me of basically all of my spoons. And paradoxically, if an event occurs that causes me to feel a particular rush of emotion – whether it be joy or love or excitement – then after the event is over, the subsequent neurotransmitter crash may be sufficient to do the same, robbing me of spoons when spending time having fun and enjoying myself should really be allowing me to regather them. There are times when going to a dinner on a Friday night, even if (and sometimes especially if) I have a wonderful time, may mean I basically have to write Saturday off in terms of productive achievement. In the end, negotiating the balance of spoons on a day-to-day basis is one of depression’s great challenges; indeed, one of the great challenges of mental illness more generally, and even moreso given the notion that some purely psychological stimuli may decrease your spoon count substantially and without warning. But the silver lining of this rather dark cloud is that, as Miserandino herself has said, it means that when you choose to spend spoons on something – or someone – you value it more as a consequence. You cherish it more. And so when I can gather up the spoons to write a friend a long email, or message enquiring as to how they are, or call them hoping to catch up, it’s a weird, perhaps slightly twisted means by which I can at least attempt to show how much I do cherish them, even through the blackness.

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