Saving Those Spoons: Tips for Saving Your Energy in Every Day Life!

I’m sure by now you’ve all read the holy bible of chronic illness, also known as The Spoon Theory. So at this point you’ve probably realized that running out of spoons (or energy) can become a daily battle. I’m going to lay it out on the line here and say that despite my current situation—others have it WAY worse. Like moms. Jesus. I could not be a mom right now. I could just imagine being at my wits end having NO ENERGY flipping a sh*t because the handyman just tracked in mud through my living room and I’ve got to spend the next hour on my hands and knees scrubbing the floor—and then I just flip an imaginary switch in my mind and think about how much more my life would SUCK if there was a baby crying in the background.

God bless birth control.

This is not my point. My point is that our energy is a precious, valuable commodity and we have to safeguard it like it’s an autographed John Mayer guitar pic.

I’ve come up with a few loopholes in the system; I hope you enjoy these shortcuts to saving your spoons!


1.      Walking the Dog: The “Park & Poop”

I have a one year old poodle that, if he doesn’t go for three long walks a day, will go apesh*t and ram himself into my kitchen cabinets.  Like me, he has a very sensitive stomach as well. So if he doesn’t do his business three times a day it legitimately concerns me. But I live in Florida where the weather is around 90 degrees year round. Long walks are a bit hazardous in the daylight and so I’ve come up with a great avoidance tactic.

So Happy, like most dogs, will walk for a good fifteen minutes before he does his business. We walk past about six other apartment buildings during that walk and he usually goes in the same area. He is now so scheduled and organized that if he does not GET to that area—he will just refuse to go. (That little sh*t.) Instead of hazarding the possibility of heat stroke, I finally just asked myself: If he’s only going to go in one place—why don’t we just…drive there?

And so now—we do! We just hop in the car, drive past the six apartment building, he gets out of the car walks around for one or two minutes and just goes! It’s great! Saves me a migraine from the heat—and I don’t have to worry about him needing to go while I’m spending the rest of the afternoon napping.


2.      Back to Back Classes/Shifts: Backseat Napping

I’m no longer physically taking college classes but for the two years I was—it was a nightmare. Long classes with short spaces of time in between meant that I couldn’t go home and rest and usually felt strung out and disoriented through my second class. In high school I could always take a break in the nurse’s office with a 15 minute nap if I was having a rough day. College doesn’t exactly offer the same amenities.

One day (in November, because again, Florida) I was sleepwalking back to my car after my first class. I basically had two options: 1) Go home and sleep. 2) Stay at school and potentially fall asleep in class. I moved my car seat into recline as I pondered my choices and ended up taking a second glance at my backseat. Suddenly it looked a whole lot more spacious to me. And—was that a jacket? Could it not totally be rolled up into a makeshift pillow?

And so began my love affair with backseat napping. Now I’ve got a real pillow back there and I’ve learned how to tuck my seat belt buckles back into the seat to make the bench one flat surface. This has been a lifesaver on many occasions and has helped me feel a lot safer about going out when I have no spoons (as I can always stop, nap, and get myself together before heading home.)


3.      Lonely, But Exhausted: Invite Friends Over for Low-Energy Hanging Out

You think you’re the only one who is tired just because you have a chronic illness? Studies that I’ve conducted in my living room show that you’re not the only one who needs a chill evening every now and then.

Stuff like this only happens at my place.

Even “normal” people with “realistic” amounts of energy get tired too. I used to beat myself up about not always being able to go out with friends, right up until the point that I realized that their part time jobs/ relationships/ landlord issues/ work drama were pretty fatigue-inducing. Aim for a mid-week hangout with close friends by inviting them over for foods that require low-impact prep (IE: Frozen finger foods, chips, salsa) and drinks. Invest in some board games or suggest an on-demand Real Housewives marathon. Chronic illness can make you miss out on a lot of great things—including building those friendships and relationships that you need to stay strong and feel normal. Maybe being social is harder for people with chronic illnesses, but strong friendships come out of relationships built on the understanding that you’ve CHOSEN to “spend” your spoons on bonding with them.


4. Grocery Shopping with a PURPOSE!

It’s something we’ve all got to do—usually multiple times a week. Picking up groceries is just one of the symptoms of being a human with digestive organs. It can also be complicated by fatigue, dysautonomia, and brain fog. If you’re one of those people that dreads going through the isles on a symptomatic day here are a few little tips to getting through it:

  • Make a list before you go in, even if it’s just in the car. When you’re distracted by your symptoms you usually forget things. Make sure to put everything on the list in order of importance, just in case you need to leave early and also need milk.
  • Stay off the cell phone. I don’t know about many of you, but whenever I got on the phone with my sister I feel like I’m leaving half of my brain in the dairy aisle while the rest of it is trying to focus on the conversation and on shopping. Better to save the chit chat until after you’ve checked out.
  • Aim for Self-Checkout. Some stores have started implementing self-checkout lanes. These are great for people with chronic illness as they mean you can go as quickly, or as slowly as you need to. There’s also usually a shorter line for them as people are confused about technology (at least in Florida they seem to be.)

I hope these tips help, but I also hope that any readers out there with tips of their own can leave them in the comments below. I think we’ve all managed to find at least one shortcut that’s made life a little easier—feel free to share!




31 thoughts on “Saving Those Spoons: Tips for Saving Your Energy in Every Day Life!

  1. Mari

    Just found your site – got here through the “Ten Basic Rules of Dating With Chronic Illness” (I’m 43 and was with the same man for 17 years, until he decided he couldn’t cope with the third party in our relationship – my multiple chronic illnesses – anymore and bailed on me in favor of a healthy, employed, physically-active alternative, and my attempts at dating since have been nothing short of catastrophes) and since have been wandering through your well-done site. I wanted to add a few things to the section about grocery shopping…
    1) A folding reacher is a wondrous thing. I keep it in the bag o’ reusable bags that goes into the store with me. Every awkward bend or stretch chips away at the oomph.

    2) I keep a folding cart (example: in the trunk of my car to get my groceries from my car to my kitchen – I live in a biggish (well, for my sem-rural area) apartment building and even with an elevator and a parking tag it’s a schlep to get stuff in, and with a lift limit of 20 pounds on a good day I would have to make multiple trips and that’s just so not happening. Next time I go out to put it back in the car, I use it to take the trash and recycling down to the dumpster.

    3.) Swallow your pride and use the d*** electric scooter! 🙂 If there’s never one available when you shop there even if you don’t shop at peak hours, talk to the manager and explain that they need more scooters – and take your business elsewhere to a store that does, and write to the corporate office and tell them why. I sometimes take a spin around the parking lot to see if someone left the scooter outside before I park, and if the store has more than one entrance and there’s no scooter by the door I go in by I snag someone and ask them to go check at the other door to see if there’s a scooter down there. It may seem embarrassing at first (especially if your CIs or meds have added weight, there’s inevitably some jerkbucket who snarks that you should get up off your fat butt and walk and you wouldn’t need to use the scooter… argh) but fainting, hurling, or plopping down in a heap on the supermarket floor bawling your eyes out in frustration and humiliation because you have just slammed face first into The Wall and simply physically cannot take another step is a whole lot MORE embarrassing. All of which I have done… more than once.

    4) Mail order or otherwise have things brought to you instead of you going to get them as much as humanly possible – easiest for nonperishables but you’d be surprised what can show up at your door via the magic of FedEx these days. Amazon is my favorite (Amazon Prime becomes a worthwhile investment when you use it frequently) but I also shop at iHerb, Vitacost, and direct from manufacturers. I too have gastroparesis and it sure does make food tricky! I’d like to get in with a food co-op but the logistics are currently a problem. For in-season local fruit and vegetables, some CSA (community supported agriculture) programs deliver your weekly share to your home or work and many offer eggs, dairy products, and even farm-raised meats. Depending on where you live (unfortunately nothing in my area) some grocery stores offer online ordering and home delivery – take advantage of it even if it feels like a snooty-pie rich-people thing to do. 🙂

    5) If you can, do your shopping with an understanding friend or partner. Not only does it make it more fun to chat while you shop, but if you unexpectedly crash you can head back out to the car for a lie-down while friend/partner finishes up the shopping. Just make sure your list is super detailed if you’re picky – I used to do mine on the computer, copy-and-paste from a master list, and it was detailed down to the color of the label on the jar (since the person I shopped with most often was not, shall we say, detail oriented when it came to READING labels).

    6) I wear EARPLUGS and (lightly tinted) sunglasses in the grocery store to reduce the sensory overloads like flickering fluorescent lights, color-color-color everywhere, Muzak and inevitable screaming kids. Earphones with whitenoise or calming music can help too (I find “energizing” music can backfire on me, since I end up wasting energy be-bopping along to the tunes, but YMMV.) Excessive stimuli eats energy because I have to work harder to focus through it.
    Yeah, I know I kinda wrote a novel here, but I’ve been living with ICI for 21 years now, almost half my life – although some days I STILL think I’m never going to get the hang of this! – and maybe someone else might get some use out of what I’ve had to mostly figure out for myself. :-/ 🙂

    • Sabrina Brown

      I love your suggestion about the scooter in the grocery store! I have CFS/M.E., Sjogren’s, migraines, etc., but I’m not in a wheel chair so I never think about using a scooter, even though just sitting up in bed exhausts me, and a trip to the store will put me in bed for the next 2 — 3 days — I’m definitely going to try this. Thank you!!!

  2. smurf_goddess

    I can’t do shopping anymore. It is too painful and wears me out for days. I fell in love with Walmart to Go. Most of my friends are anti Walmart and don’t get it, but I can order everything online and they lug all that stuff up the steps to my condo door. Heaven!!! The few bucks I pay for delivery and to tip the driver is so worth not standing in checkout lines exhausted and in pain.

    This is going to sound lame, but wheel chairs also help. I just had surgery and can’t walk too much. I am amazed at how easy shopping is with a wheelchair. I feel stupid in those scooter things because people stare at me like I am faking, but when I go to the store with my mom I can wheel myself around with a good amount of energy and she can push the cart.

  3. Niamh

    Love itgtt. Backseat naps are the best. My big tip is a towelling gown instead of a towel

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