Telegram to TABs, on Spoon Theory

Message to TABs (Temporarily ABled[1] folk):

Spoon Theory?

It’s not yours.

It doesn’t describe the sleepy feeling you get at the end of a long day, nor the feeling you get when your kid wakes up for the third time in a night, nor the feeling you get because you went for a bike ride yesterday or are pulling shiftwork right now or feel like a weekend nap or stayed up late last night reading a book or whatever else is going on in your life.

It’s a word for people with disabilities, an oppressed group, to describe our lived experience, which is not the same as yours. Our oppressors taking our language is not ok.

Many of us know what not having a chronic illness feels like, including not-having-a-chronic-illness while parenting or exercising or pulling shiftwork, and it is nothing like this. Ordinary done-a-bit-much tiredness has nothing in common with the experience of people with genuinely limited spoons (and typically a whole other bunch of symptoms), and who are going to feel the same every single day for the foreseeable future. No.Thing.

Your co-opting of this term is NOT OK with me.


[1] I know that “temporarily able-bodied” is a problematic term, though in this post I am speaking mostly specifically of chronic illnesses like CFS, fibromyalgia, lupus, and so on. Do people have the same problem with Temporarily-ABled? I’m willing to change the language.

Cross-posted to Hoyden About Town

9 thoughts on “Telegram to TABs, on Spoon Theory

  1. Thanks for that. I’ve used it a few times & wondered afterward if it was appropriate. Complicated a bit b/c, I’m never entirely sure to what degree my feelings of tiredness & (lately) chronic all-over muscle pain are “normal” and what’s due to chronic anxiety/depression. In the greater scheme of things I think almost certainly function well enough to count as TAB, but the “spoons” thing resonated for me from being yelled at by Mom to “just fix it [depression],” or being scolded as feeling ok enough to do the things I -want- to do but not what [she] wants me to do…
    .-= belledame222´s last blog ..New group blog: Feminists With Disabilities/Forward =-.

  2. For language and spoon theory, I do and don’t have a problem with tab. It fits very, very well for the judging of actions and the conservation of resources when dealing with bodily illness/pain. But deciding on actions and juggling resources also fit for severe depression and other mental illnesses, say, ptsd. (which I’m tempted to post about, but not sure it would go anywhere. Managing triggers (and how much of them you can reliably handle) is a pain in the ass). It’s over and under and – through -, and you can’t get away from it. For me the doling out of spoons when dealing with my mind is incredibly similar to when I’m dealing with body problems. An able mind is just as important. And no, lack of sleep from a kid at 2 am for the third night in a row isn’t the same dynamic. I’ve dealt with those things too, it isn’t even remotely the similar. Perhaps dropping the body bit and shortening it to ‘temporarily able’ would work.

  3. I’d never heard the spoon theory before. For those who dislike downloads and aren’t familiar with it, it’s the author describing to her friend and roommate what it is like to have lupus. She handed her a handful of spoons, the nearest prop, and told her that people with lupus have a finite supply of resources. Every action throughout the day costs them a spoon so they have to learn to slow down and choose between things like having a shower and making a meal in order to ensure that they have enough energy to perform all the tasks they need to do. The author also makes clear that even very small things cost both time and focus and spoons. It’s an interesting way of imagining it.

    As for your language question. I like “currently” instead of “temporarily.” Not everyone will have a disability in their lives, so I think there’s an immediate mental resistance when people think of others they know for whom that term didn’t apply (so who are you to say that it applies to them, huh?) and I think “currently” better acknowledges people who have had disabilities that they no longer experience/experience as disabilities.

  4. As both a TAB/CAB and a PW(mental)D, I’ve used the spoon theory metaphor to describe my at-times limited psychological resources. While not the same as the more body-centered illnesses it originally described (and thanks belledame for pointing out the fallacy of the mind/body split), I, like A.W., find it fits my experience quite well.

    And yet, I’ve probably also slipped and used it for when I’m in not-disabled HALTT (hungry angry lonely thirsty tired) as well.

    Not really sure where I was going with that, since it’s past 3am here, but it’s food for thought. Thank you.
    .-= Arwyn´s last blog ..Why I didn’t celebrate “World Mental Health Day” =-.

  5. Part of what works about “TAB” is that able-bodied people’s fear, disgust, anxiety, whatever about us is due to their own mortality issues. We remind them that the body disintegrates, ultimately, and they don’t want to think about it. I read a Letter to the Editor once from a woman who found the mannequin in a wheelchair near the entrance to Hugely Expensive New York Department Store “depressing.” She did not like, although I’m sure it was entirely unconscious, being reminded that her privileged position was entirely, if only theoretically, temporary.
    .-= Virginia S. Wood, Psy.D.´s last blog ..9/11 still killing =-.

  6. I used to have this problem where I couldn’t fall asleep; I was chronically sleep-deprived, running on five or six hours a night. I usually made it through the day on the spoons I had, though in part that was because I gave up on doing anything I didn’t have to do, and slept in whenever possible (which meant I was awake for maybe 20 hours over any given weekend).

    These days I’m on meds, and thus get more sleep. Does that mean I’m not qualified to use Spoon Theory anymore?

  7. I do have a problem with TAB in this context, because I think spoon theory extrapolates to all disability, not just physical disabilities (which, as was pointed out above, is a fallacy of a division anyway). For those of us on the autism spectrum, for example, spoon theory can be greatly helpful in explaining to those around us our limited desire for socialization: because of our defecits in expression (verbal or nonverbal or both) and difficulties understanding social conventions (which overlaps with nonverbal communication, too), interacting with others to the satisfaction of both parties can definitely take a spoon or two. Going into situations which may be sensory overloading uses spoons (and for some of us it’s some of the same things as in the original article on spoon theory, like showering or cooking). Poor executive function causes lost spoons all the time, for me at least! I want to do something, but it takes me twice or thrice as long as my non-autistic, TAB peer because of poor planning skills. And like any other PWD, when we’re out of spoons we’re done. I may be TAB, but I’m also a PWD. Perhaps Temporarily Non-Disabled might be a better fit? It’s broader, at least. Also, sorry that I read sporadically and am commenting a month after the fact.

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