The Spoon Theory For Mental Illness ~ Notes on Agoraphobia…

I am sitting here at the computer sipping my coffee, my little pugs are sleeping and snoring around me. Something in me is coming to rest, finally, after two days when I had to leave the house, an agoraphobe’s nightmare. These were days with appointments I could not cancel at the last minute, panting with relief and hiding from the world as I am wont to do. Tuesday I had to get up and out early to take one of my pugs to the vet, then I had to leave her there for awhile and go back and get her. I came home nervous and tired and just wanted to sleep, which I did for a lot of the day. Yesterday I had therapy and then a list of errands that had to be done. I left the house at 1:30 and didn’t arrive home until after 6:30. That is an extremely long day out for me and I was fried! Last night I sighed and looked at my blog sadly. I have been doing the September Blogalong Challenge With Effy and I had previously missed a couple of days but not in a row. I felt rather bereft to miss 2 more days but I am picking up the thread now.

Last night I surely thought I would doodle a little and then update the blog. I tried. I made a mess in my sketchbook that wasn’t even a doodle drawing, it was angst on paper. I had been out for too many hours, my reserves had been more than used up. I sat watching two video interviews that were part of a Sounds True event, one with Anne Lamott, and one with Glennon Doyle Melton. I made notes in my journal, but that’s as far as I could go. I had no more spoons. There weren’t even any left in the silverware drawer. I was kaput.

The Spoon Theory. I was just talking to a dear friend who also suffers from mental illness and who, like me, often has trouble just making it through the day. She agreed that The Spoon Theory was a perfect explanation for what it’s like to make it through these hard days. Relentless depression and anxiety take up all the air in the room, every ounce of anything you had to cope with is down the drain. It reminded me of The Spoon Theory which was devised by Christine Miserandino. I highly recommend you read her story at that link if you suffer from any chronic illness, physical or emotional, or are close to someone who does. Her theory came out of living with lupus and trying to explain to a friend what it was like. It is eye-opening and today used by many with chronic illness. She says in the end of the article that it isn’t just for people with lupus but people with disabilities or illness. It has come to me that it is a very accurate way to measure my ability to live my life day to day. Wikipedia describes The Spoon Theory in this way… “The spoon theory is a disability metaphor and neologism used to explain the reduced amount of energy available for activities of daily living and productive tasks that may result from disability or chronic illness. … A person who runs out of spoons has no choice but to rest until their spoons are replenished.” Precisely.

As I said at the beginning, it has been a not uncommon practice for me cancel things, make up “reasons” or become physically ill because I simply do not have enough “emotional spoons” to make it out of the chair I am sitting in much less leave the house. I cannot tell you how many times I have made it, say, into the grocery store, but after shopping sat in my car in the parking lot crying because I didn’t know how I could possibly drive home. Countless times I have made it to some place like Sam’s Warehouse to get my medicine (always first) and then get groceries only to leave a cart full of groceries still in line and head out to my car because I was feeling sick and dizzy and couldn’t even stand in the line. Once the store manager followed me out to my car, concerned, to ask me what was wrong. I broke into tears, sobbing, and told him I just couldn’t be in there one more second, that I was agoraphobic, rarely left my house, and today it was just too much. This kind man took my debit card, went in and paid for my groceries, brought them out and put them in my car, and told me if I ever had this happen again to find someone and they would help me, to please not leave the things I needed because I needed help. Another time I only got as far as the pharmacy and started crying and thought I was going to be sick. I felt dizzy. I just knew I was going to faint. A kind lady who worked there took me in the back, got me water, and asked me who she could call for me. A friend came and got me and drove me home and later went with another friend to go get my car and drive it home. I should never have left the house that day.

There have been days when I made it out and did my things like yesterday — always only making it out at all with the help of my medications — but I paid a price when I returned. I have left my groceries in the car sometimes until the next day because I couldn’t carry them in, save getting things in that had to go in the refrigerator or freezer. As soon as I get in the house I have to get the dogs out. Last night it was so late when I got home because I had to keep stopping and sitting in my car for awhile before I could continue on that I had to get them out, give them medication, and feed them their dinner right away. I was too tired to make dinner for myself. I just sat staring at the computer eating junk food that I brought home from the Dollar store because I knew by the time I made it home there was no way I could make myself dinner. I did nothing for the rest of the night besides watching those videos. I got in my big chair with my pugs and hunkered down for the night. There was no energy left.

If I have something I really really want to do, say go to my daughter’s house for dinner, I am likely to sleep most of the day, off and on, just so I can manage it. It has nothing to do with going there, I love my family so much and love being with them, but it is hard for me to leave the house and there has to be a balance somewhere. Also it is very hard for me to leave my dogs. They are truly, though not officially, service dogs for me. It would help me a lot if one was a certified service dog so I could always have one of them with me, but that’s not something I could afford to do so I spend days with them in the big chair and they sleep with me at night and knowing that they will be there waiting for me is often the only reason I can start the car in the parking lot of the grocery store and drive home. Many’s the day I can’t even go out to get my mail. I have to walk to the end of my driveway which feels miles long, and then cross to the other side of the street to get the mail. Some days I just can’t do it. Getting my trash and recycling barrels out to the street can be near impossible and once they’ve been emptied sometimes it’s been days before I can pull them back. And when I do perform these tasks there is a price to pay emotionally/energetically and I will usually head back to the safety of my chair with the pugs. It often makes me afraid to be out away from them. I can’t stand it for too long.

All this by way of saying there is no energy to go out, do a host of errands, especially after therapy, and then have any kind of a productive evening. Writing a blog post isn’t going to happen. Even doodling is too much, and both of these things I truly enjoy. On a “home day” like today I might be here at my work table for hours writing, doodling, and doing other online things. I am in a safety zone here in my studio. I have my coffee, I have my pugs, I can hear their soft little snores and snuffling, they make me smile. And so I am here with you today too, and I wrote this, as I write anything about mental illness, not in a “poor little me” mode but because I think it is so important for people to understand. Mental illness is so misunderstood and if you love or live with someone with mental illness you might find yourself getting frustrated or angry with them because they are “not doing what you want them to.” But trust me, I think most of us who suffer would give anything to have this curse lifted, to be able to live a “normal” life, to go out and do work in the world that means something, that helps others, I know I want so badly to leave a legacy of wholeness and a life of service for my children to remember me by, but before the day is out I will be back in my chair with my pugs in my lap just to make it through the day. If you have someone close to you who suffers, please read about The Spoon Theory, and know that it holds true for those of us who are mentally ill as well.

I watched a TedTalk a couple of days ago by a 19 year old suffering from depression who had considered suicide, and, he said, if he’s to be honest, he still thinks about it. He said in our society people can understand and have sympathy for a broken arm, “they all want to come and sign your cast,” he said, but if you’re suffering from mental illness people often want to run the other way. This is sad but true.

As for me, a week ago my antidepressant was raised to the highest dose they give after 2 months of stepping up the dose every 2-4 weeks. I have had moments of feeling better. I would say I am cautiously optimistic but I have been on and off medication since I was 22 and at 63 the medication dance seems never-ending. I hope for a good day, a home day, when I can get more done than usual, and can find something to smile or even laugh about. My daughter Rachel was here the other night to have dinner and watch a movie, she comes once a week and it is just life-saving for me. After she left I took a shower, the first one I’d had in a week, I just couldn’t do it for days. When she comes, without realizing it, she gives me an extra spoon. It helps so much.

If you are suffering, with physical or mental illness or disabilities, and this spoon theory resonates with you, please share it with those you love, it might make a world of difference for those close to you. I don’t want anyone to feel sorry for me, I just want them to understand. I think it helps us all. And know that I am holding you in my heart and prayers. We will make it through this, but only by being gentle and kind with ourselves, by asking for help when you need it, and use your spoons wisely. It can make your life and days a little easier.

May you have days of peace and ease…

If you enjoy this blog a donation would be deeply appreciated to help me continue to bring “Maitri’s Heart” to you. Thank you, and many deep blessings to one and all…

Comments

  1. the first thought i had about spoons was how much i love to spoon with my husband (and all previous beloveds). to lie with my front to their back, curled up, like two nestling spoons.

    i think you are spooning with your pugs!!

    sometimes spooning with tom is all i need to revitalize if i am feeling sad or confused.

    the other thing i thought of was making music with spoons. holding the spoons and tapping them like castanets (it takes a bit of practice). it’s a lively kind of sound, invigorating

    just my thoughts about spoons!

    xo
    ka

  2. I use spoon theory in my life and it’s so helpful, I’ve reccomended to lots of people, it’s so simple and yet so effective and makes planning things so much easier ❤️

  3. Loved this blog! I had never heard of the term “spoon theory” very interesting read. I totally relate about the grocery store….I have not been grocery shopping by myself in more than 40 years, there were just a few good years I was able to make it through the grocery store alone…I feel shamefully guilty about how many times I left a full cart of groceries in the isle way, being trapped in the line was the unbearable part for me. I’m very lucky my husband prefers to shop because he believes he saves more without me there. I have driven once or twice in 4 years…I just skate by on the shirttail of others….makes me feel even crazier wondering how long I’m going to get away with this fiasco.

    • Thank you so much Ellie honey. It is truly a terrible thing being stuck in a grocery store line feeling like you are about to come out of your skin and want to SCREAM and finally flee. Unless one has been through that they can’t imagine how hard it is. I’m glad you have your husband to help you, that is wonderful. Since I live alone I’ve had to find my own crookedy path going out sometimes to do what must be done. I manage. Sometimes I actually don’t, but I keep on keeping on. What else is one to do? I don’t think you’re “getting away with anything.” I think you are managing a hard thing in a good way. Credit yourself for that. And know that I am sending you a huge hug and lots of love…

  4. I’m so sorry for the way you suffer. <3 I wish you ease, dear Maitri.

    • Thank you so much Effy, you are very dear, but I must thank you for this blog challenge because it has not only gotten me writing regularly here BUT in today’s post I am going to begin a healing experiment on the blog that I would not have come to had it not been for you and this blogalong. Healing happens in all kinds of ways for all kinds of reasons. Today’s blog post will be very different. I keep on keeping on, what else can we do? 🙂

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