Spoon Theory Upgraded

I wasn’t particularly productive yesterday because I felt overly tired from both a physical and mental standpoint. The wise course of action was to heed to my need to rest and recuperate.

After some work for my job in the morning, I mostly kept my exertion to a minimum, reading, writing, catching up on my coursework for my online classes, and running errands. Housework was limited to mopping, finishing the lawn mowing, and painting a bit more of the outside of the deck. Today, hopefully, I’ll have more energy to invest into chores and productive ventures. At least for me, emotional fatigue can absolutely cause physical exhaustion. It was this mental and emotional overuse that primarily ran me ragged this week. I prefer to be physically tired because of overactivity in a physical sense, so it’s frustrating and feels lame when I’m unable to muster the energy to do things simply because I’ve had overwhelming feelings or done an excessive amount of emotional processing. I guess this is the concept of the “spoon theory,” which I don’t identify particularly strongly with. I don’t carry around spoons or envision a finite number of spoons at my disposal in a day. Therefore, I don’t feel like the spoon theory is a good representation of my need, with chronic illness and depression, anxiety, PTSD, and autism, to budget my energy and partition my pockets of physical and mental demand in a day. I like what I call my Jenga tower theory. I imagine myself as a relatively precarious Jenga tower. Even on the best of days, I’m erected from a bunch of ill-adjoined, haphazardly aligned blocks. I can usually stay upright and weather the demands of a regular day. But, ultimately, I’m a poorly-assembled tower. I have awkward gaps, loose pieces, and shoddy construction that leaves me vulnerable to imminent collapse. Anything that comes out of the ordinary or any stimulus that comes in contact with my tower (be it the pull and attempted removal of one of my blocks or the careful addition to a new one at the top), I nearly inevitably collapse. This collapse often manifests as a demonstrative emotional spillover (crying, trembling, pacing with anxiety, nervously chewing on things, becoming very depressed, or even becoming hyperactive and silly, etc.). Sometimes, my collapse is physical as well. Because I have an autoimmune disorder, excessive stress and overuse of my body and mind can push me into physical illness. My tower lacks the integrity of most buildings, rendering it vulnerable to a significant crumble with a seemingly minor assault to its structure. I see my self-improvement and therapy work as a step toward strengthening my emotional resilience and effectively, shoring up my fragile building. Brick by brick, these efforts patch gaps and lay mortar between my mobile, wobbly blocks so that I can handle perturbations more easily and with minimal damage.

This week, my Jenga tower experienced all sorts of demands: adding blocks, pulling and pushing blocks, poking at blocks, and testing the mobility of blocks. Consequently, it has teetered and leaned, rocked and swayed, and otherwise relied heavily on its precarious balance to remain upright. Taking an easier, restful day is a way of shielding the tower from being exposed and prey to other potential assaults. It’s like applying that clear plastic two-sided tower straightener guard that comes with the Jenga set to help realign the imperfect assembly of mishmashed blocks. This works better in theory than in practice, as one day of lesser demands isn’t quite enough to smooth the weak spots in my tower. I need at least a week! That said, the gentler pace and expectations of yesterday shielded me from further wobbling my structure, preventing further damage. Sometimes the first step is just stopping the leak, the issue, or the problem, then holding it constant. It can be asking and expecting too much to immediately reverse a trend. People often fail to recognize that even causing a negative pattern to perpetuate, without turning it into a positive one in the same move, is a noteworthy start. So, that’s where I am now and what I’m trying to acknowledge and sit with satisfactorily today. I’d like to be more productive and feel more resilient and strong today, but even if I just cease to crumble further, I’ve succeeded to some degree.


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