Spoons and pots are obviously handy kitchen utensils, but did you know they’re also really useful as analogies for the way the human mind works?
Let’s get into the spoons first. A while ago, someone (Wikipedia cites Cristina Miserandino in 2003) came up with spoons as an analogy for the way certain disabilities or diseases, either mental or physical, come with limited amounts of energy. The number of spoons available to someone on a given day represents the amount of energy that person can spend that day. Every task or activity comes with a cost, expressed in a number of spoons. And so, the number of available spoons directly impacts how many and which tasks a person is able to accomplish that day.
People with mental or physical ailments, such as lupus, for which the analogy was originally created, have fewer spoons available than normal, healthy people. While healthy people might be able to just go about their day without worrying about the amount of spoons left, people suffering from lupus, chronic fatigue syndrome (like me), or depression for example (also me), have to ration their spoons to make sure they’ll be able to make it to the end of the day and to get the tasks done that needed to be done.
It’s possible to exceed the number of allotted spoons, but that would mean borrowing them from the next day, and I’ve found that that is usually where I lose people when explaining the analogy to healthy people. You see, if you don’t suffer from an ailment that diminishes the amount of spoons to the point where you have to ration them, not only should you count yourself lucky, but it’s probably also hard to understand how something you do today can so severely impact the day after that, or even the day after that.
Of course, most people will be familiar with the feeling of having gone to bed too late, and feeling that the next day. Most people will be familiar with having had a long and tiring day, and noticing a lack of energy the day after that. But most people – and correct me if I’m wrong – will usually feel normal again by the second day, provided they got in two good nights of sleep. But that’s not how it works for us spoon-deprived people.
You see, something I do today might impact me in such a way that it’s still noticeable five days from now. I could’ve been borrowing spoons from tomorrow for so many days, weeks, or months in a row, that I’m several days, weeks, or even months in debt. If you keep borrowing more spoons than you regain overnight, you’ll be behind for the foreseeable future.
And that’s how it is with me. Believe me when I say that I feel like I’ve gone on an all-night bender every morning when I wake up. It takes me a solid half hour to an hour to get out of zombie mode and stop waddling and shuffling around the house, barely able to pick up my own feet, and I’m honestly not exaggerating. It’s been a little worse over the past few weeks, but regardless I honestly can’t remember the last time I woke up feeling refreshed or awake, and that’s no exaggeration either. I literally can’t remember.
Spoons are an easy way to express and explain such things to others who might not be familiar with the feeling, and they’ve already helped me out more often than I can count. So here it is, both for my fellow spoon-deficient peeps out there, and for those of you who have more than enough spoons but could bear to learn a little more about how our systems work, and why we can’t ‘just push through’.
Next up on the kitchenware menu is pots on the stove. This analogy was developed by Nancee Blum, and here the pots are meant to symbolize different emotional aspects of our being. They are used as a tool for people with emotional regulation problems to better identify and communicate the current state of their emotions.
In this system, level 1 means there’s no heat under the pot. The stove is turned off, the contents of the pot are calm and quiet. Level 5 means the pot is boiling over, symbolizing an emotional outburst and a whole lot of nasty. Using this tool, it becomes easier for people who have trouble regulating their emotions to prevent an imprending outburst by noticing the early warning signs.
Originally, this system (called STEPPS, Systems Training for Emotional Predictability and Problem Solving) was developed for people with borderline personality disorder (BPD), but I’ve found that it’s also applicable to people without BPD. It might even be applicable to people who don’t really have difficulty regulating their emotions, but need a system to better communicate their mental state to others.
For me personally, a non-BPD person, it’s been useful mostly for the latter goal, but it also gives me a bit of a grip on where I’m at, mentally and emotionally, and how I should best navigate those situations. I know, for example, when to withdraw from certain taxing situations when I’m already at a level 3 or 4 and a stressful encounter might push it over the edge.
Now, an overboiling pot doesn’t necessarily mean a temper tantrum or a panic attack, it might also just mean a mental state in which you can’t really be said to still be yourself. Emotions might just run too high to deal with the environment, to deal with stressful situations, or they might cause you to behave or think irrationally due to their intensity. And just like an overboiling pot means there’s water (or soup, whatever you like) spilling over the edges, an emotional pot at level 5 might also mean things are spilling over into other areas of life.
It could mean that someone takes it out on their partner, without that partner having done anything wrong, just because the person’s mental state has risen to such intensity that it’s leaking into other areas. Compare it to someone yelling at their spouse or their kids after a tough day at work. Knowing about the pot model, and knowing what the consequences of an overboiling pot might be, could seriously improve communications and elevate understanding of one’s mental state. And who doesn’t want that?
Now, I have to admit I lied a little in this blog post’s title, since I haven’t really got anything other than spoons and pots to talk about today. But regardless, I hope this explanation of how you can use spoons and pots to both better describe the human mind and understand it, has helped you in some way. Talking about the human mind is hard, and analogies like these make it easier to describe it to people who are unfamiliar with those feelings and sensations. Language isn’t always capable of truly capturing the wealth of concepts and experiences swirling around in a person’s head, but analogies help us get a lot closer.