Bipolar 2 From Inside and Out

Who’s a Spoonie?

With all the talk about cultural appropriation lately, I’m hesitant to wear Kokopelli earrings or eat at the Chinese buffet. I understand that some people object to Canadians playing Englishmen who are pretending to be Japanese for a production of The Mikado is offensive or racist. I don’t always agree, but I understand the principle involved. Even I, a WASP, find Mickey Rooney’s character in Breakfast at Tiffany’s to be egregious, appalling, and insulting to everyone involved, including the audience.

Hand XrayBut recently there’s come the claim that those who are not entitled to it are appropriating Spoon Theory language. And in this case, “entitled to it” means someone with an “invisible illness” – chronic pain, chronic fatigue, and other conditions that do not announce themselves to the public with visible cues such as wheelchairs, crutches, missing limbs, or guide dogs.

If you don’t already know Spoon Theory, you should. You can find the explanation here: Basically, “spoonies” have only a limited amount of energy units per day, represented by spoons. Spoonies must use a ridiculous amount of spoons to get through tasks that others accomplish normally in the course of life – showering, driving to work, driving home, fixing dinner, et endless cetera.

In fact, on any given day a Spoonie may not have enough spoons to get out of bed and get showered and dressed. It’s not that Spoonies are lazy; they may have only three metaphoric spoons that day, compared to a non-Spoonie’s typical, oh, I don’t know, 20? 30?

A few weeks ago, I wrote about whether bipolar disorder and other mental disorders are invisible illnesses: (I said they mostly are.) As far as I’m concerned, we’re Spoonies and “entitled” to Spoonie language. Most of us have had the experience of not having enough spoons to spend on a morning shower, having to choose between hygiene and, say, eating breakfast.

So now, apparently, the general public is picking up Spoonie language – saying “I’m out of spoons” when they simply mean “I’m tired” or “That was an exhausting day. I’m done.” And some Spoonies resent that. See

I have two things to say about it. The first is that language is always growing and changing. But it does it on its own, without our control. (Unless we’re France. France at least tries.) We may wish to eradicate the “n-word,” but we can’t. It’s less socially acceptable to use in polite company, but you know people still use it. Read the comments section on any social media post about President Obama if you don’t believe me.

The second thing is that at least Spoon Theory and language are entering the mainstream. People without invisible illnesses are at least getting a clue of what it means. They may not have the details right, but at least now when we explain it to them, they won’t be starting from scratch.

And after all, isn’t that how Spoon language started – as a way to begin a conversation on what invisible illnesses are and how they affect our lives? Not a secret language that only those who know the password and handshake can use.

Comments on: "Who’s a Spoonie?" (5)

  1. There’s always going to be the constant problem of running the risk of gatekeeping with inclusion. And some words do get lost to the ‘common good’ — a fine example of this is neurotypical. A lot of us use it instead of neurodivergent, not ever thinking that NT was ‘stolen’ from the autistic community:

    From the wiki article on Neurotypical:

    Neurotypical has been replaced by some with “allistic”, or “nypical” which has the same meaning that “neurotypical” had originally. These terms refer to those who are not autistic, even if they are neurologically atypical in some other way, such as having dyslexia.

    I’ll admit that I would prefer that ‘normal’ people not use it, if only because I have found they’re the same people who call the weather bipolar and whine when I call them out for being wholly inappropriate.


  2. I had never heard of the spoon theory until I started reading your blog. It is a great way of explaining how and why we have to measure our energy levels against what we can do in any given day. Even when I’m feeling “normal”, if I spend more energy than I have in one day by pushing myself, I run the risk of sliding down into bipolar depression with very low energy. Spending spoons is a perfect picture of energy deposits and withdrawals. A nap may give me one or two extra spoons thus that is a deposit. Thanks for sharing. I can see the concept eventually catching on in the general population but that doesn’t bother me. Like Raeyn, carelessiy using the term bipolar to describe things or situations does bother me. People have no idea about what we are dealing with.


  3. terri-louise Ó leathlobhair said:

    I have several mental illnesses. I also have a chronic pain condition. People without a physical debilitating condition where pain and fatigue play major roles are not spoonies. Invisible illness is not criteria enough to appropriate the language. Deaf people are not spoonies and yet deafness is invisible.
    You are not a spoonie. The language is not yours to use. You are a part of the problem.


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