I had come home from work recently one evening, and my husband and I got into a sort of tiff. I was cooking dinner, and Mike began to express his frustrations at my lackadaisical attitude towards some of the errands that revolved around our household... not always jumping at the opportunity to fold the laundry, not always attentively picking up after the girls, or his latest source of irritation, the vacuum cleaner that had stopped working months ago. Now let me preface this by pointing out something that is truly important here: My husband is a unicorn. He is the most incredible hands-on father, a protective and supportive partner, and never shirks off any responsibilities to his family or home life. So when I say that he was feeling like he was pulling more than his own weight, it's because he does, in fact, carry his own weight. Anyways. Back to him being annoyed with me.
He started pointing out all of the mundane and what I deemed to be innocuously ignored tasks, and I found myself going on the defence. Funny thing was, I couldn't argue the fact that these chores weren't getting done by me in a timely manner. I couldn't even argue the fact that if I was in his shoes, I'd find my perceived apathy really annoying as well. But I was feeling defensive because I realized that he didn't understand WHY those things weren't getting done. And finding the right words to articulate this to him was a challenge.
Let's Talk: The Spoon Theory
Last year, in the midst of not yet having a diagnosis for my crazy, a friend recommended a book to me that was written by Jenny Lawson called Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things. I downloaded the audiobook to listen to in my car, and slowly fell in love with this insanely weird woman who could somehow make mental illness hilarious. Guys. She has issues. Major ones. But trust me when I say that I would sit in my car long after arriving at my destination, crying from laughter. Entertainment aside, however, there was one chapter in the book that would forever change the way I would talk about mental illness. Jenny had managed to put into words something that I had never been able to articulate before. She introduced me to the Spoon Theory. And rather than explain it myself, I'm going to let her powerful and witty words do that for me:
Do you know about the spoons? Because you should.
The Spoon Theory was created by a friend of mine, Christine Miserandino, to explain the limits you have when you live with chronic illness. Most healthy people have a seemingly infinite number of spoons at their disposal, each one representing the energy needed to do a task. You get up in the morning. That’s a spoon. You take a shower. That’s a spoon. You work, and play, and clean, and love, and hate, and that’s lots of damn spoons … but if you are young and healthy you still have spoons left over as you fall asleep and wait for the new supply of spoons to be delivered in the morning.
But if you are sick or in pain, your exhaustion changes you and the number of spoons you have. Autoimmune disease or chronic pain like I have with my arthritis cuts down on your spoons. Depression or anxiety takes away even more. Maybe you only have six spoons to use that day. Sometimes you have even fewer. And you look at the things you need to do and realize that you don’t have enough spoons to do them all. If you clean the house you won’t have any spoons left to exercise. You can visit a friend but you won’t have enough spoons to drive yourself back home. You can accomplish everything a normal person does for hours but then you hit a wall and fall into bed thinking, “I wish I could stop breathing for an hour because it’s exhausting, all this inhaling and exhaling.”
And then your husband sees you lying on the bed and raises his eyebrow seductively and you say, “No. I can’t have sex with you today because there aren’t enough spoons,” and he looks at you strangely because that sounds kinky, and not in a good way. And you know you should explain the Spoon Theory so he won’t get mad but you don’t have the energy to explain properly because you used your last spoon of the morning picking up his dry cleaning so instead you just defensively yell: “I SPENT ALL MY SPOONS ON YOUR LAUNDRY.”
AMAZING, right??? Her words resonated so deeply with me because I had never before been able to express or even UNDERSTAND the constant uphill struggle I was battling due to mental fatigue. So now I had to explain this to my dear, understanding husband who had no idea he had opened up a big fat can of worms simply by mentioning that perhaps I could have someone take a look at our central vac. Poor guy. He's seriously a champ, you have no idea.
I explained the Spoon Theory to him and expressed that every day I had a mental list of "to dos" that would allow me to remain a functioning member of society... Shower and make myself look presentable in the morning? Spoon. Be a valuable member of my office team whereby I spend the majority of my day acting as everyone's therapist (I work in HR)? Spoons. So many spoons. Push past the exhaustion to ensure that my family is fed dinner? Spoon. Homework with my oldest? Spoon. Evening work emails and phone calls? Spoon. I explained to him that executing these various tasks each day sucked every last bit of life out of me... because at the same time... AT THE SAME TIME GUYS... I am fighting my mental illness every moment of every day. I am battling the demons that tell me to lie down and just die. To let the darkness wash over. To stop taking the "hard" road where I get to live, and instead just give into the exhaustion. I explained to him that as long as I get through my daily list of "critical tasks" - the ones that allow me to be a good wife, a good mother, a good employee - everything else falls by the wayside. Because there's simply nothing left.
It's a hard concept to understand when you have had an infinite amount of spoons your entire life. The idea that folding that extra load of laundry, or meal planning for that week could be the final straw that causes it all to crumble...? It sounds like insanity. Because it is. But it's also our reality. And god bless the man, Mike hasn't mentioned tidying my shoes at the front door since! But I will say that I've tried to add some of these household chores to my more critical "to dos" so that he doesn't always have to carry the burden of my illness.
So that's it for today. The takeaway? Those of us with mental illness are doing our very best to simply survive. We sometimes may have to cancel the plans we made with you, or we may not always take the time to get that damn vacuum fixed, but we are trying. Thanks for your love and patience that give back to our spoon collection.