Low On Mana

A gamer’s theory on living with a chronic illness.

Lisa Olsen
Jan 14 · 6 min read
dark photo of a man wearing a jacket, a fuzzy hat and goggles while holding a sparkler in front of his face.
dark photo of a man wearing a jacket, a fuzzy hat and goggles while holding a sparkler in front of his face.
Photo by Matt Palmer on Unsplash

A few weeks ago, I read an excellent article about replacing the well known “spoon theory” with “Spell slots” by Antoinette Cavitt.

Her ideas stayed with me, and I continued to think about it long after I finished reading, which is a tribute to her great writing and her excellent points.

I feel thatperson, even the healthy ones, are operating with just a select number of things they can effectively do in a day — their spell slots.

Even my husband, who has no health problems, has to choose what he can fit in between work, kids, the house and our own free time.

We talk about it often. Now that our kids are getting older, their bedtime is around 8:30, so we only have from then until we go to sleep to be able to do whatever we find enjoyable.

Less if there are still responsibilities that we didn’t get to while they were awake. So we discuss our night ahead of time — is it a night for video games? Is it a night for TV? Is it a night for the two of us to connect away from screens?

There is no way we could do it all, we have to pick our slots for the night.

But I still loved the idea of trying to explain what it feels like to have a chronic illness in terms of the gaming realm, which for me is MMORPG video games.

While it goes by different names in different games, mana is a fairly standard idea in many MMORPGs that I have played. It is the name for the resource required to cast spells.

Every character starts with a given mana pool. You can increase your mana pool with gear, and so there are characters with so much mana they never have to worry about running low in most instances during gameplay.

These well-geared characters are my example of healthy people who aren’t dealing with any chronic conditions.

Most of the time, they go about their day with their spell slots, representing the time allowed to us all in the day. And when it comes time to cast a spell, they always have the resource, mana, to do it.

As a result, we start with a lower mana pool even on a good day.

So, as we start going through our tasks for the day, we are never quite sure that we will have enough to get through what we wanted.

After just a few activities, we start to run “low on mana.”

If, for example, the healer in a group types “low on mana,” everyone knows that whatever we are attempting to do as a group, we have to do it fast, because soon we will all die as the healer runs out of her ability to heal.

The healer, for her part, has likely changed the spells she is using, conserving her mana for fewer, bigger casts of a healing spell, trying to use the remaining mana as effectively as she can.

Personally, I have learned the hard way that trying to do everything I used to do, without breaks, won’t work.

When I decided to clean my car, do the dishes, and make dinner, all without a break, it meant that I spent the rest of the night with legs in pain, and I was no longer useful to anyone.

I learned that I can do some things, but I have to really choose where I spend my mana, because it is always low and on the verge of running out completely.

Each spell, each life task, takes a different amount of mana. I know the cost, and so I have to decide carefully which one I decide to spend my limited resource on.

Another frustrating thing about my new chronic illness life is that I really require the rests to be able to do the next task.

I have a small break most days between my job in the morning and getting my kids from school and becoming mom, complete with getting snacks, homework time and getting kids where they need to be for the evening.

So, I have to make a choice, every day, of how I spend this hour.

Before I had my first flare, I was great about using that hour to get some house responsibilities done, get the house a bit cleaner for everyone, and bring some peace to my husband, who hates a messy house.

I was operating with full mana and great gear. I could work all morning, clean for an hour, get the kids and be super mom till their bedtime, and then have energy to do my things in the afternoon.

If I don’t take that hour to rest, I am not sure I will have the mental and physical resources recharged enough to be who my kids need me to be.

So, with regret, I conserve my mana, and I let the house be set to the side, while I find a place to sit, put my legs up, and try to recover some of the spent mana from work.

The fallout from this is that those chores still need to get done. Sometimes this is accomplished by me, but in the evening, after resting with the family, before I get to my fun time.

Sometimes my husband takes them on, making me feel guilty, and taking away from his precious free time.

It has been hard on both of us.

There have been situations in game where a healer, in particular, is asked what their mana pool is before they are invited to a group.


Because with a low mana pool, they aren’t as useful as a group member.

I feel this, poignantly, often.

Anyone living with chronic illness knows what I’m talking about — we simply are not as useful as we used to be.

I can go with my family to a theme park, but I will need to stop and rest at regular intervals to even have a chance to make it through the day.

My family worked on painting my kids’ rooms over Thanksgiving break, and I… was downstairs with my legs up. It was a rainy weekend, and I had pain in all my joints that made it hard for me to move thanks to the inflammatory arthritis element of my autoimmune condition. I was useless for painting.

My brother, my husband, and both of the kids worked hard, and I just asked how it was going.

This isn’t likely to become the new theory accepted worldwide by anyone who isn’t familiar with gaming.

But to people who live a second life as characters in an MMORPG, they will quickly recognize and understand the significance of living in a perpetual low-mana state.

My hope is that it might make it easier, for at least a portion of the population, to understand why I have to pick and choose my activities, and the true requirement of rest. It isn’t because I’m lazy, it’s because I don’t want to ever get to “oom” or “out of mana,” before my day is over.

No End In Sight is a place to read and share stories about chronic illness in our own voices. You can also listen to these types of stories on the No End In Sight Podcast.

Do you want to share your own story about chronic illness? Here’s everything you need to know.

No End In Sight

No End In Sight is a place for people living with chronic illness to talk about health in their own voices. We’re looking for personal stories about your experience with chronic illness. No advice, no listicles.

Lisa Olsen

Written by

I am a teacher, with two kids, recently diagnosed with Lupus, and possibly other auto-immune conditions, living life to the fullest, while managing symptoms.

No End In Sight

No End In Sight is a place for people living with chronic illness to talk about health in their own voices. We’re looking for personal stories about your experience with chronic illness. No advice, no listicles.

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