From Victim to Fighter: Reframing Chronic Pain with the Spoon Theory

reframing chronic pain with the spoon theoryThere are two ways to deal with chronic pain – you either give in to it or you fight back. For me, the chronic pain of ankylosing spondylitis made me want to give up until I reframed the struggle. This is how I went from a victim to a fighter by reframing chronic pain with the Spoon Theory.

Every day with chronic pain is a struggle, and that struggle restarts when my alarm goes off in the morning. When I first received my diagnosis, I dreaded the struggle. I dreaded the shooting pain in my back, the brain fog and every limping step from my car to the office. Who wouldn’t slip into a depression under these circumstances?

When something hurts, the professionals tell you to take it easy. But with chronic pain, just about everything can hurt. And what do you do then?

The Spoon Theory

The Spoon Theory is an analogy that a lot of victims of chronic pain like to use to describe their day. The idea behind it is you have a limited amount of energy in a given day, and units of energy are represented by spoons. On a good day, maybe you wake up with 20 spoons in your collection. On bad days, maybe you’ve only got 10. Each activity that you do requires you to give up a set number of spoons. Getting out of bed on a good day? 1 spoon. Getting out of bed on a bad day? 3 spoons. You get the idea.

By the end of a good day, you may have an extra spoon or two in your collect that you can save up for the next day. But on a bad day, your spoon collection can run dry before noon.

The Isolation of Chronic Pain

When first diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, I would watch jealously as other people rushed past me in the hallways at work. I would constantly adopt a victim mentality, envious of all the ‘normal’ people around me with their ‘normal’ problems. No one seemed to understand what I was going through, no matter how detailed I tried to be when describing it to them. Feeling crippled in your 20s is devastating to a young man. No amount of empathizing by my loved ones was ever going to be enough.

I began to cancel plans at the last minute with friends. Partly because of the pain, but partly because I was starting to disassociate with them. I felt like they didn’t understand me. The chronic pain wasn’t just hurting me, it was isolating me.

This kind of reaction is common among chronic pain sufferers. Does it sound familiar to you?

Reframing Victimhood

The truth of the matter is that chronic pain is only going to define you if you let it. If you slip into the role of the victim, then the victim is what you’re going to be. People who don’t suffer from chronic pain don’t know they’re holding an abundance of spoons while you cling to a small handful.

If you want to survive, you have to reframe your pain. You have to get more spoons.

I began to work on a morning routine that would empower me. I started researching and testing out new methods of dealing with my pain. Physical exercise, testing new supplements and more thorough conversations with my rheumatologist. These all empowered me just a little bit more. I focused on my relationships. I would shore up my energy specifically so I wouldn’t miss appointments with friends.

Finding inspiration in your everyday battle with chronic pain is the only way you’ll ever increase your spoon collection. Creating little victories for yourself can help inspire you to take that next step.

What’s just one thing you can do today to help reframe and replenish your spoon collection?