Content/trigger warning: abuse mention
Hey, guess what, everyone? I escaped domestic abuse! Yay! I’m free! I’m safe! I signed up to lead a Disability Day of Mourning vigil!
…I still have to put the apartment together and clean it, and find a new job!
But I also finally came up with an alternative to spoon theory. As useful as spoon theory can be, it can be somewhat cognitively inaccessible if you don’t know the story behind it. (The story can be found here.) So I wanted to come up with an alternative that is more of an extended metaphor for disability, and after months of reenacting Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “come on brain, think of things” vine, I think I finally have an idea: fire theory.
Imagine you’re a fire in a cozy fireplace in a cottage in the woods. Okay, the cottage in the woods isn’t necessary, but imagine you’re a fire. You need oxygen and firewood–fuel–to keep burning. Everything you do that day consumes some of your fuel. If you’re abled, then when you wake up in the morning, you’re a giant, roaring fire, and everything you do takes only a little fuel, so by the end of the day, you’re smaller, but maybe not totally diminished. If you’re Disabled, then maybe you start out as a smaller fire, and everything you do on a given day doesn’t take much fuel, but you have less to work with at the outset. Or maybe you start out as a giant, roaring fire, but certain tasks you have to perform take a lot more fuel than it would an abled person. Your exact fire situation will depend on what conditions are disabling you.
So far, fuel sounds pretty similar to spoons, right? They’re both measures of wherewithal, and abled people have more of those measures or use them differently from Disabled people. But something I’m not huge on with regard to spoon theory is that according to spoon theory, when you’re out of spoons, you’re done. You can’t do anything else for the day. But I have run out of spoons while hauling groceries on foot, and I couldn’t very well just collapse on the sidewalk, so I pressed on in violent denial of the reality of my condition and collapsed/had a meltdown/cried/all three after I got home and stuffed the perishables into the fridge. So I kind of broke spoon theory there.
Spoon theory also doesn’t really allow for replenishment of spoons—in its original iteration, anyway—whereas fire theory does. The key to running on empty or replenishing wherewithal with fire theory is the idea of the ember. When a fire has burned itself out, there might still be embers continuing to glow. Instead of “running on no spoons”, I’ve come to think of it as “down to an ember”. Embers can also be encouraged to become blazes again with more fuel; in the case of fire theory, you can be down to an ember but get back up to fire status with medication, rest, food, hydration, or whatever it is that replenishes you.
So, fire theory is fairly straightforward: fire is a metaphor for you, fuel is a metaphorical measurement of wherewithal (or ability to do things without being in too much pain, or energy, or whatever it is that fits you), and Disabled people metaphorically use fuel faster than abled people and/or have less to work with at the outset. Additionally, it is possible to still keep going while miserable or in pain or nonverbal or what have you, in which case the metaphor for this is being down to an ember. It is also possible to go from an ember to a blaze again if more metaphorical fuel can be provided.
Clear as mud?
Here are some suggestions for how to apply fire theory, or rather, fire theory equivalents of spoon theory vocabulary:
I’m a spoonie = I’m a fire elemental (I was really tempted to somehow make a reference to A Series of Unfortunate Events and VFD, and have people say “I’m a volunteer”)
That’s going to use a lot of spoons = That’s going to use a lot of fuel
I’m out of spoons/I don’t have the spoons = The fire’s out/I’m down to ash
I’m out of spoons but somehow soldiering on = I’m down to an ember
I recouped some spoons = I’m back up to a fire/I chopped some more firewood/I recouped some fuel
Now I have a horrible cold and am going back to sleep.
Mentally ill activist and angry Disabled loudmouth. Neuroqueer as hell.