Jenny Stamm

Oct 2, 20203 min

Cutlery and Chronic Illness

Updated: Feb 8, 2023

There are several common cutlery-based theories regarding chronic illness (which can include mental health illnesses) and what a person can handle. There’s Spoon Theory by Christine Miserandino, Fork Theory by Jenrose, and Spork Theory by Lizzie (there’s also several variations of knife theory, but we’ll leave that alone for this article).

Spoon Theory, in basic terms, states that someone with a chronic illness has a limited amount of energy, that every little thing costs energy, and that choices have to be made throughout the day so that no spoons get wasted. The average person, especially a younger person, doesn’t have to worry about being able to cook versus do the dishes. They may resist because they’ve had a long day or they don’t want to, but they are able to. Someone with a chronic illness, by the end of the day, may not have the “spoons” (energy) to do both. And every day can vary, as well, some days starting with more spoons and some days with less.

Fork Theory, on the other hand, focuses on stressors, on the things that come from outside the body. This could be something as simple as wearing slightly uncomfortable clothing (a small, escargot fork) to someone hitting a trauma trigger (a pitchfork). The idea is that the more (and bigger) forks make it harder to continue with a day, but it’s also possible to remove stressors, such as by changing clothing and getting rid of that tiny fork. While everyone (with a chronic illness or not) may have a Fork Limit, those who are already limited may have a lower Fork Limit and may be able to handle less stressors before collapse.

Using these terms, you want more spoons, but less forks. You can talk about extra spoons being support to help prevent collapse or extra forks requiring the use of spoons that would otherwise be used for other things. For someone with a chronic illness, these theories can help explain how hard it can be to live a daily life, with few spoons and many forks.

This has left out Spork Theory, however, which is an edit of Spoon Theory. Spork theory states that someone with chronic illness doesn’t have nice, easy-to-count spoons. That the energy they have is hard to pin down and can change (or leave) suddenly. Unlike a useful spoon, a spork is only semi-useful and can unexpectedly stab you or break. So, instead of having 12 spoons to start the day, you may start with 12 sporks, 3 of them break unexpectedly, and 2 stab you. Spork theory isn’t quite a mix between Spoon Theory and Fork Theory, but it does bring in the stressors (“forks”) that can change things significantly.

Overall, all of these theories are ways that have been created to try to explain how someone with a chronic illness may struggle to live day-to-day. We struggle with having enough spoons (sometimes, those spoons have been swapped out with sporks, too) and have to avoid or remove as many forks as possible throughout the day so that we don’t collapse. It leads to a life that is an exhausting dance where things often get skipped because we don’t have the extra energy to do them. Even things we want to do, like hang out with friends, may have to be cancelled so that we can drag ourselves into the next day.