If you could do one thing a day, what would you choose?

If you could only do one thing every day, what would it be?

Laura’s Pen uses a “One thing every day” analogy to explain how restrictive life is with a chronic illness…

This post is inspired by a story my partner told me about explaining how my energy levels work. He was basically asked why I couldn’t come out for a drink. He replied that I had already been out to a cafe that day. They asked: “but can’t she rest and then come out.” “No,” was his answer. “She can only do one thing every day.” (Actually both of these activities exceed my “one thing a day” energy allowance).

Now I’m not claiming this will be a radical new way of explaining energy-limiting illnesses to healthy people. It is no spoon theory. But there is something in that, that while being very over-simplified, could be understood quite easily.

If you could do one thing every day, what would you choose?So what I’m going to do is take you on a journey, starting with the highest functioning level of people with energy-limiting illnesses and working our way down to the lowest functioning and see if this “one thing every day” explanation can shed some light on what it’s like living with these illnesses. I am basing this around the life of ME sufferers as I have experienced it myself.

Before I start, you need to know these two things:
1. If you exceed the allowed energy for your “one thing” you will have less energy for your “one thing” tomorrow.
2. A lot of illnesses that affect energy are variable and unpredictable. You may not know what level of functioning you will have tomorrow until you get there. This makes planning for your illness very hard.
Here we go:

Very high-functioning

You work full-time. Attending work is the one thing you can achieve each week day. This means no chores when you get home, as quick a meal as you can achieve, and not doing much except watching the TV or some other low energy activity in the evenings. I’m sure so far this doesn’t sound too bad (but try to remember this is everyday, it isn’t a choice). You might skip on doing your hair or makeup or washing in the morning to save energy and sleep through your train journey to work.

But now it’s the weekend. Time to do something fun right? Ok. But don’t underestimate how much energy this might use. If you go out with your friends for drinks, you may well find that on Sunday you’re “one thing” is limited to basic care of yourself: feeding yourself, getting out of bed etc.

And what about the chores you’ve been putting off all week? Who is going to do the food shopping or empty the dishwasher/ wash the pile of dishes that have been building up for a week? And the bins need emptying. And you need to pay those bills.


You can work part-time but if your health has only recently deteriorated, you are under financial pressure and/or your dream job just won’t allow part-time working, you may be pushing yourself to work full-time. If you are, forget about the weekend, forget about your evenings, forget about anything outside of work, you won’t have energy for it. Because you are over-exerting all week, by the time the weekend comes, you’re “one thing” is just basic self care. You may well use your holiday just to recuperate at home.

Or, you do work part-time and you can just about cope with the that as your “one thing”. You either work shorter hours so the day is easier to cope with, less days so you can recoup on your days off (your one thing on these days will therefore be smaller), or a mixture of both. Hopefully, by doing this you have some spare energy for life- meeting friends, doing laid-back hobbies and, unfortunately, to do some of those chores.


Your “one thing” is too small to work. Unless you can find an employer who will give you a couple of hours of work several times a week from home (unlikely). But you are able to get out of bed, maybe do a little bit of your hobby (if you frequently rest) as your “one thing”. You can occasionally see friends by over exerting. You won’t be able to do anything but basic self care for several days following, but it will keep you happy and sane to do so once in a while.

But you’re unemployed now, so you’ll probably need to apply for disability benefits. For one month you will be spending all your “one things” each day filling in the forms, making sure it’s as good as it can be so you clearly get across your difficulties and why you can’t work. And even after that, there will be a lot of days it takes up your “one thing” and causes you stress, which worsens your energy levels. You’ll have to ring the DWP a lot. You may well have to attend assessments (which will use up several days worth of “one things” in one go). If you’re lucky you’ll get your benefits without too much fuss, but if you’re unlucky you’ve got mandatory reconsiderations and appeals at tribunal all to look forward to. And then if you get the benefit, you’ll have to repeat all this in 18 months time.

You will come to accept that the house won’t ever look perfect. You will need help with the cleaning and any cleaning you choose to do will use up your “one thing” for the day (minimum) even if you’re super careful about limiting how much you do.


Your one thing isn’t big enough to leave the house. You will have to do so occasionally, but this will mean you probably can’t get out of bed for several days, or if you can, you will stumble to the sofa and stay there.

You can do small hobbies as your one thing if you are very careful about how much energy you use, but it’s likely your one thing for the day is getting out of bed, turning the TV on and resting frequently in order to do so. You can get to the loo yourself and grab food from the fridge but it isn’t easy. Every task is a challenge. If someone visits you, this will be more than your “one thing” and will take you days (probably mostly in bed) to recover from.


I have never been severe, so this is from what I’ve seen of others experiences. If you are severe, your one thing is perhaps sitting up in bed for a bit. You need others to care for you and help you do basic self care. You need to limit your sensory activity, so light and noise need to be reduced as much as possible. You might be able to use an iPad for a bit (there are some wonderful ME advocates out there organising fundraising from their beds) but this will need to be limited

Very Severe

I don’t think I can describe this accurately. Your one thing is your body functioning enough for you to stay alive. Any stimulus is too much.

I think for this one, I will share this video, so you can see for yourselves how life-limiting severe ME can be.

So hopefully that has shed a little bit of light on how life-limiting energy-sucking illnesses such as ME can be. If you are well, I hope this has made understanding your chronically ill friends a little easier, if you are ill, I hope your “one thing” today makes you happy and is tolerated well by your body.

Lots of love from,

Laura’s Pen


Laura Chamberlain

Laura is a writer blogging about living with chronic illness, namely Lyme Disease, Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME/CFS) and Fibromylagia.

She likes food, cats, bad jokes. Unfortunately, her boyfriend is allergic to the last two...


  1. Really well explained! When a coffee and a chat is other people’s idea of relaxation, it’s really hard to explain that I just pay too high a price for it sometimes.

  2. This is a really interesting article. I’d say my ME is somewhere in the high functioning area (although variable either way!) However, sadly & frustratingly, work is not possible for me as my “one thing” pretty much every day is looking after my daughter and all that that entails. Thankfully I can usually manage the various small things that make up that “one thing”! But anything else – e.g, work, socialising, anything other than very light housework is either very challenging or just not possible on top of the childcare-related stuff. I’m sure some kind of part time work would be possible for me if that could be my “one thing”! Interesting way of looking at it.

    1. I completely forgot about children, can you tell I don’t have them?! 😅 For many healthy people working part-time is a compromise that means they can still do some of the childcare, but unfortunately the “one-thing” restriction with ME means it has to be one or the other.

      Thanks for the comment, I might add an extra line in there about looking after your kids being the “one thing” for many once I have some spare spoons X

      1. That’s exactly right. I’ve realised that for the moment at least it’s definitely one or the other for me. It’s frustrating sometimes that I can’t work but I figure that everyone who has a chronic illness has a different life and different priorities and what’s manageable for one person just isn’t for another. Having a chronic illness means constant compromising & prioritising, doesn’t it? And I guess you have to prioritise the most important thing most of the time, even if often that’s not necessarily the thing you’d most like to be doing!

  3. As usual absolutely spot on! You are so introspective and articulate. Most of the time I feel like an alien trying desperately to fit in with healthy people – it drains me physically and emotionally. But when I read your posts I feel (so much) less alone. I’m really struggling to come to terms with my chronic illnesses (ME, Fibro, Hypermobility, Endo) but you are giving me the strength to be more accepting of it, kinder to myself and more assertive about it instead of feeling guilty and a failure.

    You are brilliant and I love your blog and attitude.
    Jo X

  4. This is an excellent explanation of how energy works with chronic illness. It can be really hard to understand how limited your life can be when sick, if you are a healthy person who has never had their activities curtailed by their own body before.

  5. Such a lovely post, and an accurate and eloquent explanation of the energy levels those of us suffering with chronic illness experience. I’m thrilled to have found your blog! 💚

  6. This is a GREAT explanation. I would say nowadays my one thing would be some kind of medical appointment (usually something like acupuncture). Maybe I work on my blog, but if I want to do that I have to stay home. I can’t do two things in a day either. With medical appointments it takes everything just to get there and back. Haha, when I was well I could not have gone to a café and then to a pub afterward just because that’s just way too much social interaction! But then I was just an introvert and now I’m a introverted spoonie…aaargh. Great post though.

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