Communication and Illness: What’s spoons got to do with it?
In 2013 the Scottish Government carried out the Scottish Household Survey which found that 20% of men and 23% of women aged 16 and over suffer from a long-standing illness, health problem or disability. This may not seem like a large percentage of the population, but it does indicate that there is most likely someone in your life that suffers in some form on a daily basis. If it’s someone close to you in your day to day life it can sometimes be difficult to relate to the experience they are going through, especially if they appear capable and able bodied. This is where The Spoon Theory comes in.
Spoon Theory is often used by those who suffer from chronic illness—such as chronic fatigue or pain—or a disability, to describe how their day to day life is impacted by the reduced energy their condition causes. The term is credited to Christine Miserandino, who wrote a personal account of trying to explain her experience to a friend, using spoons from her cutlery drawer as an indicator of energy value after her friend failed to grasp the way in which physical strength and energy is used up by a non-abled bodied person. The principle of the theory is that every day you have a finite number of spoons, where by contrast a healthy and fully abled person would have an endless supply. Each task you complete removes one or more of those spoons from your possession, so careful planning is required to ensure that you never run out when you need them most. This can cover everything from going to work, going to the bathroom, or even just brushing your teeth.
Understanding the impact of illness on someone you spend time with, such as a significant other or colleague, can help them ease the strain they may feel from this constant presence in their life. To be able to express or understand the experience it often requires help learning a new skill set, in particular the ability to describe more fully the impact the illness takes.
Being open to talking is only a part of communication; you have to be able to really hear what the other person has to say. It is not a competition, particularly if you are the ‘healthy’ one in the relationship. Listen to the language the other uses. A word or phrase they use may mean something entirely different to you. This interpersonal sharing of experiences is built on finding a common understanding of the meaning behind the language.
Keep in mind that it can be difficult to start those open and honest conversions with a loved one without a little help. Don’t be afraid to seek outside guidance to develop the skills to understand the impact behind the words.
Is this familiar to you? You may find the following links useful.
- A personal account of what it’s like to live with chronic pain by Emily Band.
- An open letter advising you on things to keep in mind when interacting with someone with a chronic illness by Ricky Buchanan.
- Information on the relationship counselling provided by The Spark
- Contact The Spark Appointments team.
Have any thoughts on The Spoon Theory? Or maybe have some advice for couples who are effected by chronic illness? Tweet us @SparkScotland and let us know.