What life with COPD looks like when I run out of ‘spoons’

The spoon theory is a framework for managing energy with chronic illness

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by Caroline Gainer |

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I had not heard of the spoon theory until a few years ago when I was researching fatigue. The spoon theory, created by writer and lupus patient Christine Miserandino in 2003,  uses spoons to represent portions of energy.

Earlier this year, The Washington Post provided one of the better explanations of the spoon theory I’d read: “Each spoon represents a finite unit of energy. Healthy people may have an unlimited supply of spoons, but people with chronic illnesses have to ration them just to get through the day.”

Because I have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, I have written previously about the methods I employ to make my spoons last throughout the day and still accomplish the things I need to do. Sometimes I have appointments and commitments that relieve me of some of the control over my spoons. That is what happened last week, coupled with an inability to get a good night’s sleep.

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When things get out of hand

Some of my sleep issues were 100% my fault. I had waited until late to start last week’s column, which caused me to work past my usual bedtime. I rushed to get my bath, wash my hair, and go to bed. I think the rushing caused me to be stressed, and that stress meant that I was lying there thinking about why I couldn’t go to sleep.

The reason I was rushing around to get to bed was that I had an appointment at 9 a.m. with the people who are running a clinical trial I had signed up for. This appointment included reading and signing 22 pages of paperwork, an extensive blood draw, and a routine physical examination.

The morning’s activities left me a little short of energy, but I powered through the day and finished with a virtual meeting in the evening. I had another night of interrupted sleep and then, the next day, got ready for a peer coaching session at 9 a.m.

I completed that day by running errands and watering my plants. I had a third rough night and had to drag myself out of bed to go to another appointment for the clinical trial screening the next day.

This screening consisted of an electrocardiogram, a pulmonary function test, and a chest X-ray. I finished after lunchtime. I knew that I had little energy left, so I decided to read a book on my Kindle.

I got comfortable on the couch and started reading the book. The next thing I knew, the phone was ringing, but I didn’t care. I placed my Kindle on the coffee table and went to sleep. I woke up after dark, fed my animals, and went to bed.

The Cleveland Clinic addresses this behavior when chronic pain is involved by saying that I had borrowed spoons from the upcoming day and had less energy to expend. I had run out of spoons, so I had to sleep to get some of them back to use the next day.

I have become rather good at rationing my spoons so that I have enough to last throughout the day, but sometimes things get out of hand and I run out. When that happens, there is nothing left to do but sleep until I replenish my spoons.

Note: COPD News Today 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 COPD News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.