Life, Mental health, Mental Health & Wellbeing, Physical health, Working

Life Is Like A Set Of Spinning Plates

(Image Credit: Lori Welbourne)

“If we just sit and exist, and understand that, I think it will be helpful in a world that seems like a record that’s going faster and faster, we’re spinning off the edge of the universe.” ~ Martin Scorsese

Life is like a set of spinning plates.

There’s a plate for our family, a plate for education and/or work, a plate for friends, a plate each for hobbies, a plate for any of our other commitments. And the business of a successful, or at the very least a functional life, is to keep them all spinning merrily in the air. Tending to them each in turn if we see them wobble.

It’s easy enough at first to get started. We start off as young children with only the family plate to spin. Then we add-in our play group friends, and later school.

As we go through life we gradually accumulate more plates to add to our balancing act. College, university, more sets of friends, job, partner, home.

I was always very proud of my plates, and how many of them I managed to keep going in the air, despite how I was occasionally too ambitious, took on too many things and so some of my plates inevitably fell and broke on the ground.

That was until last year and the height of my PTSD and depression, when I was wanting to kill myself. Then every single one of my plates came crashing spectacularly to the floor.

But now I’m getting better. And it feels like my life should be getting back to some semblance of what it was before. And I’ve struggled to understand why it’s so frustratingly difficult.

But it comes down to the fact that you can’t just start off spinning a dozen or so plates smoothly in the air all at the same time.

It’s almost as gradual a process to set them back up again as it was to get them started in the first place. Since you need to focus much more concentration on each individual plate to make it start to spin than you ever did to keep it going after you’d first got it up there. And some of the plates are going to be chipped, or a little different from before, and you have work out how to adjust them accordingly.

You need to be sure that each one is neatly balanced before turning your attention to the next; making this a painstaking process. And if you try to rush it you end up right back where you started.

You may also find that some of the plates will have been smashed up completely in the breakdown; and those may prove to be irreplaceable. If this is the case you need to sweep up the mess and throw it away. It’ll be hard enough to get your remaining plates back up and running without having to dance around the shards of past regrets to keep from getting hurt again.

And so we must maintain our concentration, in the hope that eventually our work will pay off, and that one day we have our full display up running again. That we’re done starting over again and can return to watchfulness, to just keeping our plates turning smoothly.

If we managed it once, we can do it again, right?


17 thoughts on “Life Is Like A Set Of Spinning Plates”

  1. Oh, I LOVE this. I’ve felt like I have a lot of plates in the air myself lately, and by reading this, I actually visualized each and every one of them. This was a great reminder to be mindful of all the things I’m taking on and not to forget the person who’s doing all that spinning. (Me.)


    1. I’m glad you liked it 🙂 I know what you mean, sometimes I think we forget how many things we’ve actually got going on because we’re so busy doing them all. But that way you can accidentally end up taking on too much so it’s good to sit back and take stock sometimes as well.


  2. Beautifully expressed, Sarah. I’ve battled with depression for years and I’ve had a lot of plates come crashing down. I’m just slowly getting up and learning to juggle them again, throwing away those that no longer benefit me and getting new ones that I found more important. ❤


  3. I could not have said this better. You took the thoughts right out of my head and wrote them on this page! For years I have used the analogy of spinning plates. One of my plates shattered a few years ago and I am having a difficult time sweeping it up to throw away… however I know I WANT to throw it away!


    1. It’s nice to hear that I’m not the only one who thinks like this. I’ve spoken to a couple of people lately who’ve found it quite strange but it’s the best way that I’ve found to explain it.

      I wish you luck in finding a way to a clean sweep.


  4. You know if my SW, psychiatrist, nurse or psychologist said this to me I’d feel irritated that they’d pulled yet another analogy out, but when it comes from someone who is actually doing these things & has experienced first hand the plates crashing down (see! Now I’m talking in metaphors and sayings too!) I feel like it makes more sense, I understand it, I respect it & i can see how it applies to myself. I know the medical team have experience, obviously they do but if they said that in an appointment I’d feel like another person on the conveyer belt of treatment and clichéd sayings.


    1. I know what you mean. Most of the analogies that my therapist uses don’t even make sense. But then I found myself needing to come up with my own way to explain what’s been going on with my life to people who have no frame of reference for mental health problems.


  5. That’s a great analogy. I totally hear you on getting some plates back up in the air and adjusting to changes in life. Since having the Little Mister, I have definitely broken a few plates and changed some out! For me, 2013 really is about figuring out how to spin those plates again 🙂


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