Man, have I seen some people misuse the concept of “spoons.”

I am deliberately not linking to specific examples, because many people on the Internet choose not to disclose their disabilities or are unaware that they’re disabled and I would rather not become the Internet Stranger Disability Police. I could use examples from private conversations, but that’s kind of an invasion of privacy. But rest assured that I have seen many people whom I knew to be nondisabled do this and if you haven’t then I’m glad for the quality of nondisabled people you interact with.

I am mostly not a spoonie. (I am a forkie.) But the thing is… the spoons model of disability is about having too little energy to do all the daily life activities that most nondisabled people take for granted, and having to carefully husband your energy. It’s about “if I don’t shower today, then I will have energy to go withdraw money from the bank”, or “shit, I have to spend money I don’t have on takeout because if I try to cook I won’t be able to eat.”

Most people don’t get so lacking in energy that they can’t eat. That’s awesome! I am really glad you’ve never had that experience! But then you shouldn’t use a word that describes that experience and similar experiences. You can use “tired”! Or “exhausted”! Or “not in the mood”! There are many, many words that describe the nondisabled experience of not having energy!

Normally I am Queen Anti-Language-Police, but this is where I make an exception. If people who don’t have the experience spoon theory describes bastardize spoon theory so it describes their own experiences, it makes it harder for disabled people to actually communicate what their experiences are. If when someone says “I can’t do that, I don’t have the spoons” someone hears “I will be tired but still capable of showering and changing my clothes and eating and stuff” rather than “no, seriously, you are impairing my ability to do basic activities”, it is harder for disabled people to communicate the latter concept. And that is a really important concept to communicate.

(Also as the Lord High Queen of the Forks Model, I am putting no such limitation on the forks model, because it seems probable to me that that is actually how nondisabled people work too and my problems are a difference more of degree than of kind.)

Part of the problem with talking about this is that it is very common for people with invisible disabilities not to realize they’re disabled. So any time you say “nondisabled people shouldn’t use this concept!” a bunch of disabled people will decide that they shouldn’t use this concept either. This is not what I am talking about here.

If you find the actual concept, as opposed to the synonym for tired, helpful, then please continue to use it! If you are uncertain whether the concept of spoons applies to you, then I encourage you to continue to use it as long as you find it helpful. If spoons applies to you in some ways but not others– if you run out of language spoons or ability-to-withstand-loud-spaces spoons or standing-up spoons, but not other kinds of spoons– keep using it!

And I’m not saying that only disabled people can use the concept of “spoons” to describe themselves. There are plenty of nondisabled people who have to watch their spoons. Recently bereaved people often do, for instance. So do people who are under extreme amounts of stress. I am absolutely not saying that you have to have a Real Diagnosis to use it, just that you have to have the experience.

But if you are not talking about the actual experience the term was meant to describe, please do not use the term.