Spoons vs. PRs

Spoons vs. PRs

Some days I feel like I can conquer anything – I set a new squat record, have an awesome session with a PT client, cook a dinner that impresses my very kitchen-savvy fiancé…little things that mean big wins for someone with chronic pain.  But on other days, it takes everything in me just to get out of bed and make my morning pour-over.


Most who are remotely familiar with chronic pain have heard of the spoon theory – it’s a metaphor that describes daily life with chronic illness. Spoons represent the amount of energy one has to get through the day, and these “spoons” can only be replenished with rest.  Someone with chronic pain may have far fewer spoons than the average person, or it might require a greater number to complete a basic daily activity.

I often pretend not to identify with this metaphor, mainly because of my stubborn, try and stop me mentality. I try to be careful not to overdo things, especially when I’m not feeling well, but I usually fight to will myself into having the energy to get things done, no matter the consequence. Deep down, I hate being labeled as chronically ill and it lights a fire within me to accomplish everything I have to get done, even if it takes everything out of me.

This whole theory plays an enormous role when it comes to fitness, and I think this is where I have finally learned to give my body the rest it so desperately needs.  As I write this, I know I’m supposed to be at the gym for the dynamic upper-body workout I had planned, but I’ve been glued to my couch since 8 o’clock this morning thanks to being gone 15 hours yesterday for a wedding. I could will myself, as I so often do, into changing into gym clothes and driving the three miles to my gym, but even so, I know how poorly today’s lift will go and how dejected I will feel afterward when I haven’t accomplished all I set out to do.

I always tell my personal training clients that no matter how much you don’t want to come to the gym, you’ll never regret it once you’re moving weight and getting those endorphins flowing. And I truly believe that. But I also know that when given the options of training with blinding pain and balance impairment, or taking medication that will tame my breakthrough pain but force me to stay home much of the day, I’m going to take an elective rest day and get myself better. 

I guess my whole point here is that we have to give ourselves permission to rest. I know I’m not the only “spoonie” out there who feels immense guilt when s/he can’t muster the strength to do something they want to or should be doing. But it’s so very important to acknowledge our pain and allow our bodies to take a break from climbing the mountain that is everyday life. And I suppose that’s why I’m writing a blog post for the first time in three years. Here is my official recognition that today I am too tired to go to the gym, and that’s okay. I know that by taking a lazy Sunday to recover, I’ll be able to go in after work tomorrow and have a far more productive lift.

So to all you spoonies out there trying to convince yourselves to push through exhaustion, pain, depression, or whatever you’re battling…know that, just for today, it’s okay if you yield, just enough to lay on the couch with some dark chocolate, coffee and Netflix. Take care of yourselves, and save that can-do attitude for the week ahead!


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