I do water aerobics twice a week at a local county aquatic center. I have noticed a beautiful shy woman who comes in. She is thin – too thin. She looks tired all the time. Maybe it is because I have spent years coping with my own chronic illness that I can easily identify it in others. In talking to her, I quickly confirm she has a chronic illness.

“What do you do?” I ask her.

“Nothing,” she laughs nervously. I can feel her shrinking into herself. Most Token Lifers feel like they do nothing even when they do.

“So you sit all day and stare at the wall and literally do nothing but get dressed and come here to water aerobics twice a week?”

She giggles a little and shyly admits she is a mother to two girls. Beautiful girls, I now recall, who have sat in the bleachers when school wasn’t in session.

“You are a mom! Ahh, now that is a full time job,” I say. I am sure she has a chronic illness and broach the subject. Soon I am learning about another rare condition that has cost this woman parts of her lungs, literally, sections of her lungs have been removed.

So I tell her about A Token Life. I explain to her that life is like an arcade. When healthy people enter they are given, let’s say 100 tokens to play with. When we enter, we are only given 75 or less tokens. The games are the things some people do without thinking about it. Get up. Get dressed. Make breakfast. See our children off to school. All of these little things cost tokens. Those of us with chronic conditions run out of tokens faster because we were given fewer tokens to start with. I see in her eyes and in her being that she understands this and is comforted that she isn’t alone in her struggle.

At the next class, she asks me,”How do I know how many tokens I have in a day?”

The idea of a Token Life developed over time for me. Her question really bothered me because I didn’t have a good or ready answer. I had simply started mentally deciding what cost energy tokens. I would check in periodically and see where my token level was. I had never thought about doing some calculation to figure out how many tokens I actually would have had.

Tonight, laying in bed, mulling over this problem, it occurs to me that tokens are all about supply and demand. Like supply and demand, the rate of inflation also factors into tokens.


demandJarIn A Token Life, demand are the things we need to accomplish – work, house work, feeding ourselves, getting dressed, taking out the dog, cleaning the cat liter, exercise.. in short anything that requires any physical exertion to complete. This is also the things we WANT to complete. The things we think we HAVE TO DO no matter how we feel. This is the floor you didn’t sweep and the bathroom you didn’t clean this week. Further, the chronically ill, has to account for EVERYTHING. Most people do not think twice about getting up, brushing their teeth, getting dressed and having breakfast. There are some chronically ill, however, where doing these things may use up half the tokens they have in one day. Everything counts. Walking through the grocery store costs tokens and so does writing a blog or making phone calls about doctors appointments. EVERYTHING costs tokens when you are a Token Lifer.


supply-jarSupply speaks specifically to the amount of energy a Token Lifer has on any given day. Unlike demand where we can easily associate a cost to an activity: 1 token for getting up, getting dressed, brushing our teeth; 1 token for putting on make-up; 20 tokens for a workout. Supply is subjective and unique to each Token Lifer. Someone with a more serious chronic illness or who is just recovering from a serious bout of their illness, may have fewer tokens than another person.


inflation2This refers to something else that Token Lifers also have to consider – those undefinable and definable things that can increase the amount of tokens available or decrease them. Stress, for example, always subtracts from my total daily tokens. Drinking lots of water will increase my total daily tokens. Taking a nap in the middle of a day can temporarily give me some tokens back and resting up a day before a heavy token use day can help off set a busy day. When we talk about inflation we are in essence talking about an exchange rate around our tokens.

How Do I Figure Out How Many Tokens I Have?

You will need: three jars, a journal and two weeks.

Mulling all this over trying to sleep, I struck upon an idea that I think might help Token Lifers get handle on the supply and demand for tokens in their life and begin to identify and manipulate their personal inflation.

First, get something to be your token. I was thinking that marbles, small decorative glass pieces, small decorative rocks, beads, or buttons would all work for this exercise. It should be big enough to be easily handled but not too large.

Next get two jars or glasses from your kitchen. Place a label on one that reads DEMAND and another that is labeled SUPPLY.

Start this exercise by quietly sitting with your SUPPLY jar and holding the tokens you have chosen. Fill up this jar with tokens until you feel like it MAY represent the number of energy tokens you actually have for any given day. If you do not like that method, think of a normal person getting 100 tokens. Given your condition, how many tokens out of 100 do you think you have when you wake up? Then count this many tokens into your SUPPLY jar.

Once you are satisfied with this jar, take it and put it up somewhere. You don’t want it disturbed and you don’t want it somewhere you will see it a lot. Maybe in the cabinet in the kitchen or under the sink your bathroom?  Just take this SUPPLY jar and put it away.

DEMAND Jar Week 1

Now, get your DEMAND jar and your tokens (preferably in another jar or bag) and put them by your bed. When you wake up, place one token into this jar. This is your wake up token. As you go about your day, place tokens in this jar as you use them. How many tokens does getting up, getting dressed, brushing your hair and brushing your teeth cost YOU? Does make up cost you an extra token? How much does preparing and eating breakfast cost you?

Keep this up all day. Just ask yourself after an activity, “How many tokens did that cost me?” Place those tokens into your demand jar. If you feel like you have run out of energy and demands are still being made on you, PUT TOKENS IN THE JAR FOR THE ACTIVITIES YOU CANNOT COMPLETE. That’s right, if you run out of energy before you can make dinner, guesstimate how many tokens dinner would cost you. If you run out of tokens before you get done things you THINK you should be able to do, put those tokens in the jar too. If you are exhausted and can’t sweep the floor and are sitting there thinking you should have swept the floor, put in the number of tokens you think you would need to get the floor swept.

At then end of the day, count out your tokens and write down the number of tokens demanded. Do this exercise for one week, keeping up with your DEMAND. At the end of one week, find the average number of tokens demanded of you in one day.

DEMAND Jar Week 2

The next week, I want you to take your DEMAND jar and only put tokens in when you can physically do an activity. By now  you should be getting some patterns going. You should begin to know how many tokens certain activities are going to cost you.  This week, though, be sure you only put in tokens WHEN YOU ACTUALLY ARE ABLE TO PHYSICALLY DO AN ACTIVITY.

Like last week, at the end of each day, count out your tokens and write down the number of tokens you actually used. Remember to only count tokens when you physically are able to do an activity. Do this exercise for one week, keeping up with your DEMAND tokens. At the end of this week, find the average number of tokens you actually used in a day.


Now, go get that SUPPLY jar you put away two weeks ago. Count out the number of tokens you placed in your SUPPLY jar and write this number down. Compare the DEMAND Jar Week 1 Totals, DEMAND Jar Week 2 Totals, and the Supply Totals. Welcome to the world of Token inflation.

I am willing to bet that many of you OVER ESTIMATE your SUPPLY. When you look at Week 2 which is really the actual number of tokens you HAVE during one day and compare it to the SUPPLY jar, you may find you have LESS actual tokens than you thought. Or you could find you have MORE tokens than you thought.

Now compare the week 1 totals, which is the actual energy demands placed upon you daily, to the SUPPLY jar and the Week 2 Totals. I KNOW you will find that there are more demands upon you, than you have energy tokens for. Most chronically ill are terrible about having expectations that are well beyond their physical capability.

Many of the Token Lifers I have met expected 150% of themselves when they were healthy. Now they find they aren’t healthy and they are still expecting 150% of themselves without adjusting for the inflation caused by chronic illness. Chronic illness means that you MUST consider that today when you give 150% it may be viewed by yourself and others as if you are only giving 50% or 75%. This is because you haven’t adjusted your expectations to keep up with your physical capabilities. For the chronically ill, what seems like 50% to a healthy adult is really 175% and is accounted by the rate of inflation being chronically ill has on energy tokens.

Supply Jar 2nd Time Around

Now I want you to take your SUPPLY jar number you estimated at the beginning of this exercise and subtract it from the Week 2 DEMAND average (the actual number of tokens you used in one day, averaged over a seven day period). Take this number, divide it by two and add it back to the Week 2 DEMAND average. This is your Target Token Total (TTT).

SUPPLY                    – 75

DEMAND Week 1 – 125 (Average number of tokens demanded of me even if I couldn’t physically complete the activity.)

DEMAND Week 2- 57 (Average number of tokens I actually used over a 7 day period.)

75 – 57 = 18 ÷ 2 = 9 + 57 = 66 Target Token Total (TTT)

In this example, I guesstimated before this exercise that I would have 75 tokens every day. When I tracked the actual number of tokens I used, I guesstimated that I only had 57 tokens a day. The demands my life and myself were placing on me were 125 tokens. I am going to drop the SUPPLY number down to 66 and use this as my Target Token Total (TTT). Now I have a realistic expectation of how many tokens I use every day and I am beginning to develop an idea around how many tokens specefic activities cost me.

Send me pictures of the tokens you use with the #ATokenLife or #TokenLifer!



One thought on “Defining Your Tokens

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