On Spoons And Mental Health
Hey everybody, Tom here.
As of today, May 21st, 2021, I’m going to be leaving my leadership position and responsibilities at Vite Kitchens. I won’t be making the decisions or involved with the day to day functioning anymore, but I’ll still be around - you might see me helping with our communities (FB, Discord, Reddit) and I’ll be involved with different projects.
It’s been a long, difficult but rewarding journey - from the first idea in our crowded apartment almost half a decade ago, to the Kickstarter beyond our wildest dreams, to the new patch notes, new flavors, and even the absolute s*%& show that was 2020. It’s been an absolutely wild ride, full of incredible memories, a fair share of stressful moments, and of course, an amazing community.
I wanted to take some time to explain why I’m leaving, what’s in store for the future, as well as share some thoughts on mental health.
Not Enough Spoons
For the past 2 years, I’ve been struggling with chronic health issues - I’ve been to the emergency room, seen 6 different doctors (3 of whom were specialists), and recently had to have a surgery, with a second one scheduled in the future.
Chronic illnesses are sometimes known as “invisible illnesses”. While short term illnesses like food poisoning can have very visible symptoms, many chronic illnesses can be managed, with varying amounts of difficulty. Day to day, someone might manage it well enough for it to be, well, invisible.
Have you heard of “spoon theory”? It’s an exercise by Christine Miserandino that uses a handful of spoons to illustrate the amount of energy someone with an invisible illness has to dedicate to everyday tasks. Each spoon represents the energy for a decision that has to be made - and even simple tasks will take a spoon away from your very limited supply.
Think about the times where you were running a fever, or even just had a long day at work - when even the simplest task become obstacles:
“...the difference in being sick and being healthy is having to make choices or to consciously think about things when the rest of the world doesn’t have to. The healthy have the luxury of a life without choices, a gift most people take for granted.”
“You cannot simply just throw clothes on when you are sick. I explained that I have to see what clothes I can physically put on, if my hands hurt that day buttons are out of the question. If I have bruises that day, I need to wear long sleeves, and if I have a fever I need a sweater to stay warm and so on.”
(Note: the author’s experience is with Lupus, but the concept is applicable to many chronic illnesses in general.)
Every day I have to pick my battles. The past 2 years have been a careful struggle of choosing when to spend my spoons: on work, on family and friends, self-care, and even basic needs. There were never enough spoons to go around. Something always suffered, and often, it was my health - which left me with less and less spoons to work with each time.
It’s fitting that it’s Mental Health Awareness Month; I didn’t plan to leave this month but it does seem oddly appropriate doesn’t it? Late last year I was diagnosed with adult ADHD-PI, and more recently, comorbid primarily obsessive OCD. Choosing my battles now doesn’t just involve my physical health anymore. From the very start of Vite Kitchens, we were adamant about taking mental health into account for all employees - and today, that includes me.
“If a person can’t get out of bed, something is making them exhausted. If a student isn’t writing papers, there’s some aspect of the assignment that they can’t do without help. If an employee misses deadlines constantly, something is making organization and deadline-meeting difficult...
...People do not choose to fail or disappoint. No one wants to feel incapable, apathetic, or ineffective. If you look at a person’s action (or inaction) and see only laziness, you are missing key details. There is always an explanation. There are always barriers. Just because you can’t see them, or don’t view them as legitimate, doesn’t mean they’re not there. Look harder.”
This is a passage from one of my favorite articles of all time - Laziness Does Not Exist, by Dr. Devon Price. It’s a call for understanding and empathy, even if struggles are invisible to us. Rereading this today hits harder than it usually does.
The long ̶n̶o̶o̶d̶l̶e̶ road ahead
The sad truth is, when I’m in a leadership position here, my invisible barriers don’t just impact myself. I can’t control when my illnesses get worse, and unfortunately, the rest of the team can be impacted when things get worse. If I’m suffering, then the team suffers as well. Decisions still need to be made, and work still needs to be done. The people still need their noodles!
(Note: that’s not to say that those with chronic illnesses can’t be effective leaders - just that my spoons aren’t quite enough. Whatever your invisible struggle is, y’all keep kicking ass out there.)
Even after fighting with this balancing act for so long, it’s always felt like I had to sacrifice one thing or another in order to make it work out. It’s a terrible feeling having to constantly find more spoons just to try and take care of myself - and it was an even worse feeling if I had health issues and didn’t have the spoons to help the team.
I spent a lot of time soul searching, deliberating, considering (whatever you want to call it) and even talking with my therapist about it. Each time it became increasingly clear that abdicating my responsibilities at Vite was the right thing to do, for both my health and the company. I’m leaving my roles in the hands of the very capable Vite Kitchens team, who’ve all been spending time training to fill in (as well as a new hire)!
So what now? Well, first it’s time to relax for a bit - to recover from the burnout, to take care of my physical and mental health, to spend some more time with the dog. After that, who knows - maybe teaching how to run a successful Kickstarter, maybe doing some more parkour or auto detailing, maybe even starting a Youtube channel. Who knows? It’s all up in the air right now. I’m equally excited to explore new opportunities as I am sad about leaving - it’s a complicated feeling.
But I won’t be disappearing entirely. I’ll still be working with Vite on special projects, coming up with ideas, and hanging out in our communities (FB, Discord, Reddit). You can still reach me through any of these communities, or still through my email at email@example.com.
So here’s to new beginnings and our health, both physical and mental. Here’s to being more empathetic and understanding. Here’s to all of you who’ve supported us through this whole way and made it all worth it, even through endless blood, sweat and tears. And most of all, here’s to Vite Ramen, which will always hold a special place in my heart.