With MS, giving it your ‘some’ adds up to enough

How using the spoon theory for MS is similar to enduring a Special Forces test

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by Benjamin Hofmeister |

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Special Forces Assessment and Selection (SFAS) — a training program for entry into the U.S. Army Special Forces — is rare, even among military courses. It has grueling physical aspects, but the majority of it is mental. It’s really one long test to gauge a participant’s ability to work alone and with others.

What really makes it stand out, though, is the complete absence of interaction with an instructor. The cadre assesses you and keeps you safe, but there’s a noticeable lack of any sort of encouragement or discouragement. A common response to any type of question is “Do your best.”

With no set standards or feedback, when I went through it, I questioned myself at least a dozen times a day: Am I doing my best? Did I give it my all?

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I eventually passed, but in hindsight, my success was because I didn’t give any single thing my all. I gave each day — each test — just enough. By the end of the three weeks, each day’s “some” added up to being my “all.”

That was more than 20 years ago, and 12 years before I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS). At first, I tried to give MS my all and finished each tribulation with nothing left for anything else. For a brief, depressing period, I even tried giving it my “none,” which was even worse.

When I learned about the “spoon theory” — a method of gauging and planning energy levels — I initially wrote it off as just another feel-good cliché. Later, when I actually gave the spoon theory its due, it occurred to me that this method was essentially the same as I and others had used to pass SFAS. We weren’t still standing at the end because we’d expended all of our spoons on day one, but because we had prioritized the energy we had.

At SFAS, we knew what events were coming, but didn’t know exactly when or what each would entail. A run might be coming up, but would it be tomorrow? And would it be 3 miles or 6? Either way, I doled out enough energy — or spoons — for it.

Daily life with MS isn’t that different, except instead of a run, it might be a shower. Prioritizing and planning energy expenditure are about the same.

Like SFAS, MS doesn’t come with set standards or feedback. That means the same questions about self-doubt often arise: Did I do my best? Should I have tried harder? If I had, would I still be able to [fill in the blank]?

The answers vary, and I finish some days knowing I could’ve given more. It feels wrong somehow to finish a day with leftover spoons. I suppose the point is that I finished.

I doubt I’ll ever stop questioning myself, but each day I try to give it my “enough.” With multiple sclerosis, that is my best.


Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.

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