A Dilemma of Spoons

I’m not very into the Spoon Theory. Now, before you chase me out of here, shaking your pitchforks, let me say that I have nothing against it, either. It’s a nice, simple way to explain to healthy friends and family members that people with chronic illness and pain often have to cope with debilitating fatigue as a symptom. It often overlays pain and malaise, and it can certainly add to disability.

It just that the Spoon Theory doesn’t fit my version of rheumatoid disease very well. Why? Because fatigue isn’t one of the symptoms I deal with frequently. Pain and disability? Yes, always. Malaise? Occasionally. But fatigue? Only if I haven’t slept well, and even then, it usually doesn’t slow me down much. At any rate, I’m self-employed, and lucky enough to have a flexible schedule.

“Counting spoons” also doesn’t work for me because I don’t start with a certain number in the first place. My energy fluctuates from day to day, so the thing that took almost no energy yesterday might just whomp my sorry behind today. I have no idea how many spoons I have at any given moment, or how to conserve or trade one or two for different activities. As an analogy, the Spoon Theory just seems awkward to me, so I don’t give it much mind.

Until this morning.

That’s when my aunt called to ask for help getting my uncle’s old van to a discount car dealership a few towns away, where she planned to sell it. Helping her would involve driving over to her home, where she’d meet me with my disabled uncle after picking him up from his assisted living facility in her own car. She’d get the van out, and because he can’t get up into it anymore, he’d ride with me as I followed her in my car to the dealership. Then, I’d wait while they did all the haggling and paperwork, and transferred the van’s title to the dealer and handed it over. Finally, I’d take both of them back to her house, say my (always protracted, with them) good byes, and drive myself home. The whole process would take at least three hours, depending on how trouble-free each stage was.

I’m on a writing deadline, and things have been pretty wonky this month. Between my mother’s up-and-down health and my own continuing rheumatoid disease flare, I’ve lost a lot of writing time. There was no question that I could help my aunt today. My pain was under control, the disability it causes minimal, and I felt good, overall. But I’d have to give up those valuable daytime writing hours to do it.

OK, I reasoned, I can just write tonight instead. Working from home means my work hours are mine to choose. Day, night, no matter.

Realistically, though, it didn’t look good. Driving all over town, fighting traffic, waiting around, and driving some more would flatten me, even if we took a break for lunch. In fact, lunch would just lengthen the process and I’d find myself caught in bumper-to-bumper, rush-hour traffic on the long drive home.

And then, unless Mom was up to it, there’d be dinner to prepare, eat, and clean up before I could get back to writing tonight. I’ve become a wiz at making quick, fresh dinners from just a few ingredients, and I like to cook, but I had to be honest with myself. Or, we could go out to eat, but that would just take more time. Either way, settling down for a four-hour, evening writing session after all that was going to be a wash. I knew I’d be in pain, more disabled, exhausted, and just plain all out of spoons.

There! I said it! “All out of spoons.” My dear fellow spoonies, I get it now!

So I had to tell my dear aunt “no.” She was crestfallen. She’s wanted to get rid of that humongous van (it’s been living in her garage for years, now) in the worst way, and now she could finally do it and she just didn’t want to wait a few more days. I understood, but...

Mom jumped in, offering to do all the following and waiting and driving around herself. She insisted that she was feeling great and perfectly capable of doing it, thank you very much! She reminded me that she doesn’t have RD and isn’t facing any deadlines. And besides, she’d love to get out of the house for the day. So that’s how it went. Or rather--fingers crossed--that’s how it’s going. Everybody is happy.

Whether I take the Spoon Theory to heart or not, I’ve learned my limits with rheumatoid disease. It pays to think about the consequences and costs of the things I choose to do, even when they’re for others. I’ve always been a helper, one of those people who’s always ready to lend a hand. I’m proud of that. But having RD has taught me that I have to stand up for myself, too. Sometimes, it’s me who needs the help.

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