You may have heard of spoon theory, a popular metaphor for dealing with chronic illness and energy-depleting activities. You’re probably less likely to have heard of a variant called fork theory, and you probably haven’t heard of knife theory. In this post, we’re going to do a deep dive into the mental illness cutlery drawer, and perhaps have a bit of fun while we’re at it.
Spoon theory, which has become hugely popular in the chronic illness community, was first described by Christine Miserandino. The idea is that you start your day with a particular number of spoons, and throughout the day, different activities require different amounts of spoons. Depending on how you’re feeling, taking a shower might require one spoon, or it could require a gazillion spoons, which you just don’t have available. Once you use up your spoons for the day, you’re pretty much useless until you get some rest and sleep to replenish your spoons.
For more, check out an earlier post I did on spoon theory.
Fork theory was first described in 2018 by Jen Rose. Unlike spoons, which are internal resources, forks are external stressors. There are only so many fork pricks that you can handle, and then you need time and rest to heal and recover.
This is a massive part of my mental illness life. Fork pokes worsen my psychomotor slowing. It’s gotten to the point that even minor pokes have an effect, and I’m very slow to recover to wherever I happened to be pre-poke. Often, I haven’t recovered yet from the previous fork poke before the next one comes along. Like a fork poke, the stressor itself can be brief, but it leaves damage that takes time to heal even after the fork itself is long gone.
There’s more on fork theory here.
There have been a number of ideas suggested for knives; you may find one fits more in your own circumstances than others.
The first i heard of knives being part of the mix was in a comment that Jen Rose left on my fork theory post. She said knives are more serious traumas that require active intervention and are much harder to heal from than forks.
I also came across Terry Masson‘s knife hypothesis, which was described as a way of digging deep into the cutlery drawer to borrow resources from tomorrow. Except that increases your resource debt even further and increases the number of dirty used utensils you need to wash, and on and on it goes in a stabby spiral.
In the comments below, Norma suggested that knives hurt not just you but the people around you. For example, if you take on more than you can handle, that can come back to stab you and others in the butt.
The less common utensils
The mental illness cutlery drawer doesn’t have to be limited to those three. Besides your major utensils that are coming out pretty regularly, you’ve probably got a few more kicking around in your cutlery drawer that you use every so often, or maybe just once a year. But they’re still there, waiting for that special occasion to bite you in the butt.
For whisk, I’m thinking anxiety and/or sensory overwhelm. There’s way too much spinning around to have any clue about anything.
Whisking could produce lasting changes. If you whisk some eggs, they’re not going to go back to the way they were before.
I think the mental illness meat tenderizer comes out when people are trying to beat you down, and even when they know they’ve run you over (yes, I’m mixing metaphors), they back up and run you over a few more times just to make sure you’ve had the crap fully beaten out of you.
The last time this happened to me was probably three years ago, and it happened at work. Not fun at all.
Some people suck the life right out of you, leaving almost nothing left. There’s also a risk they might spew some of it right back in your face.
I’ve also thought pastry blender seemed like an odd name for that particular contraption. Anyway, this is when one knife just isn’t quite enough. It’s not as sharp as a knife, but it’s got multiple blades to slice and dice you and leave you ragged and bleeding. It’s like death by a thousand small cuts.
This is for when your key support people decide you’re just too crazy for them, so they bore into your heart and then yank it right out. Then maybe they do a dance on it for good measure.
This idea comes from Norma, and I’ll quote her because she describes it well: “That’s for those activities which replenish your energy and save your ‘spoons’ (so you don’t need to use so many), like sleep, exercise (for mental health) or connecting with supportive friends. Most of us only have one or two in the drawer so not inexhaustible.”
The cutlery drawer
So far, the cutlery drawer consists of:
- meat tenderizers
- turkey basters
- pastry blenders
That’s it for my drawer. What plays a role in your own drawer?
- Applying Spoon Theory to Living with Mental Illness
- Big-T Trauma, Little-t trauma, and Mental Health Cutlery
- Fork Theory: How the Anti-Spoons Affect Mental Illness
- Procrastination vs. Energy Budgeting: What’s the Difference?
- The Rainbow Model of Mental Illness Symptoms & Functioning
- Where’s the Instruction Manual for Mental Illness Life?
The So You’ve Just Been Diagnosed with… [a Mental Disorder] page brings together information, advice, and resources from people who’ve been there. New input is always welcome!
35 thoughts on “The Mental Illness Cutlery Drawer: Spoons, Forks & More”
I have never heard of these before! Makes so much sense though! Xx
I have never used utensils as a source for describing. Spoons, I have heard about from you and another blogger. The rest, via here.
If I were to use utensils as a description, then spoons partially and for this year how I feel, forks.
You’ve had a great many forks to deal with this year!
Yes, I have.
Seeing utensils so differently now…
Wow. Just wow. Thanks for sharing!
Whilst not a utensil off the back of learning about spoon fork & knife theories I came up with the Swimming Pool Analogy in an attempt to help better describe the flow of different states of Mental Health (and how we all have it).h
Hopefully you’ll find this of use in helping describe Mental Health and its “waves” in future 🙂
Never heard of this before, found it really interesting.
The whisk feels very accurate
Definitely not a fun feeling.
I have heard of spoons but can’t wrap my mind around how to use it. I think fork would be easier for me to understand and use.
Yeah, I find it easier to quantify (at least to some extent) forks.
I guess mine would be spoons,wooden spoons though. I use them almost every day in the kitchen. They can be used in any pan and bowl. That’s how I look at my problems, I need something that can be used in almost every situation.
I like it!
Ok, yes, I’d heard of spoons, but the rest is entirely new!
We like the Thing of Things Fork Theory you described in which activities cost you forks, but they might earn you some—or more than the cost—back.
Hahaha omg I just published a post that’s another metaphor for spoon theory. I’d like to edit it to link to yours! 🙂
Yes, I saw your post!
No I hadn’t heard of this before, only spoon theory. Fork theory really resonates and helps along with the spoon theory. The others play a part too. Will have to come back and read this again later when I’m properly awake! Thanks Ashley xx
i’ve never come across this analogy before but it was very interesting to read about. i can relate to the fork and whisk.
I figure it’s nice to have options when it comes to describing how things affect us.
This reminds me of the story of chopsticks that I heard when I was a child. There was a family of brothers who didn’t get along. Their father wanted to teach them the importance of unity and cooperation so he gave each of them a chopstick and asked them to break it, which they did easily. He then gave them a bunch of chopsticks and asked them to break it, which they couldn’t. Using that analogy, chopsticks resemble to me, social support.
Oh that’s cool!
Funny 😉 I’ve heard of the Spoons theory and tried using it when explaining my physical disorder – people just looked at me even more confused lol.