The Spoon Theory written by Christine Miserandino


Please take the time to read Christine Miserandino’s personal story and analogy of what it is like to live with sickness or disability.

Click HERE to download “The Spoon Theory” in PDF format.

The Spoon Theory

by Christine Miserandino

My best friend and I were in the diner, talking. As usual, it was very late and we were eating French fries with gravy. Like normal girls our age, we spent a lot of time in the diner while in college, and most of the time we spent talking about boys, music or trivial things, that seemed very important at the time. We never got serious about anything in particular and spent most of our time laughing.

Cartoon image of Christine Miserandino holding a spoon
As I went to take some of my medicine with a snack as I usually did, she watched me with an awkward kind of stare, instead of continuing the conversation. She then asked me out of the blue what it felt like to have Lupus and be sick. I was shocked not only because she asked the random question, but also because I assumed she knew all there was to know about Lupus. She came to doctors with me, she saw me walk with a cane, and throw up in the bathroom. She had seen me cry in pain, what else was there to know?

I started to ramble on about pills, and aches and pains, but she kept pursuing, and didn’t seem satisfied with my answers. I was a little surprised as being my roommate in college and friend for years; I thought she already knew the medical definition of Lupus. Then she looked at me with a face every sick person knows well, the face of pure curiosity about something no one healthy can truly understand. She asked what it felt like, not physically, but what it felt like to be me, to be sick.

As I tried to gain my composure, I glanced around the table for help or guidance, or at least stall for time to think. I was trying to find the right words. How do I answer a question I never was able to answer for myself? How do I explain every detail of every day being effected, and give the emotions a sick person goes through with clarity. I could have given up, cracked a joke like I usually do, and changed the subject, but I remember thinking if I don’t try to explain this, how could I ever expect her to understand. If I can’t explain this to my best friend, how could I explain my world to anyone else? I had to at least try.

At that moment, the spoon theory was born. I quickly grabbed every spoon on the table; hell I grabbed spoons off of the other tables. I looked at her in the eyes and said “Here you go, you have Lupus”. She looked at me slightly confused, as anyone would when they are being handed a bouquet of spoons. The cold metal spoons clanked in my hands, as I grouped them together and shoved them into her hands.

I explained that the difference in being sick and being healthy is having to make choices or to consciously think about things when the rest of the world doesn’t have to. The healthy have the luxury of a life without choices, a gift most people take for granted.

Most people start the day with unlimited amount of possibilities, and energy to do whatever they desire, especially young people. For the most part, they do not need to worry about the effects of their actions. So for my explanation, I used spoons to convey this point. I wanted something for her to actually hold, for me to then take away, since most people who get sick feel a “loss” of a life they once knew. If I was in control of taking away the spoons, then she would know what it feels like to have someone or something else, in this case Lupus, being in control.

She grabbed the spoons with excitement. She didn’t understand what I was doing, but she is always up for a good time, so I guess she thought I was cracking a joke of some kind like I usually do when talking about touchy topics. Little did she know how serious I would become?

I asked her to count her spoons. She asked why, and I explained that when you are healthy you expect to have a never-ending supply of “spoons”. But when you have to now plan your day, you need to know exactly how many “spoons” you are starting with. It doesn’t guarantee that you might not lose some along the way, but at least it helps to know where you are starting. She counted out 12 spoons. She laughed and said she wanted more. I said no, and I knew right away that this little game would work, when she looked disappointed, and we hadn’t even started yet. I’ve wanted more “spoons” for years and haven’t found a way yet to get more, why should she? I also told her to always be conscious of how many she had, and not to drop them because she can never forget she has Lupus.

I asked her to list off the tasks of her day, including the most simple. As, she rattled off daily chores, or just fun things to do; I explained how each one would cost her a spoon. When she jumped right into getting ready for work as her first task of the morning, I cut her off and took away a spoon. I practically jumped down her throat. I said ” No! You don’t just get up. You have to crack open your eyes, and then realize you are late. You didn’t sleep well the night before. You have to crawl out of bed, and then you have to make your self something to eat before you can do anything else, because if you don’t, you can’t take your medicine, and if you don’t take your medicine you might as well give up all your spoons for today and tomorrow too.” I quickly took away a spoon and she realized she hasn’t even gotten dressed yet. Showering cost her spoon, just for washing her hair and shaving her legs. Reaching high and low that early in the morning could actually cost more than one spoon, but I figured I would give her a break; I didn’t want to scare her right away. Getting dressed was worth another spoon. I stopped her and broke down every task to show her how every little detail needs to be thought about. You cannot simply just throw clothes on when you are sick. I explained that I have to see what clothes I can physically put on, if my hands hurt that day buttons are out of the question. If I have bruises that day, I need to wear long sleeves, and if I have a fever I need a sweater to stay warm and so on. If my hair is falling out I need to spend more time to look presentable, and then you need to factor in another 5 minutes for feeling badly that it took you 2 hours to do all this.

I think she was starting to understand when she theoretically didn’t even get to work, and she was left with 6 spoons. I then explained to her that she needed to choose the rest of her day wisely, since when your “spoons” are gone, they are gone. Sometimes you can borrow against tomorrow’s “spoons”, but just think how hard tomorrow will be with less “spoons”. I also needed to explain that a person who is sick always lives with the looming thought that tomorrow may be the day that a cold comes, or an infection, or any number of things that could be very dangerous. So you do not want to run low on “spoons”, because you never know when you truly will need them. I didn’t want to depress her, but I needed to be realistic, and unfortunately being prepared for the worst is part of a real day for me.

We went through the rest of the day, and she slowly learned that skipping lunch would cost her a spoon, as well as standing on a train, or even typing at her computer too long. She was forced to make choices and think about things differently. Hypothetically, she had to choose not to run errands, so that she could eat dinner that night.

When we got to the end of her pretend day, she said she was hungry. I summarized that she had to eat dinner but she only had one spoon left. If she cooked, she wouldn’t have enough energy to clean the pots. If she went out for dinner, she might be too tired to drive home safely. Then I also explained, that I didn’t even bother to add into this game, that she was so nauseous, that cooking was probably out of the question anyway. So she decided to make soup, it was easy. I then said it is only 7pm, you have the rest of the night but maybe end up with one spoon, so you can do something fun, or clean your apartment, or do chores, but you can’t do it all.

I rarely see her emotional, so when I saw her upset I knew maybe I was getting through to her. I didn’t want my friend to be upset, but at the same time I was happy to think finally maybe someone understood me a little bit. She had tears in her eyes and asked quietly “Christine, How do you do it? Do you really do this everyday?” I explained that some days were worse then others; some days I have more spoons then most. But I can never make it go away and I can’t forget about it, I always have to think about it. I handed her a spoon I had been holding in reserve. I said simply, “I have learned to live life with an extra spoon in my pocket, in reserve. You need to always be prepared.”

Its hard, the hardest thing I ever had to learn is to slow down, and not do everything. I fight this to this day. I hate feeling left out, having to choose to stay home, or to not get things done that I want to. I wanted her to feel that frustration. I wanted her to understand, that everything everyone else does comes so easy, but for me it is one hundred little jobs in one. I need to think about the weather, my temperature that day, and the whole day’s plans before I can attack any one given thing. When other people can simply do things, I have to attack it and make a plan like I am strategizing a war. It is in that lifestyle, the difference between being sick and healthy. It is the beautiful ability to not think and just do. I miss that freedom. I miss never having to count “spoons”.

After we were emotional and talked about this for a little while longer, I sensed she was sad. Maybe she finally understood. Maybe she realized that she never could truly and honestly say she understands. But at least now she might not complain so much when I can’t go out for dinner some nights, or when I never seem to make it to her house and she always has to drive to mine. I gave her a hug when we walked out of the diner. I had the one spoon in my hand and I said “Don’t worry. I see this as a blessing. I have been forced to think about everything I do. Do you know how many spoons people waste everyday? I don’t have room for wasted time, or wasted “spoons” and I chose to spend this time with you.”

Ever since this night, I have used the spoon theory to explain my life to many people. In fact, my family and friends refer to spoons all the time. It has been a code word for what I can and cannot do. Once people understand the spoon theory they seem to understand me better, but I also think they live their life a little differently too. I think it isn’t just good for understanding Lupus, but anyone dealing with any disability or illness. Hopefully, they don’t take so much for granted or their life in general. I give a piece of myself, in every sense of the word when I do anything. It has become an inside joke. I have become famous for saying to people jokingly that they should feel special when I spend time with them, because they have one of my “spoons”.

© Christine Miserandino

*We have English, Spanish, French and Hebrew translations of “The Spoon Theory” available.

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Now you can purchase small and large poster prints of “The Spoon Theory” from our Online Store! These posters will make a perfect “get well gift, or friendship/ I understand gift.” We also think it would make a perfect addition to any doctor’s office, or support group meeting room.

The Spoon Theory Large Poster – $22.99

The Spoon Theory Small Poster – $18.99

Most importantly, get one for yourself!

  • Sharing on Facebook is how many of us got here.

  • (((hugs)))

  • One need never feel guilty for having a spoon or even two left at the end of the day: our bodies need those spoons for maintenance while we sleep (if we manage to sleep). (((hugs)))

  • Hmm: “Using it back at her” sounds slightly passive aggressive, but we spoonies do understand if one mentions the spoons are low at the moment.

  • Ruliruia Sino Dux

    A friend of mine told me to look up spoon theory when it was confirmed her daughter has lupus. I think I can us it back at her as I get migrains and can’t always do things that need to be done during the day.

  • Sally Villarreal

    *sarcasm alert*

    According to all my conspiracy theorist friends, doctors keep us sick and cover up known cures to make more money. Why would they prescribe vaccines to prevent illness if they are so corrupt?

  • Sally Villarreal

    Good points, but I think you attached it to wrong person.

  • Sally Villarreal

    Fun Fact: the man who published the study about the link between autism and vaccines had his medical license revoked and had his paper retracted from the journal.

  • Sally Villarreal

    There is no reason to believe that vaccines are dangerous.

    Those laws about having to get vaccinated are protecting people with Lupus, not to mention people with other chronic illnesses, a suppressed immune system or a *legitimate* reason not to get vaccinated.

  • Sally Villarreal

    Pssst…you shouldn’t be.

  • Sally Villarreal
  • Sally Villarreal

    FYI, Spring Break was another week of 12-hours a day week. I was talking to my friend about how I still had to go spend an hour petsitting a lonely kitty toward the end of one of those days, and my friend said, without my prompting not to do the whole hour “if I didn’t have the spoons for it.”

    I did do the whole hour, because it was
    95% sitting and snuggling with kitty.

  • Sally Villarreal

    In this metaphor, I think everyone has spoons. Either they go farther for some than others, for some, activities “cost” more than others, and some have more than others.

    Healthy people are rich with spoons, so they don’t think about them, the way rich people don’t have to think about their money. (Unless they want to. Otherwise, they hire an accountant.) Last night, I paid for hay and pellets for my 2 rabbits half with cash and half with a debit card, because my paycheck didn’t hit my account until today. They don’t limit themselves to the dollar menu, choose either Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime, because having all three really adds up, or get excited about the half price produce that is reaching its sell-by date. (Yet I’m lucky to afford any of these.)

    There are many more people out there who are spoon rich. I have fibromyalgia, which I wish was better, but it’s still in a good, stable spot, and my mood disorder, which is doing pretty well, but still leaves me fatigue and makes me emotionally sensitive.

    I feel guilty if I have spoons left at the end of the day, because when I ache all over, I know I’ve done by best, and my limits are real, not a “crutch.”

    I worked close to 12 hours a day the past 5 days. I’m paying “interest” today, because I rescheduled my afternoon class, because I feel so crappy.

    After a little less than 8 hours of work on an average day, I’m already exhausted and achy, mostly from being on my feet. I get very little housework or anything else done during the week, because I’m out of spoons by then.

    I use up my limited amount of spoons a lot to pay the rent with my limited amount of real money.

  • Robin Laine

    Oh, holy wow. Please, let’s have the link that medically proves what you’ve just cold-heartedly stated. Was it Dr. Jenny McCarthy who taught you this? Oh wait, she’s not a doctor, and knows just as much about vaccines as you do, which is absolutely nothing. And no, we won’t be taking your word for it, nor wasting our spoons searching for flying pigs and pink elephants.

  • Mark Gurmin


  • Kristine Skocpol

    I lost it when she said “Christine, how do you do it?” i’m having an off day. I’m somebody that acts like I still have all of my spoons. When will I learn? I was in bed literally all day yesterday and today I can hardly move. All I did on Friday was go up to the church and help them move plants from outside to the inside… I wear sunblock and I was wearing UV protected clothing…now I lost my whole weekend

  • Ross Minton

    this is genius and so true.

  • Christy

    It is unknown what causes lupus. However, it’s clear that people like your parents make ignorant children, Janis

  • Cindy Campbell Bemish

    Wow Janice,
    You’re full of compassion aren’t you?
    I suffer from Osteoarthritis and have been in pain and suffering for 3 years. I’ve had one total hip replacement , and now waiting for another.
    I had to give work away and can not plan anything in advance because I don’t know how much pain I will be in.
    Doctors tell me to exercise, but if I do I pay for it for 3 days later.
    My pain meds are getting stronger again, and so many pain meds do not agree with me.
    My life has not really been mine for so long.
    I was always very sporty when young and still lived a very active life up til 3 years ago.
    People like you do not understand what we are dealing with everyday and have no right to say that vaccines have caused these problems.
    I hope you never have to deal with chronic pain, it just might kill you.

  • Cindy Mishler

    Hello! It wasn’t Christine’s choice to get the vaccinations. Here in the US, we are required to get vaccinations to go to school, which we are required to go to. Unless you can change that legislation, we don’t have the say about getting those shots or not. At this point, all of us with chronic pain must deal with it the best way we can, trying to make someone feel guilty about getting vaccinated is pretty stupid and uncaring! Hopefully, you never have to deal with any kind of chronic pain yourself. Have a great day – enjoy every day you are pain-free.