(featured photograph courtesy of Merle Hunt Illustration)
So , those of you who are poorly (and some of you who are not) should have probably have heard of The Spoon Theory. If you haven’t, take a look at it HERE. It’s a really helpful way to understand chronic illness, using spoons as a way of quantifying energy – each spoon is a unit of energy, each task takes a spoon and on top of that, chronic illness means you have fewer spoons to start off with. It’s a really great metaphor, and the term ‘spoonie’ is widely used by the chronic illness community to define us sick kids.
Now, although the spoon theory is open to interpretation concerning what kind of energy counts as a spoon, within my life, I tend to see them as ‘physical’ energy counters. You know, having an assisted shower (3 spoons), doing my physio exercises (4 spoons), brushing my teeth (1 spoon), getting dressed into clean PJs (2 spoons), and so on.
For me, EMOTIONAL energy is like a cup of tea.
I would say I start the day with half a cup; not half full, not half empty, just half. I’m neither up nor down, and although I have some emotional energy to pour into things, it is limited.
Some activities top up my cup; journaling, painting, singing, drawing, crocheting, shopping, Lush-fuelled self care time. They may drain my spoons (my physical energy), but they replenish me emotionally and leave me feeling positive and happy, if a bit wiped out.
Some activities drain my cup; dealing with DWP, drama on Faceb0ok, checking my bank account, doing anything admin-y. Each one of these things tips a mouthful out of my little cup of emotional energy.
Similarly, people can top up or drain our cups. For example, time spent with my mum may be physically exhausting if I’ve pushed myself to go for a wheel around a charity shop, but it also leaves me feeling happy and fulfilled for spending time with one of the most important people in my life. In fact, it doesn’t even have to be a happy activity; just seeing these ‘topper uppers’, be it in person or via skype/Facebook/whatever, is a spiritually nourishing experience. I’m lucky enough that I have several friends and people involved in my life who are this kind of person, someone who always pours into my cup and leaves me feeling better than I was before.
There are also the people who take from your cup. These can be people you love or like, even – I have friends and family who I know have taken from my cup, even if they are kind to me in words or actions or practical matters. These are the people you must limit time with, even if you care deeply for them. It is just a truism that in life, some people are givers and others are takers. Making sure you spend controlled amounts of time with the takers is an important part of caring for yourself – which is ESPECIALLY valid if you are chronically ill, with a physical, psychological, emotional, neurological, or WHATEVER type of condition. Because, in the same way as your spoons are limited, there is only SO MUCH emotional tea your cup can hold.
The most important rule?
LEAVE SOMETHING IN YOUR CUP FOR YOURSELF
I have cut out several people from my life who, however well intentioned, drained my cup past the point where I should have let them, leaving me no emotional energy to deal with day to day events. I’m neurodivergent, and it’s possible that I need a fuller cup for the necessities of life than other people do, and it’s important to figure out what your line should be to make sure you have enough left to deal with your own life. At the end of the day, dealing with your problems and celebrating your successes is more important than sorting out another person’s online drama or relationship issues. Help your friends cope with these things, by all means – in fact, doing so will probably lead to a stronger friendship – but MAKE SURE that the people in whom you invest your time and effort are also investing time and effort back into your life. Pour into each others’ cups, and you will both leave not only as full as you started, but with a more complex, nuanced and delicious brew to sip.
Prioritise. Put your needs high on that list, and make sure that your cup is full enough that your life isn’t left wanting because of bailing other people out. Keep your cup as full of tea as you can, because you never know when a huge even it going to come over and spill it all out. *Insert storm in a teacup joke here* . That is the time when you really need your friends, and when you will really know who are the ‘filler uppers’ and who are the drainers.
It’s a complex lesson to learn, and I’ve definitely oversimplified it here, but this post is inspired by words of advice a very wise Duck once gave me regarding a ‘friend’ at university, and a boyfriend of whom I have long since disposed.
Keep your teacups full, but not by being stingy – by filling your life with people, activities and things which will keep topping you up though the good and the tough times, and making sure you lend friends a teabag or two if they come knocking. Relationships matter, and you matter, and only by sharing tea and keeping some left in your own cup can you strengthen both.
Time for a cuppa, I think.