Count Your Spoons: Thoughts on Self-Care

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.”
Then you get more depressed and the next day you wake up with even fewer spoons and so you try to make spoons out of caffeine and willpower but that never really works. The only thing that does work is realizing that your lack of spoons is not your fault.
-Jenny Lawson, Furiously Happy

I started the first version of this website last December, with a post about feeling bad for not being able to enjoy the holidays. Then, in January, I decided I wanted a version that looked and functioned better, and that I was willing to pay for it. That led me to launch this version, with a real URL and everything.

I was excited: I'd never had a 'real' website before, and I felt like I was making steps towards the dream that had been slowly percolating in my mind for years. I was going to venture into the intersection of faith & mental health, and do so publicly.

Since I was now paying for the site, I felt like I needed to make sure I set goals to keep me honest about it. I know enough about myself to know I have a tendency to start new hobbies and then lose interest after awhile, but this was different. I didn't want writing to be a hobby, I wanted to be a part of starting conversations and helping people feel less alone. I even wrote a mission statement of sorts, landing on two things I felt a strong pull to actively work towards.

After a little bit of thinking, I landed on what my tangible goals were:
1. to publish a new post once a week
2. to speak in public once a month (either as the speaker at an event or run a Suicide Prevention training)

Now, these goals were fine, and I still think they're feasible. There was one main problem though: these goals didn't account for my spoons.

See, I had also started a Masters program in January to get a counseling degree.
And I had a new job teaching music full-time at a school.
And I had a second job helping to teach a drumline at a different school.
And I gave weekly private lessons.
And none of these things were very close to each other, so I spent a lot of time driving.
And I live in Atlanta, so I spent even more time trying to drive but mostly sitting in traffic.
Oh, and I had an amazing wife of two years who I would love to spend time with.

This isn't even counting the fact that I needed time to spend with friends, go on adventures, or just sit down and rest.

In short: I forget that I needed time to just be a person.

There's been 36 weeks since I paid for this website and set those goals.
I've posted 17 blogs that I wrote (and 7 guest posts.)

There's also been 8 months since I set those goals.
I've spoken in public 3 or 4 times, and ran 2 Suicide Prevention trainings.

I don't do a lot of math in my day-to-day, but the obvious conclusion here is that I've failed at my goals. And not 'just missed it' kind of failure, but by a pretty huge margin.

And I'll admit, I've been frustrated by it. One night back in June, I experienced huge website traffic after one of my posts got a lot of attention over on The Mighty, and for two weeks I was overwhelmed with a thought: 'I need to write something worth posting quickly to keep most of these visitors.'

And I couldn't.

I'd sit down and try to make something happen, but it just wouldn't come.

One night in particular, I was exhausted and knew I needed to wake up early the next day. I also needed to study for a test in one of my grad school classes the next day. But all I could think about was how I was wasting the opportunity by not having anything to write.

It's taken a long time for me to be comfortable with reaching out for help, but I'm proud of the fact that in that moment, I texted my brother. He immediately called me, and we ended up chatting for probably half an hour. He helped me put back into perspective what I was doing.

The point of that post wasn't to drive people to my site or get more traffic, it was to be vulnerable about my hardest times and help other people know they weren't alone in theirs. And my time wasn't being wasted, it was being spent putting a lot of work into grad school, which was more important at the moment. I was learning how to be a counselor, and how to intelligently speak about the things I'm passionate about.

See, I may not publish a post once a week, but I sure as hell write that much. In fact, I'd put money on the fact that I've written way more than 36 things since January. It's just that most of them were turned in for grades instead of being published on a website. And in 8 months, I've earned 15 hours towards my counseling degree, with a better GPA than I ever had in high school or undergrad. And I've continued to grow and improve at my full-time teaching job. And I've found time to spend with my wife, and my friends, and my family.

(And, because I still live in Atlanta, I still spend a lot of time sitting in traffic.)

None of that is meant as bragging, it's meant as a realization: I'm learning to count my spoons.

You probably didn't notice, but some of the obligations I listed towards the beginning of this post weren't included just now in the things I've accomplished. Stepping back from things that I enjoyed and that brought in extra income sucks, but it was more important for me to be healthy and whole, and have time for the things higher on my priority list.

I don't have an infinite amount of spoons, and I when I act like I do, I end up doing everything worse anyway.

My favorite part of Jenny's rant about the spoons is this line:
"You try to make spoons out of caffeine and willpower, but that never really works.
The only thing that does work is realizing that your lack of spoons is not your fault."

I am human, and so are you. We all have finite amounts of spoons, and that's perfectly fine. (Tweet)

After talking with my brother that night in June, I wrote the following words:

You do not have to be all things or do all things today. You cannot.
Be you. Do what you can. Make movements. Push towards light. Be you.

So count your spoons. Celebrate your victories. Find time to rest so you have spoons again tomorrow.

And mostly, give yourself grace when you don't have the spoons to do what you thought you should be able to. It's just part of learning our limits and part of learning how to be healthy.