I love the Spoon Theory. It’s a great way to explain why, when dealing with a chronic physical or mental illness, you can’t do all the things that healthy people can do. Basically, the theory states that ill people get a certain allotment of spoons to use everyday. (Healthy people have a virtually unlimited amount.) Doing things costs spoons: showering, cooking, basic things to go about your day. You have to spend them wisely because when you’re out, you’re out. You should check out the link for a really great explanation.
However, with social anxiety I feel like things work a little differently. Taking a shower doesn’t cost me a spoon, but leaving my house might. Going to work. Interacting with people. Spending time with a friend. Going to a meeting. Having an argument with my husband. Making small talk with a stranger. I call my version the Clean Spoon Theory.
Spoon Theory says you wake up each day with a new set of spoons. But with Clean Spoon Theory, this isn’t the case. You only own a certain number of spoons. You do not get new ones each day, but rather start a new day with the spoons that you didn’t use yesterday or were able to clean. You clean your spoons by spending time alone, meditating, reading, or doing whatever it is that helps you recharge.
Lack of clean spoons is why I lie sometimes. It’s takes one spoon to tell a friend, “Sorry, I have a headache. I can’t make it today.” It takes a lot more spoons to explain, “I’m socially exhausted and need to spend some time recharging.” Because then the person might come back with “What’s wrong?”, “Do you want to talk about it?”, etc. Which leads to more social interaction that I don’t have the energy for, otherwise I probably would have just gone to whatever it was in the first place.
Another difference of Clean Spoon Theory is that the exact same thing can have different costs. I have hung out with a group of people and had such a fun, phenomenal time that I actually didn’t have to use any spoons to do it. (I was pretty shocked.) I’ve hung out with a group of people and used all my spoons. It depends on a lot of factors: the people involved, the noise level, how familiar/comfortable I am with the location we are in, how time was spent, how emotional it was, etc etc. The problem is that I don’t know how the experience will go, or how many spoons will get used, until it’s over. Sometimes I have to just roll the dice. Or skip the roll entirely, because it might be a higher number than I have, and I don’t want to risk it.
So here is a sample day to illustrate what I’m talking about:
I only own 12 spoons. Yesterday was a pretty good day, so I wake up with 10 of them clean. Mr. W takes me to work which uses no spoons (otherwise, taking the train uses one). But let’s say we end up having an argument during the car ride. Dirty 2 spoons.
I go to work. This is an automatic 3-spoon base cost. But today I have to go to a meeting, so four total spoons are dirtied for my work day.
I go to get some lunch, but the restaurant has a long line and it’s crowded and noisy. Dirty up 1 spoon.
I have a productive afternoon. No one talks to me. I feel like I have accomplished something and am proud of myself. 1 spoon gets cleaned.
I get home, have a quiet dinner, and spend some time watching TV. Two spoons get cleaned.
I need to call a new counselor to make an appointment. One spoon dirtied.
Then it’s bed time. I will wake up the next morning and have only 5 clean spoons to use. Which means tomorrow I might need to bring my lunch to avoid the lunch crowd. I might need to spend more time alone in the evening. I might dodge some phone calls. Or maybe I can’t get away with that, or something big happens, and I end up having even less clean spoons the following day.
Some days I wake up and don’t have enough clean spoons to go to work. And so I don’t. I have an option to work from home, which helps. But that still has a base cost of 1 spoon and sometimes I don’t even have that and can’t work at all.
A big problem is that when I have very few clean spoons, it zaps my attitude and physical energy which makes it harder to clean the spoons I need or to just get other basic things done like dishes or laundry. When I’m low on clean spoons, I get frustrated by things more easily. I sometimes snap at people who don’t deserve it. I cry a lot more. I get depressed. My self-esteem drops.
So, yeah. Clean Spoon Theory. Like regular spoons, but dirtier. I should note that I believe my spoon count isn’t set in stone. I think it’s possible to increase the number of spoons through therapy (or, for some people, with medication). Therapy can also help to make it easier for me to clean my spoons. But I am not sure if I will ever have an endless supply of them.