It’s only March and I’m already running out of spoons

With PH, it's important to limit nonessential activities that zap our energy

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by Mike Naple |

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In her classic 1990s song “Ironic,” Alanis Morissette sings about spoons. Describing life’s little ironies, the Canadian singer proclaims, “It’s like 10,000 spoons when all you need is a knife.” Hey, if Morissette doesn’t need any of those spoons, I’d be more than happy to take a few thousand off her hands. I’m nearly out and need to restock my supplies.

You should know that I have plenty of cutlery — enough to serve a dinner party of six or more. When I say I’m low on spoons, I’m referring to the number of activities I have the energy to do on a given day as a chronically ill person. This is known as the spoon theory.

Two months and some change into this year and I have the looming sense that exhaustion is creeping in like a thick fog. Maybe I’m still shaking off fatigue from a respiratory bug and a bout with COVID-19 late last year, combined with the busy life of managing pulmonary hypertension (PH).

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My top cooking tips for the days when PH saps my energy

A lot is also going on beyond my immediate personal concerns that steals energy. It’s been four years since our lives were upended by the COVID-19 pandemic, international conflicts can make our world feel like a powder keg, and for those of us in the U.S., a consequential election is happening in November. It’s way too soon on the calendar for my spoon drawer to be empty.

I wrote about the spoon theory back in late 2017, about a year and a half after my PH diagnosis. PH affects the heart and lungs and can cause shortness of breath, fatigue, chest pains, and other symptoms that limit energy levels and make it difficult to complete regular tasks.

Before my diagnosis, I took pride in the number of things I could accomplish in a day. At that time, the number of spoons I had seemed limitless. I wasn’t emotionally or physically prepared for how much PH symptom flares would deplete my energy.

The modern-day rat race is marked by long days, longer to-do lists, and endless Slack notifications. People stretch the hours out to milliseconds to meet their professional and personal obligations. Wellness and psychology professionals talk about the harm of toxic productivity and how the need to always be doing something can lead to burnout. It’s challenging to keep up, and even harder to give yourself the grace to slow down and realize that you don’t need to run that particular race. As somebody who still works full time and must be mindful of how PH can negatively affect my health, it’s easy to forget that spoons are a precious commodity.

Beyond daily symptoms, managing a chronic illness like PH comes with its litany of demands. There are various appointments with specialists to schedule, multiple prescriptions to take and refill, and medical bills to pay or try to negotiate down. Completing these tasks can require an excessive amount of time talking on the phone or spent in front of a computer. There go another few spoons.

Being more selective with my spoons

I try not to associate running out of spoons with feelings of failure or defeat. With fewer spoons at my disposal, sometimes a card to a relative goes unsent, a return phone call to a friend is delayed, dinner is takeout rather than cooked at home, or a column goes unfinished. I want to show up for the people in my life — my partner, family, friends, fellow advocates, and co-workers — and I want to have the energy to do as much as possible. However, when what you want to do requires 10,000 spoons but you only have a dozen or so, the road to accepting that reality is long, not short.

I am hopeful that by adopting greater acceptance, I will be able to establish some boundaries to help conserve spoons. In practice, that could look like joining an event virtually via Zoom rather than appearing in person, limiting personal interactions that can zap energy, and protecting quiet time. It also means choosing spoons intentionally for restorative activities like walking on a treadmill, spending time with my partner, or reading a good book.

Coincidentally, the other day I had to eat yogurt with a fork because I couldn’t find a spoon. Here’s hoping that’s not an omen for rationing my spoons for the remainder of the year.

Follow me on X: @mnaple.

Note: Pulmonary Hypertension News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Hypertension News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary hypertension.


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