The Spoon Theory … or How To Continue to Be Happily Artful Despite Chronic, Catastophic and/or Life Threating Illness

This one is for all my poet, writer, artist and musician friends who continue to create in the face of sometimes dramatic  physical health issues and disabilities. Be as well as you can be. You are valued. 

There are two videos included here.  If you are reading this post from an email subscription, it’s likely that you’ll have to link through to the site to view the videos. They’re both worth the time and effort.

The Spoon Theory (see video above) is a clear and vivid way of explaining what it is like to live with any chronic, catastrophic and potentially life-threatening illness. I suspect that it is also explains what life is like for those who have lived long enough to be described as “elderly.” Understanding The Spoon Theory gifts us with compassion for ourselves and patience with how long it takes to get things done … even a poem, piece of flash fiction, a blog post or visits to other bloggers.

The first step in living successfully with catastrophic illness and advanced aging is to recognize (acknowledge/understand) the ramifications in terms of everyday life and its details. The Spoon Theory helps with that.

The second step is acceptance. That’s about letting go of your story. It’s about not being defined by the circumstances of your life. It’s about living with not struggling against. This requires something much more profound than positive thinking, which tends toward the superficial.

Letting go of our stories means letting go of judgement and attachment and a sense of victimization, which are the root causes of many of our very human pathologies. The philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer wrote of this my-story mentality as “striving, disappointment, and boredom” or a life that is devoid of Spirit. Songwriters, who often make their living by stoking the “pain body” or the residue of emotional pain that stays with us [Eckhart Tolle], call this the IFD disease – idealization, frustration (the ideal cannot be achieved) and demoralization.

The third step in the journey is to adapt, a business of the heart. Adapting is not about giving up. It’s about finding our core of  joy and gratitude and no one reminds of joy and gratitude  better than the beloved Benedictine monk, Brother David Stendl-Rast (video below), who combines the wisdom of traditional Christianity with pragmatism of Buddhism.

No guilt. No judgement. Just joy. With understanding, self-compassion, patience and acceptance, we can still produce as so many of us do … and maybe, instead of beating ourselves up over what didn’t get done each day, we’ll be able to pat ourselves on the back for all we do accomplish. We cannot share The Spoon Theory with everyone. Many people will not understand our challenges. All that matters is that we do and that we support one another.

© 2017, words, Jamie Dedes (The Poet by Day), All rights reserved


“In politics being deceived is no excuse.” Leszak Kolakowski

Recommended read: On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder. Left, right or center – American or not – it’s a must read for our chaotic times … and not just the list of lessons but Prof. Snyder’s commentary on each. This book is a rational enlightening little gem and a powerful wake-up call.

Lesson One: “Do not obey in advance. Most of the power of authoritarianism is freely given.  In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then offer themselves without being asked.  A citizen who adapts in this way is teaching power what it can do.” Prof. Snyder

THE WORDPLAY SHOP: books, tools and supplies for poets, writers and readers

3 thoughts on “The Spoon Theory … or How To Continue to Be Happily Artful Despite Chronic, Catastophic and/or Life Threating Illness

  1. Thank you for the encouraging write Jamie. I have never considered myself to be chronically ill with the immune system problems I have and the fibromyalgia. Even now that I have to be more mindful of things I do given my artificial heart valve, there are so many others (my daughter and my other adult children) that have what I call chronic health issues. Given that I do understand the difficulties that come with health issues. To me it has always seemed a struggle but it is hard to see a glass half full. My daughter sees it and I do try but we are such different people, her and I. I have heard of the spoon theory and I am glad that it seems to help so many in explanation to others. Hope you, yourself, are getting better weather in the Bay area and getting out to enjoy it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t suffer from a life threatening illness … yet … except for the fact of being a mortal human. But I identify with so much of this, Jamie, probably because I have insights borne of a poet’s perspective, an inclination toward melancholy – albeit the more enjoyable kind of melancholy. I understand the ” stoking of the ‘pain body’ ” or ‘tortured soul’ as it may otherwise be referred to!

    Was it Sigmund Freud who said: “Unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier ways.” …? To recognise, accept, adapt and free ourselves of guilt before the ‘ugly’ hits us, is surely amongst the best advice your blog has ever given us. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great stuff, Jamie. Here’s mine: https://julijuxtaposed.wordpress.com/2013/07/23/spoons/

    Spoons

    When I wake to the day
    And straight away
    Feel bereft for the theft
    Of my spoons in the night,
    I must reset my pace
    For the hours I face
    And the fact I don’t keep
    All my spoons in one place,
    Is what lessens my plight
    Though the day’s still a fight
    And I grieve at the waste
    Unless I stop pretending,
    Surrender to fate and
    Just focus on mending
    And wait.

    When I wake up renewed,
    With all spoons am imbued,
    I feel hope that I’ll cope
    With the basics, at least –
    Unless there’s a treat
    Or appointment to keep.
    I will try for an even keel
    Mostly, unless I feel
    Daring – spoons sparing.
    And, if I succeed –
    Which means no extra need –
    I retire to bed with
    A positive head.

    My spoons are my wealth
    For my life is defined
    By the soundness of health
    In my body and mind.
    It is measured and treasured by
    One simple goal:
    That of having control
    Just as much as I’m able,
    But, oh! For a ladle
    To hold in reserve that
    Makes up for how much
    I rely on my nerves.

    Liked by 3 people

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