Balance Beams, Spoons, and Permission to Say No

Have you read the Spoon Theory by Christine Miserandino?  I stumbled across it the other day and although she is writing about lupus I couldn’t help but nod along feeling as if words for my recent life had just been gifted to me.

The spoon theory, very quickly, is a visual explanation of how thousands of people in the world balance daily life with chronic illness.  For me, this has played out several ways, with the same results.

For many years I would move through my list of tasks as quickly as I could each day.  I often found that my energy would be zapped when it came to finally give energy to my kids each afternoon.  This would start the cycle of guilt and frustration.  I’d overcompensate the next time I had energy and would neglect cleaning which would then leave me feeling guilty and overwhelmed with tasks.   It took me a long time to figure out that pushing myself to exhaustion was not the best way to go about things.  The spoon analogy would have been helpful back then!

For me, hypothyroidism is something I can ignore one day and be consumed by the next.  When my medicine is at the correct dose and I have gotten enough sleep I can handle a busy day without much concern about napping.  When my dose is off, I’ve not slept or I’ve had several crazy days in a row I have learned the hard way that I need to extend myself the grace to take a day off.

Now that my boys are in school full days and can independently entertain themselves for a few hours life has gotten easier, but the reality is that the laundry never ends and everyone needs to be fed every day.  Priorities need to be shuffled around at times when my exhaustion is at it’s highest with a triage type attitude. When I don’t rest I will find myself with headaches, brain fog, and getting ill.

In her book For The Love Jen Hatmaker talks about tasks sitting on a balance beam.  She encourages women to take things off the beam that really don’t need to be there.  For me, things like PTA meetings at 7 pm, volunteering to help people who add stress to my life, and even certain jobs have been things I’ve had to say no to or “take off my beam”.

When it comes to organizing my daily “spoons” I’ve found Corie Clark’s Purposeful Planner to be the best resource for keeping me going one week at a time. The layout of each hour for the day being assigned a task even if it’s “rest” gives me the freedom to say no when extra commitments pop up.   This isn’t to say I’ve got giant gaps of time in my days.  Between balancing work, online classes, ministry, devotions, cooking, cleaning, exercise, shopping, being a mom and wife, and the occasional fun thing like reading I’ve found that scheduling my days out ensures I actually get everything done.

My goal has always been to never have to say “I’m too tired to help, or be present”. Being too sick to go someplace, help, or be present has in past years been reserved for my family. Today, it is reserved for times when I am forced to say it.  My priorities now start with family and health. This means my “spoons” for other people are severely limited.  Unfortunately, saying no is the only way to keep my priorities balanced and my health intact.

I used to think having to say no made me a bad friend.  I used to think that if others were told no that I didn’t have the right to ask for help myself.   I’ve come to realize that we all live our lives with a fist full of spoons, it’s just that for some that pile is smaller than for others.  On the days I have more spoons I can do more, and on the days I have fewer spoons I trust my friends and family will extend me the grace to rest up for another day.

What I realize today is that having to learn to balance my priorities actually makes me a better friend, employee, wife, and mother because I reserve energy to be present with each encounter regardless of how infrequently they occur.