To understand The Fork Theory, one would have to understand The Spoon Theory, by Christine Miserandino
Christine shares that Spoons resemble a task that takes effort and physical stamina, when one is limited in it due to being limited in energy. The energy limit Christine talks about is related to suffering from a chronic health condition, which can include chronic pain and fatigue. There are many chronic health conditions that cause people's "Spoons" to be limited, such as fibromyalgia, arthritis, chronic fatigue syndrome, lupus and other autoimmune disorders, connective tissue disorder and many more. A person can evaluate how many spoons it takes to do something, and how many they have "for today" depending on how they feel. For example, folding a small basket of laundry could take up a spoon, making a full meal for your family could take up two or three spoons, taking your kids out to a busy and crowded easter egg hunt could take four or five spoons, and so could gutting and rearranging your entire home office. In a nutshell, spoons represent the use of physical stamina. So, you may ask, what do "forks" represent then? Well; Forks represent social stamina.
I feel that it's time I brought this one out, because it concerns myself and the ways I'm both able, and unable, to connect with friends/fans/subscribers. I've been limited in forks many a time, especially lately. I've continuously gone to the extent of going over my fork limit, in order to please people. More often than not, I then find myself unable to carry that through; suffering "crash periods" and shut downs. I cannot do this anymore, as it has had a negative affect on my health, which has been declining (for many reasons.)
I have now come up with a way to continue to help people, but also preserve my forks and thus take better care of my body, as it is now in great need. I am now developing a new system for connecting with folks, and continuing the service work I care so deeply about. I look forward to sharing this new system here: (coming soon)
I think The Fork Theory will be a very useful tool for those of us on the autism spectrum, those who are introverted, those who have PTSD which causes them higher levels of social anxiety, those who have other neurologically affecting conditions (as I also have, in addition to my autism) and/or head injuries which can cause generating language to require more effort than the average person, etc.. All the above is especially pertinent when we're also dealing with chronic health issues, especially chronic fatigue and pain. That's when the lack of spoons can directly relate to the lack of forks, though it may not always be this way.
So, what could a Fork, or multiple Forks, represent? It's up to each individual person to realize their own tolerance level, and their own scales of representation. I'll use my own scale as an example. For me, one Fork translates to making a necessary business phone call that is short, or answering a single and succinct question with a short, succinct answer. One fork is going to the bank, and having a brief conversational interaction with the teller, mostly in order to full fill what I require when there; but sometimes necessarily generating a little "small talk." As an autistic person, small talk is never my favourite. Two forks would be a more detailed comment on an issue of passion, in a group on FB. Two or three would be a longer, social phone conversation or 1-2 hour coffee meet up. Four forks would indicate an interactive group meet up with a handful of folks, a school meeting for my kids, or a detailed response message to someone in crisis with multiple, intimate questions about personal and serious matters (more about that one later.) Four forks would also represent this, here and now; a good and informative blog which may help many others. Five forks would be speaking and/or leading at an important event or hosting a party. Let's say I have only 5-10 per day, give or take (depending on how I feel)...and think about basic math. That's definite limitation, and that's how it flows for me at this time especially. If am am completely and totally out of forks, it'll be very difficult for me to even make that (possibly necessary) trip to the bank or grocery store. This is why ideally, I try to preserve at least one fork, to have in my back pocket, in case it's needed.
Though I don't really count interactions with my children and immediate family as fork-spending, it is more difficult to enjoy interactions with them if I have downright hit zero or am in the negative. If I'm in the negative, it can affect my mood. So I try really hard to not let it get to that point. Given this, one can imagine that my forks are precious to me, and needed for many reasons. I need them for my family (my children especially) and I need them for my work, which I take very seriously. I feel it's purposeful and can progress to fruition in making a difference, if I apply myself consistently. If I use up too many forks on that one detailed, personable message, to one person... I have become too depleted to be as present for my family as I'd like, and to apply those forks to something that can help many at once. In addition, because my levels of empathy are intensely high, I can burn up forks engaging and taking on that persons' personal conflict.
This is especially true because it reminds me of my own trauma, for in which I am not entirely healed. For this reason, I too need to "stay in the solution" as opposed to in the emotion, just as much as the other suffering person does. I have discovered that it's so much more empowering to give people tips (and in turn remind myself of these tips!) on how to effectively swim across that "choppy ocean channel", as opposed to urgently paddling out there myself, to rescue them. Rather than foisting myself into an adrenalin fuelled state, I have realized that I'm more effective when giving people tips on how best to swim, and bringing many together (which is very empowering.) I can do this by writing blogs, publicly speaking, and posting in groups for in which we can all mutually engage. If we all went by these principals, as marginalized people who've been affected and likely traumatized, though still trying to recover, assert our rights and our place in these world.... I just know we could move forward like a fire-engine of love. When we are raising each other up, as opposed to tugging on each others' shirts, and even squabbling over it... change can really happen!
Back to the "forks." In addition to the mental energy factor, I have to make sure to reasonably preserve my spoons too, and vice versa; or I end up with less forks than I need for important things. Autistic people are more likely to have a depletion of spoons affect their supply of forks, because for Au people it takes more effort to generate language and to speak... regardless of whether they enjoy it or not. This is because, we usually think in pattern sequences first, often involving more pictures than language. Although some of us can be very good at language, it does take more energy to generate. Using more forks than is good for my body (and this goes for spoons too) in one given day, can lead me into a "crash period" for a full day, or even many days after. This isn't a good thing for me, or anyone else in the position of limited forks. Everyone needs to balance their forks accordingly...or end up imbalanced in general. For people dealing with chronic health issues, for in which physical health imbalance is a key cause, this is the last thing that needs to be perpetuated. It not only hinders management and reasonable levels of recovery, but can completely kibosh it...and in turn any chance of illness remission. So, we must learn to balance both our spoons and our forks, for the sake of our own functional health management.
Here's another example. On a day that I know I'll need four or five forks, for something high up or at the top of my priority list, I'll have to do little talking prior to that event or project, and rest after it, or go into the negative (which I'll explain.) As you can see, using up four forks on the one detailed, intimate conversation to one person only, drains me of almost all my forks for the rest of the day. This means, I won't have enough forks left to address a group, write a good blog, or lead/host something in a way that benefits many. This means, although I would love to address each and every one of you more personably (because my first inclination is to help).. I'm physiologically unable to. This doesn't mean I don't want to, or like to, set up some "coffee date" time with friends, but at the moment I am limited with it. I leave it for weekends in two hour blocks (three at best) so that I don't miss out on my family either. I'm just too busy and already limited in family time during the week, other than the odd exception. I sometimes feel frustrated about this reality, but this is the way it is, at this time. I have discovered this the hard way, which is my own doing, and I have agonized over it. I have scratched my head over and over again, trying to find solutions in order to carry forth what I feel is the purpose of A Girl Outside The Box, yet still preserve me. 'Cause without me, it can't continue on; and I want it to.
So, my energy limits need to be prioritized for addressing and reaching many people at a time (and for those people to then reach others in varying ways, in a chain-like effect.) This is the most steadfast way to create the change I want to see for the autistic community, and regarding other loosely interrelated issues involving health, the arts, and positive global reform. I'm so passionate about this endeavour, that I can't just walk away. I'm excited to unleash my new systems, which I'm working on now. I think they'll be much more effective in helping people and making a difference, than the way I was going about this before. I hope that everyone will help and support these new concepts (including a series of sub groups) and I think they will, after seeing how well they can work.
As a side note, I'd like to add that even able bodied people, who don't have particular challenges, will have a natural limit of spoons and forks. Though it's not as pronounced as those with relative challenges, or in autistic people, it's a naturally occurring phenomenon. Ultimately, when we "run out of forks" or are about to, it's time to go "shut down" and be quiet with oneself, as much as is possible. It's time to "go within", listening to music, and relaxing. If we're out of forks, but we have some spoons, we can quietly go do things like food prep, folding laundry, etc.. and perhaps with some nice music playing in the background. We can go for a walk by ourselves. We can go enjoy nature. We can do some art or music.
So, let's elaborate on additional examples of things that could cause a person to become low on, or to run out of forks. It's important to note that there could be both physical, and non physical causes. Physical could be related to spoons, such as a lot of physical exertion, which is especially draining for people with health challenges. Being very low on, or totally out of spoons, will often result in also being low on forks. This is, again, more true in certain types of people. Non physical could be; coming from a loud and boisterous party or another very sensory stimulating situation (for in which they had a prolonged exposure to), having encountered a high energy and talkative person whom they've had a long conversation with (though they may have enjoyed it during), or; they've come from an intense meeting. They are now depleted of forks, because they have used up a lot of social energy. They now need to shut down and "recharge" for their own health and wellness. This process can allow someone to regain their fork supply.
This is especially true for people who are either introverted, autistic (regardless of whether they do enjoy social interactions) and/or in those with sensitive health, chronic fatigue, and chronic pain. This is because these people can become drained from too much social interaction, more easily. Extroverts tend to gain energy from interaction, and therefore tend to have a much larger fork supply, unless they are very sick. Other causes of fork depletion could be that a person has just experienced a loss/is in grief and sadness, or is stressed and anxious about pressing issues. They may need to go inside themselves, in order to process these things. For this reason, they are not "in the mood" to talk. This can be true for all kinds of people. *Note to all: although I can be, and enjoy being, very outgoing and social, I am actually an introvert by nature; because I'm autistic.
Physical tiredness, or "lack of spoons" can often overlap into lack of mental energy for generating speech and expression; and therefore a "lack of forks." This is especially true for those on the autistic spectrum. While some neurotypical people (particularly the highly extroverted) may be physically tired they be able to sit down on the couch and have a phone conversation with their friend, citing "ahhh gee, I'm soooo tired, too tired to do the darn dishes! bah!" However, the autistic person will be likely too tired to verbally express those same feelings, (especially in a "typical" way that makes verbal sense) though they may have a small amount of forks to express with a family member or close friend. This will depend on their level of physical depletion. On the flip side of this, some of the more highly verbal autistics may have a different initial reaction to a depletion of forks, especially if there are still some "spoons." This initial depletions may cause a social "overload" (particularly if one "runs into the negative.") I like to this reaction the "melt-up." There are certain mechanisms that cause this to happen. In fact, for many autistic people, the depletion of forks may initially cause an "spike" in spoons. It needs to be "burned off" and "released" in some way. This is were stimming comes in. Similar mechanisms, as a result of social overload, may occur in other types of folks, though now stemming per se (which is fairly confined to autism and in some cases profound ADD/ADHD.)
For example, if spoons are remaining, initially spiked, and a person is in a state of physical hyper-ness, (and even overwhelming emotions) they may become verbally overloaded in their minds. They will need to "download" their script to a close family member or friend who understands them. They may need to "release chi", as Rudy Simone calls it, when she describes the need to stim. If verbally and/or emotionally overloaded, the "download" is one way to do this. The download may include a plea for help (if it escalates in intensity) and even an unrealistic expectation of "rescue me." The latter is in the case where the "download" is coming from a meltdown, which it can switch to from a meltup, if it is left to escalate for too long. Again, these internal processes are some of the neurological mechanisms that produce the need to "stim."
As opposed to "talking through something" with someone, "downloading"to someone (or even to oneself), appears more like "talking at someone" rather than to them. It is an especially autistic feature, though others experience it too, especially when they need to verbally "process" upsetting things. It can be taken the wrong way, as things like "selfish" and even "rude." What's important to emphasize is that this is not intentional. This process is to some extent needed, for the autistic person. However, it's also true that everybody is entitled to reasonable boundaries regarding how much they are able to handle of it, at a time. This includes all people, even autistics to autistics. Again, people other than autistics may have somewhat of a need to "download" in their own way. A general example (in a non autistic person) could translate to being in a counselling appointment where the patient does all the talking on purpose, because they need to verbally rehash something and simply want that listening ear. After the person is done, the other party may respond with something brief, in a way that's helpful to the person.
In an autistic person, it's a similar need, though the internal mechanism may be different. Though there may indeed be an intense or upsetting emotion, they may also be simply overtired and over-wired. They need to "download" before they shut down and go into themselves. I have done this before, with my husband and other family/besties (who are usually also autistic.) I find that some of this state is natural, but some of this may cross over into an extreme. The latter is often because of allowing oneself to become too socially overloaded via not properly managing Fork limits. When this state occurs to the extreme, it can be hard on the physical body and the mind. The only way to remedy it is to "spew" out the download in some way, and/or stim, then go relax. These aspects are all part of the challenges with regulation; which branches off into another topic meant for a separate blog.
It's an interesting phenomenon, what I call "melt-up" (as opposed to meltdown.) A little "melt up" is ok, normal, and "us." However and again, too much of it can perpetuate imbalance. In order to be sensitive, we have to try and make sure that the friend we are choosing to "download" to has enough forks of their own to receive it (whether it be a verbal melt up, or down, or just burning and intense question/s.) If we are needing another person to "bounce off of" we need to find ways to pause for thought on this first. If a "download" occurs in something like a FB message, and the other party doesn't respond, we must try and remember that they may be out of forks before we take it personally. As an important note, I am talking about "downloading" to someone else who you know understands you well enough to not pass judgement. Clearly, choosing somebody who you're not that close with, and is not likely to understand autism spectrum (due to lack of education, awareness, and perhaps not being able to relate with the particular internal mechanisms) is not a good idea. It carries a high risk of being received with misjudgement, and even annoyance. This is why I do not recommend it. It will only induce a feeling of rejection, for in which may be (in that particular case) truly warranted. This is never pleasant for anyone.
Back to our own friends, whom we know care for us...we must try to manage our expectations. We must realize that we can even look within ourselves, and to solutions, to find relief. The great thing about this fork theory is that we can use it as code, merely citing to that person "I'm out of forks, at the moment, much love, talk later" or if that person is really in crisis "I'm low on forks and can't respond at length for now, but I think you should do this (brief suggestion) sending love and well wishes, be well, talk soon." This shows loving detachment; the setting of boundaries based on one's own individual fork limit, while still getting across that you do in fact care. If the other person is not able to accept that due to their own sensitivities and traumas, then the one trying to set a healthy boundary cannot take on what is the other persons' issue. We can have compassion for it, but not take it on. In retrospect, it's important to note that there are many ways to preserve forks yet still be helpful, change-making and of service to important and compassionate purposes. I talk about these more in my next blog.
Listening to language involves the use of forks. Again, more so in the autistic. This doesn't mean that we should not listen. It means that if we are very low on forks, we may have to limit it, or even abstain for that time being. This is because, as opposed to the belief that we lack empathy, we often have an excess of it. This plays out as; we will really hear the other party. We will take it in... within our bodies, hearts and souls. In addition, our brains may take more energy to translate the language we're hearing into the picture-patterns we understand in our heads. We may be able to do this so quickly that one may find it hard to believe... but we're still doing it. For this reason, it takes we autistics more energy to listen, than it does for non-autistic people. However, we often choose to prevail in doing so, because we truly care and have a sense of social responsibility. The latter heightens when virtuous purpose is attached to it. Sometimes, if we're low on forks, we can hurt ourselves in this action (especially when we're also generating a lot of response), when trying to be loyal in showing that we care. This is when we need to lovingly and politely, but assertively if need be, guard. Again, it's not a question of "not caring" or "selfishness." We know that we care. There are plenty of alternative ways to show it into action, while still preserving fork supply. This is still do-able, even if we are physiologically unable to field many intense one-on-one interpersonal connections.
On the flip side, if we determine that the other party may be low on, or out of forks, it's again best to "manage expectations"and thus not place unwarranted expectations on them. After all, many of us reading this can put ourselves right in their shoes, can't we? So, we may know firsthand that this will only make them feel badly. They, and we at times, are dealing with something that is physiologically involuntary. To overstep it causes harm to the health and well being. So, it's best to understand this by recognizing it (if we can), and finding another way to "download" that script. Sometimes we autistics can have a hard time recognizing anothers' feelings on the surface; though if we tune in, we can sense them, even quite intensely. This means, we can discern, or even ask permission, before the "download." The other person either may allude to, or let us know how they feel. If they are too tired, we have to learn to respect that without taking offence. What can we do if we need to download, or are having a crisis/burning question? We can find another person, with more forks, to receive it. We can look up information, if it can help. Again, we can write, draw, or even script-walk or stim.
Adding to the discussion of detriments to health and well being, autistic people, and others with "fork limitations" (especially women) are liable to stubbornly go into denial regarding their fork limits. We are prone to running ourselves into overdrive. This occurs too often. Much of it is because society is under-evolved, in terms of understanding the autistic, and thus accommodating our differences in needs. In lieu of this, we often end up doing things to "borrow forks" such as; use stimulants such as caffeine or nicotine, and/or simply ignoring our inner feelings and needs. We then "thrust" ourselves into that "adrenalin fuelled" state, in order to socially "perk up." This can, at times, produce "manic" like behaviour (the "melt-up" mentioned previously) and again, can be both hard on the body and the mind/mood balance. It could result in physical crash periods, grumpy-ness, ending up "snapping" at people. It could even result in a mood swing, melt down, or unhealthily prolonged shutdown. What I mean by unhealthy prolonged is; a shut down that is extreme and results in things like excessive internet surfing, gaming, tv watching, self medicating (by oneself) and avoiding the telephone like the plague for days on end. Basically, I mean going through an isolation period. This is ok to do for a day, or two at best... but when it lasts nearly a whole week it can be interfering. Given the above examples, one can see why it's not a good idea to go past your own personal fork limit, and forcedly "borrow forks."
So, now that we autistics, and those with similar needs, can have our very own "spoon theory" which measures our social energy limits; we're given an opportunity to reflect. Many of us are "guilty" of over-doing our own fork limit, or even accidentally (with our lack in theory of mind) not properly determining whether we are expecting too much of others, when they themselves are limited in forks. With this simple "code expression" we can set boundaries for ourselves, with and among each other. This new concept provides an opportunity for us to help ourselves, and our fellows; by examining and discerning all the aspects of what The Fork Theory could entail, with respect to our own individual needs.