Of Goal Setting and Mental Illness

My psychiatrist asked me today if I was still looking for teaching jobs. I answered “yes” reflexively and then followed up with “well, i’m trying to get through this conversation without crying, and then i’m going to try to get through the rest of the day without crying too much. My goal for the week is to keep doing the things I enjoy even when I am crying and not enjoying them. My stretch goal is to get a nights sleep. I would really like that but it may not be possible.”

The basis of “spoon theory” is that some things most people do without too much fuss or energy (i.e. not crying in public, taking a shower, eating dinner) take some of us a relative lot of energy so that, at the end of the day we have no “spoons” left for our romantic life, our professional advancement, not screaming at our partner’s child because they are whining about something stupid, or just plain keeping our tears in until we get into our apartment. Spoon theory explained a lot to me, and still does. It became a short hand that is readily understood by people – “I don’t have the spoons to cook tonight and I don’t know when I will have them,” is much more honest than “I wanted you to come over for dinner but I forgot to turn on my phone for the past 12 hours to finalize our plans” or “My cat is sick” or any of the other millions of excuses I have used when I planned to have a birthday party and then the day of realized I just *couldn’t* face people.

There are two (related) problems with spoon theory in general and in particular in terms of goal setting.

  1. using spoons can make you have more spoons – this is when you don’t think you have the social energy or spoons to go visit your friend because you can’t stop crying and think you are a burden to be around, but then you do go see her and she is totally cool and not at all bothered by your tears and the shit-show that is your emotional deregulation and then suddenly you feel like you might have those spoons to take a shower after all.
  2. not having spoons results in you feeling like you deserve to not have any spoons. you start thinking “i couldn’t make myself shower today, i am so disgusting and stink and can’t ever have the spoons to shower.”

Applying for teaching jobs makes me feel like I might have a future that is valuable and meaningful. Therefore I do it, even when I am also harvesting my spoons trying to make it through the day. I would like to make it through the day a little easier, so I could focus on making my life better in higher order ways, but having hope for the future helps with all of these fronts. I have to shower and swim and talk to a friend *in order to* gain spoons to write this cover letter.

And blog. So thank you. Coming soon= hospitalization, friends, and permanence. Mental illness and loving commitment. Sex gender and depression.

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