Today, a friend of mine asked if I was mad at her. I replied “Of course not, why would you think that?” She explained that since we last hung out, I haven’t been talking to her much.
I’ve been dealing with a moderate level of depression for the last month or so. Depression saps all my energy. When I was at my worst, I was sleeping 12-16 hours a day, and could barely find the strength to get out of bed. Even though my physical health is fairly good, I relate a lot to the Spoon Theory.
When I’m hypomanic, or even at my baseline, I’m a ball of fire. Hypomania, in particular, seems to give me a seemingly infinite supply of “spoons”. There isn’t enough to do in a day to keep me occupied; I am endlessly social, having the energy to do everything in a day. I’ll cook, play music, write, swim, spend time with friends, and do more – sometimes all in one day.
When the depression takes over, I am left with a limited amount of spoons. For example, when I came home from university, it took me several weeks to finally unpack all my clothes. I probably simply appear lazy to most people; washing dishes, walking a block down the street, or doing other things requiring any amount of energy can be almost impossible. Socializing also becomes difficult. It’s hard to make small talk with people, especially when the depression gets especially brutal.
It’s different spending time with people who I can talk to about what I’m going through, but often, I either feel like I’m imposing, or will be shunned as bipolar disorder is still a fairly stigmatized mental illness. When I’m at a low point, if you take me out for coffee and ask how I’m doing – and genuinely mean it – it will expend some of my energy, but it can make me feel at least somewhat better. Just knowing that someone cares is important.
However, time with casual friends that don’t know what’s going on, while it can also be enjoyable, becomes really difficult to motivate myself to spend. It can also become exhausting. I feel like I can’t talk about much when I’m depressed; the words don’t come as easily, and I’m left feeling like a bad friend. This can, understandably, come across as me being unfriendly, or annoyed with my friends for some reason, but really, it’s because I’m running out of spoons.
It’s hard to articulate. To someone without depression or bipolar, it’s hard to imagine depression sapping your energy to the point where everyday things become difficult.
Sometimes, I even feel guilty talking, or thinking about my spoons. After all, aren’t I, at least on the surface, what society would define as “healthy”? Am I appropriating the experiences of people with chronic physical illnesses?
To me, mental illness is similar to physical illness in many ways. I experience physical pain and fatigue when I’m depressed, and in addition to my mood, this leaves me with a limited number of spoons to get through the day.