Unified Cutlery Theory

10 mins read
Photo by Debby Hudson on Unsplash

This is a combination of Spoon Theory, Fork Theory and Knife Theory, metaphors used to help disabled people explain fatigue and stressors to themselves and abled people.

Abled friends please share! This cost me many spoons and I’m well into knives.

Credits to original authors:

  • Spoon Theory – Christine Miserandino (@bydls)
  • Fork Theory – Jenrose (@jenrose)
  • Knife Hypothesis – Terry Masson (@Tilaurin)

SPOON THEORY

The first part of Unified Cutlery Theory is the essential element of  energy: The spoon. The spoon is an arbitrary unit of capacity for action  throughout the day.

A spoon doesn’t have to be only physical energy. Mental energy, or executive function can all be represented by spoons.

You wake with a certain number of spoons. How many you have depend on you as an individual, your conditions and environment. It’s not always  the same, and may vary with time.

And throughout the day, you  spend those spoons on tasks. Brushing your teeth might be one spoon.  Making a meal could be three. A day’s work might be six or more. Costs  vary between individuals, and for some a trivial task may be quite  costly or vice versa.

To a person with limited spoons, this can  mean making hard choices between daily activities. And can result in  reaching the end of the day without the spoons to eat or wash – only  sleep. Worse, being severely low on spoons can, for some, even make  sleep difficult.

Spoons are only recovered by rest. As mentioned,  being low on spoons can sometimes make even this hard, and leave us  waking with fewer spoons than expected.

It’s common to try to ‘save up’ spoons for a big expenditure, but we have our limits. It’s never as much as an abled person.

A common phrase is ‘I don’t have the spoons for this.’

This means a person feels that engaging in an activity would be too  costly to their energy today, or even cost them tomorrow’s energy as  well, or that they’re already too low.

Be considerate when we say this.

For some, spoons can come in different sizes. You may have some large spoons, and several small ones. In this case, it means your allotment of energy can’t so easily be consolidated for different tasks.

You can keep spending small spoons on little things but while you don’t have enough large ones, even if the total volume of small spoons would add up to it, you simply cannot do it.

Note: The variable spoon sizes is sometimes called the ‘Spell Slot’ theory of fatigue.

For many people, these disabilities are invisible. While spoons are  high, we might appear perfectly abled in energy and behaviour, even  though the very next task might be the last one we can do in the day  before collapsing.

Believe invisible disabilities.

FORK THEORY

Forks are stressors. You can only cope with so many stuck in you before you hit your limit and their very presence can limit your ability to spend and recover spoons.

Anything that makes you feel worse can  be a fork, even as little as feeling hungry. Financial or relationship  stress can be even bigger forks.
When you hit your limit, you’re done. You cannot handle any more.

This is especially relevant for neurodivergent people. Myself, for  example, sufficient forks can force me to cry uncontrollably for an hour and/or become nonverbal. Our forks may be so much different from those  of neurotypicals, so much that they’re invisible.

How an  individual is able to handle quantity and size of forks varies greatly.  You may be tolerant of any number of tiny forks stuck in you, but a single pitchfork can destroy you in one go.

Or you might be able  to tolerate a huge fork but it leaves very little room for smaller ones.  The ‘straw that breaks the camel’s back’ can apply here. Albeit in this  case, a fork that does so.

Having too many forks can mean you  can’t access your spoons, even if you’re full up. And dealing with  removing forks themselves is often a costly task.

Sometimes the only thing you can do is abandon your current situation and try to remove the fork you can get rid of the fastest.

Sometimes, those forks are people. :I

KNIFE THEORY

Sometimes you are out of spoons, or are too full of forks to access  them. But you decide to keep going. The only thing left in the drawer are knives.

A knife represents overspending of energy that draws from the future. To push yourself, sometimes dangerously, beyond your  limits.

A knife can be spent in place of a spoon, again varying  in size and amount depending on the individual and the tasks at hand. It  can be that this works and you get it done, but you know that tomorrow  it will cost you.

Knives can hurt. Each spent might take away one  spoon from tomorrow. They might take more. And that means without so  many spoons… you can only spend further knives.

This can result  in a spiral of ever increasing fatigue until you have nothing to spend  but knives, reach your limit of those, and crash.

I have had days where I slept over 20 hours due to extreme overspending. Sometimes the aftereffects last the rest of the week.

Not all disabled people can even reach for the knives, so be considerate when someone can’t push themselves even if you think they should. Consider also how much harm it can do to perform this exertion.

HOW CAN I HELP?

Recognise that we are disabled, even if we don’t look it. Respect us, and inform others about invisible disability.

Respect that we can’t do as much as you, and that we might not want to  do something due to its cost. Even if it would cost you nothing.

If you want to help (and do not impose if we refuse), you can do things  to reduce our daily cost in spoons. Help clean, make meals, with the understanding that we are not lazy. We are limited. We often feel tremendous guilt at not being able to help with daily chores.

If we have forks that you can help remove (and we tell you), perhaps put in some effort to make sure they don’t get stuck in again. This might include changing daily activities to be more accommodating and removing stressful triggers.

And if we are well into our knives, let us  rest. We might rest for days. Don’t make us get up and face the day full  of fatigue. Perhaps help with tasks we’d normally have no problem with.

If you made it this far, thank you for reading. Please tweet and RT and like. This took all of my spoons and I’ve spent too many knives, so I would really appreciate it if you did. I want this to  have been worth it.

And thanks to everyone that helped spread awareness.

Originally posted on Twitter and Patreon. Re-posted with permission.


DemCast is an advocacy-based 501(c)4 nonprofit. We have made the decision to build a media site free of outside influence. There are no ads. We do not get paid for clicks. If you appreciate our content, please consider a small monthly donation.


Cosmic horror occupying a trans vessel (she/her).
Plural Lesbian Asexual Disabled Autistic Anarchist

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Previous Story

Activists use GIFs to demand funding to the CDC be restored to fight the Coronavirus

Next Story

Stand Up for Social Work

Latest from Op-Ed

%d bloggers like this: