A long time ago, I read an article by Christine Miserandino about Spoon Theory. By now, pretty much everyone has heard of a paraphrase of her ideas. It explains how people with hidden illnesses run out of energy much quicker than people without them. You can read a cached version of her article here
Recently, it has occurred to me that people in the caring profession have a problem that is analogous, that I would like to call “Care Spoons“.
In the caring professions (Priest, Doctors, Carers, Parents, etc) you spend your day caring for people. Some of these people take a lot of Care Spoons, and some of them take a small amount of care spoons. These Care Spoons come out of your daily allowance of ordinary spoons, but not in a direct one-for-one exchange. For every piece of caring that you do, your general number of spoons reduces by an amount. Caring for people can be physically, and mentally draining.
There is also a background usage of “Care Spoons”. You don’t just stop caring for a person when the door closes and you go home. Some of them stay with you, and take up mental space. You add time to a busy day to make sure that you do a little something extra for them. They are not more special than the others, but something about their situation means that you, as the professional, know on a subconscious level that something else needs doing. This also takes Care Spoons.
Then there are the people that you can do nothing about that take Care Spoons. You hear a lot of stories, and some of them are terrible. Some of them are unbelievable, and most of them you put in your professional mental locker. This is a strong locker that puts a small amount of distance between you, and the person you are caring about. For both your sakes. You can’t be helpful if your overly emotionally. However, sometimes, for often no obvious reason, some of the stories stay with you. They make you angry, or sad, or tearful. These also take Care Spoons.
Add to this that people who are in need of care don’t always work to a neat time-table. They can’t, and it’s not their fault. It means, however, that changing gear from whatever it was you were doing, into caring mode, can be costly spoon-wise. The cost is bigger if you were further away from caring-mode. Perhaps being angry at another facet of your job, or even, coming out of another particularly difficult caring situation into another which is more complex without a break. These ‘mode’ changes are perhaps the most costly of all.
When this is added up, a Care session with someone can be easily, 4 or 5 care spoons. Even on a 2 for 1 basis with real spoons, that’s 2 or 3 real spoons out of a day. When you only really have 15 to start with.
Compare that to an office job, where you might spend say, 2 or 3 spoons in the entire day. Those 2 or 3 spoons can be spent in an hour.
This is why you end up with being out of ‘care spoons’. You simply cannot sacrifice any more of your own energy to care for someone else. Not everyone’s upper limit on care spoons is the same, but it directly comes out of a person’s general energy.
People in the caring profession are expected to be as caring with their friends and family as they are with those that they work with. Caring all of the time will burn out their care spoons, their real spoons, and leave them with nothing to recharge with. It takes a spoon to recharge. 1 Spoon recharges maybe 1 Care spoon.
If you are caring all the time, non-stop, you will burn out.
The way I see it, people have two pots. One of their daily spoon-allowance. Say, 15 spoons. They can convert these spoons into Care Spoons, at say, a 2 for 1 deal. Often, however, there’s simply not enough spoons to convert to Care Spoons, so people go into Care Defecit. This is where, every day, spoons have to be spent to fill up that Care Defecit. This defiecit, however, doesn’t have the same, nice 2 for 1 deal that care spoons do. It is the reverse. 2 real spoons fill up 1 Care Spoon Defecit.
Lets go through a worked example, to try to explain what I mean.
Person A is a caring professional. They have 15 spoons.
In an 8 hour day, they see 4 people who are in need of a large amount of care, each taking 3 spoons (Six Care Spoons). They see 2 people who show up out of the blue, and take a little more care because they cut across a lunch-break, or other recharging activity. They both take 4 spoons (8 Care Spoons).
At the end of the day, Person A has spent 20 spoons. Remember they only started with 15 spoons. This puts them in a care-spoon deficit. The Care-Spoon deficit is 10 Care Spoons.
The following day, Person A starts the day with 5 spoons, because they’ve had to use 10 of their spoons to fill out their Care-Spoon Deficit.
Each day subsequently, Person A is struggling to ensure they have enough Care Spoons for the people they meet. When they get home, they are also needing to care for friends, family, and so on.
Most people in the Caring Professions are quite happy to sacrifice their own spoons for Care Spoons. However, doing this puts them in danger of running up a Care-Spoon deficit that is impossible to pay back. It is at this point that Person A would have a breakdown.
People running a Care-Spoon deficit need to be careful. They can become more irritable, more annoyed at little problems, and can seem cold and unfeeling towards their friends. This is often exacerbated by Person A being unable to find a way of recharging their Care-Spoons, by they themselves not being cared for.
Christine Misiandero’s Spoon Theory has helped many people with hidden illnesses explain why their energy levels are not the same as others, and it has helped society learn to accept them. They have managed to say “Out of Spoons”, and generally receive no judgment for it.
It would be nice if those in the caring profession could do the same with Care Spoons. Or, better, if someone in the caring profession said they were out of Care Spoons, that their friends would be able to offer their own care and support, without judgment.
Just a thought.