Running out of Spoons

I used to think of life and positive/negative things that happen in life as a matter of buckets.  Some things fill your bucket, and some things empty your bucket. Or in less child friendly terms, there are only so many f*cks to give away per day.  When your number runs out, it runs out. I never stopped to think what it means to really run out. What happens when there is nothing left to give?

I already see a few issues with my bucket theory now.  What goes in the bucket are supposed to be things that fill you up, motivate you to keep going, or positive things in your life.  What you withdraw from your bucket are things that take away from your life, things that are generally draining or taxing on you. This only works though because there are positive things that fill the bucket.  The Ying to the Yang, if you will, that creates the balance of it all. In this theory, there is no scenario that includes an empty bucket and still needing more. What if you run out? What if the bucket is dry?  

The next theory is the f*cks theory which I will now rename the ducks theory.  There are only so many ducks you can give in a day. So let’s say theoretically you have 30 ducks per day, but it’s a good day and you don’t use many - so you are good to go.  But the next day you still only have 30 ducks to give and life has some serious curveballs for you. These curveballs can be traffic, annoying emails at work, people bothering you, a fight with your spouse - anything that essentially works your nerve.  In this second scenario, you have only 30 ducks and by noon you have spent them all. You have no more to give anyone or anything else. I believe the term some use is that their nerves are shot. They’ve got nothing left to give for the day.

However, I am left with the feeling that neither one of these quite speaks to the difficulty around fighting a chronic illness or something that is un-win-able.  (Forgive the made up word.) There is no refilling your bucket. It feels empty every day. There are no more ducks to give because you were already in the negative the day before.  Finding a new balance is paramount. A balance that fits where you are versus where you were or where you expect yourself to be.


The best analogy that fits is the spoon theory.  The idea that you only have so many spoons to use up.  Spoon hold your energy or your motivation. When these spoons are done, you have spent all your energy you have to give.  The spoon theory is a metaphor used to describe the reduced amount of mental and physical energy available for normal activities for a person with a chronic disease.  Spoons are a visual representation used as a unit of measure in order to quantify how much energy a person has throughout a given day. Each activity requires a given number of spoons, which will only be replaced as the person "recharges" through rest. A person who runs out of spoons has no choice but to rest until their spoons are replenished.


This metaphor is used to describe the planning that many people have to do to conserve and ration their energy reserves to accomplish their activities of daily living. The planning and rationing of energy-consuming tasks has been described as being a major concern of those with chronic and fatigue-related diseases, illness, or conditions. The theory explains the difference between those who don't seem to have energy limits and those that do. Because healthy people typically are not concerned with the energy expended during ordinary tasks such as bathing and getting dressed, the theory helps others realize the amount of energy expended by chronically ill to get through the day.


Because each night does not fully recharge many who have chronic pain or illness to 100%, we have to operate each day figuring out what is worth our energy.  Do we just have work or are we trying to squeeze in a date night too? Do I have enough spoons to go to happy hour with my co-workers? Will I have enough spoons left to enjoy a friend on her birthday?  Each day it’s a calculated battle - determining what we can and cannot do.


Needless to say a fun girl’s trip should not have left me feeling exhausted, but it did spend spoons that I no longer had.  Before I was sick, I could do this and bounce back, but now my body feels heavy and tired. I need to rest up, but my life does not slow down just because my body needs to.  I need to find a balance between who I was and who I am. I also need to forgive myself for what I can not control, my body and my illness to a large extent. This is where my new work lies.  I count my life in spoons because when they run out so do I.


  • AJ

    There is so much about you that I love and admire. That last paragraph is who you are. So strong and loved. May your bucket always filled with positive. xo

  • AJ

    There is so much about you that I love and admire. That last paragraph is who you are. So strong and loved. May your bucket always be positive

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published