When you have an invisible disability, though you may look “fine,” the smallest activity can be stressful and draining. Stressful events can have a cumulative, waterfall effect, and how you react to it is based on a lot of circumstances that others may know nothing about.
We all respond to stress and anxiety differently. Maybe with a Fight, Flight or Freeze response – Acting Out or Acting In. Our responses are greatly influenced by our perception of our environment
(Ex. Child tends to show both "acting out" and "acting in" behaviors at home and places he/she feels safe, but tends to only "act in" at school and in the community).
Many people are very good at hiding their stress and issues – this doesn’t mean they don’t need help.
Kitty would literally rather die than let others see her issues.
The Spoon Theory states that a person with an invisible illness gets only a set amount of energy/ strength/ ability to handle things. Each spoon represents a stressor, and when too many are lost... The child (or us!) gets overwhelmed and runs, dissociates, shuts down, acts out, hurts themselves or others...
Examples of a typical day's stressors that could cause the loss of a spoon:
- Didn’t sleep well (because you were upset, didn’t take your meds until late, have circadian rhythm disorder, nightmares/ PTSD flashbacks, for no apparent reason...)
- Slept through your alarm – all 3 of them. Your heart is pounding from Dad’s knock on your door.
- Digging through the basket for clothes that don’t smell too badly because you didn’t do your laundry. Will anyone notice?
- You’re late, so no time for breakfast – meds don’t work as well on an empty stomach
- Can’t find your shoes… gotta find those shoes! Ran out of time, now you have no time to grab your jacket. Brr!
- Bus ride. Driver frowned at you for not being ready.
- Try de-stressing by listening to your iPod and tuning out the noisy kids.
- The teacher is not in her classroom; where to go? There's a scary kid in the behavior room. SCARED! Hang out with friends in the hall, but feel guilty because you know you're not supposed to. GUILT!
- An annoying kid wants you to acknowledge that you’re her best friend.
- TOO MUCH WALKING! Don’t complain or people will think badly of you.
- You're so quiet that the bus driver forgets you’re there and starts to go back to the Bus barn. GUILT! FEAR!
- You have to go to the cafeteria. You're hungry, but it's so loud! Everybody is staring at you! You're going to do something stupid! It's too much, so you sit out in the hallway. HUNGRY!
- Fast food, pudding, soda - Mom says you shouldn’t eat this stuff. Food makes you feel better – EAT!
- You’re so ugly because you’re fat.
- Teacher (gently) teases you about your new neon shorts. It feels like she's criticizing you. SHAME!
- You realize you forgot to bring your (point card/ planner/ homework...).
- Be good. Be quiet. Be helpful! Don’t let anyone see the real you. They won’t like you if they find out how bad you really are. They'll make you go away!
- FOCUS! Don’t let anyone see you don’t understand. You didn’t do that right. You’re stupid! Everyone knows! Why is is so hard to focus?!
- You have an argument with a friend. You have to mediate between your friends who are fighting. You hurt Maddy’s feelings because you don’t want to hang out with her. Steven is in trouble again, and you feel you should talk him out of doing stuff like this.
- You're overwhelmed, but you don't want anyone to know. You ask to go to the nurse. Will they let you go? Will the nurse get mad? Will she send you back to class? Will they follow the Safety/ Crisis Plan? Will the counselor be in her office?
- You sit next to someone awful on the bus ride home. You're a bad person for thinking this.
- You see someone or something that reminds you of a time when you were hurt. Your heart races and you feel like you're there all over again.
- Bus driver (gently) teased you about your new neon shorts. She's criticizing you! She hates you! She thinks you look stupid!
- There’s nothing good for snack, and you may never get food again.
- Mom mentions you left all the lights and TV on again when you left for school. She hates you and is going to make you leave because you're bad.
- You forgot to feed the dogs. You're a horrible person.
- You arrive home and check your FB/texts – you’ve get messages from biofamily, your ex-boyfriend wants to talk, your bff wants to know why you can’t come over and hang out? GUILT
- Mom reminds you to do your chores/ homework/ eat a snack, but you tell her you are too stressed and go for a stalk in the backyard. Is she mad at you now? You walk and walk, but you can't turn off that voice in your head telling you all the bad things that are going to happen to you.
- You scoot upstairs when mom’s not looking so mom won’t remind you to do your chores. You fall asleep for 2 hours, even though the doctor told you not to because it messes up your sleeping even more. GUILT
- Your tummy hurts, as it so often does, but no one cares.
- Dinner is late and you’re hungry. Dad reminds you to wash dishes. You HATE washing dishes. Dad is yelling at you! Dad hates you! He's going to make you leave!
- Bedtime, but you’re not tired. You read, text and watch YouTube videos until you get a little tired – long after midnight. You wake up several times in the night.
How many spoons do you have left? What do you do when you ran out of spoons by lunchtime?