The Delicate Complexity of "How are you?"

Your emotional intelligence will generally guide you to navigating interactions and determining when and to whom you open up when your life is normal and you've inflicted nothing other than the usual bumps and bruises that come from life. But when you're going through any great emotional or physical trauma, typically benign conversations can become slightly more complicated to navigate.

Since getting sick last year, I sometimes feel like an emotional leper, as though if I’m too honest or raw about whatever is happening that day, whoever hears about it will feel it too. 

My whole life I've wanted to be known as a positive person. I love the idea of people thinking of me, “She’s always in a good mood.” Of course, this isn't humanly possible, so all I can do is try my best to be a ray of light whenever I can, but accepting that this doesn't mean "always."

When you go through anything traumatic, be it the loss of a loved one, emotional or physical abuse, divorce, or illness, your “humanness” bursts to your surface and “ALWAYS being in a good mood” is even less of a possibility than ever before. 

It’s as if the slightest penetration of your protective shell would lead to a barrage of emotions, tears, anger so extreme you, or anyone who witnesses it, could never come back from it. You develop ways to cushion your shell and keep all of that utter humanity from spilling over into the world when you don’t want it to - because not only are you protecting yourself from feeling the extent of your trauma, you’re also protecting the world from it.

On top of dealing with whatever is going on with you, you have the added weight (that, truthfully, you place on yourself) of not wanting to upset other people or burden them with your pain.

So, when people ask questions like:

"How are you?" "How are you feeling?" "How have you been doing?” 

(and they're asking as actual questions rather than a standard "what's up?" greeting)

I Usually Think Something Like:

"Well, today I was too weak to make it up my stairs without help."

"Not great - today I laid in my bed for three hours completely paralyzed by nausea."

"I'm good! I went grocery shopping without having to stop and sit down once today."

"I'm okay; I got so dizzy and nauseous at the mall today I had to sit down in the middle of a store."

But What I Say is:

"Pretty good! Just taking things day by day."

"Good thanks! Keeping busy."

"Not too bad! Good days and bad days."

No matter what you've been through, I'm sure you've had days where you just reply "good" when someone asks how you are when you really want to say, "I'm falling apart."

Naturally, we don't want to dissolve into a puddle of tears when a bank teller asks us how we're doing, and for the sake of all civilization, we save our really candid and in-depth answers for the times and the people we feel comfortable sharing them with.

People usually have really good intentions when they ask how you are. They're trying to show they care about your well-being as a good person would.

I've learned there's a delicate complexity to asking "How are you?"

In part, the asker has to be fully prepared for an answer that makes them uncomfortable, or that requires more of them than they stand ready to give (ever been there when you quickly ask someone how they are and suddenly wonder why you aren't charging them by the hour for your support?). Or maybe their own bank of feelings is running low that day, and they’re unprepared to give up emotional energy they weren't planning on spending. 

On the other hand, the askee weighs responding honestly with where they’re at in that moment, with not wanting to burden the asker with the weight of their answer because we don’t want that pesky emotional leprosy to spread any further than it has to. 

So, this is what I've found works for me. When someone asks how I am, and it turns out at that moment I'm not doing that well, I can just say:

"You know, I'm not doing very well today, but I really appreciate you asking."

This is a way to remain honest and authentic about your feelings without launching into hysterics (there's a time and a place for that, but I don't believe it's EVERY TIME someone asks how you are). It also tells people that it was good of them to ask because a lot of people shy away from tough topics because they feel like they won't say or do the right thing.

But hey, we're all just learning and life is full of unchartered territory for everyone, and keeping positive lines of communication open seems like the best way to get through it all together.

Thank-you, as always, for reading. As I mentioned, I like being thought of as a positive person, so stuff like this can be hard for me to write, but I think the hard stuff is the important stuff!

xo - C