Something you’ll hear me say more than is entirely necessary, especially for a well-read woman and author who knows upwards of 12568922 words, is; “I’m fine!”
This is most commonly spouted when someone asks how I am. It’s not an unusual turn of phrase of course; it’s what most women say when they are furious about something but prefer to undertake passive aggressive cleaning instead of genuine communication. It’s what overly-polite patients say when they are actually experiencing extreme discomfort and the nurse asks if she is hurting them. It’s what most people with chronic illness utilise instead of verbally vomiting a seemingly endless stream of symptoms.
Many of my loved ones are utterly infuriated by this phrase because it’s now so well worn it wouldn’t even pass as vintage. They can also see right through ‘I’m fine’ clearer than a freshly washed window or a Harvey Weinstein alibi.
Lately I’ve been trying to morph ‘I’m fine’ into ‘Not too bad!’ when people enquire as to how I am. This at least implies I’m not ‘fine’, but that I’m not bad enough for you to have to worry about. It allows me some sort of validation I haven’t blatantly lied yet again, but also absolves the recipient of any potential guilt.
The problem is; what I’ve done the majority of my life, and continue to do, is deny my own feelings for the sake of someone else’s.
Again this isn’t by any stretch of the imagination unique to me. It’s incredibly common and can be incredibly stunting. You see there is absolutely nothing wrong with being selfless and putting someone else’s feelings at the front of your emotional queue every now and then; but when you choose this option over allowing yourself to share your own, it becomes more problematic. For me this choice quickly became habitual, and as we all know, bad habits are hard to break. Especially the most destructive ones; you’ve come back to this blog again so you know exactly what I’m talking about. It might seem trite to place something as simple as ‘I’m fine’ in these grandiose terms, but it is just a symptom of a wider sense of self that can be lost when we choose to lie about our illness.
For me it just became easier to say I was fine over talking again and again about the state of my health. Eating, sleeping, breathing poor health is exhausting and the last thing we often want to do is discuss it. Also I found the majority of reactions to an honest response were jarring to say the least. When I spoke honestly about how I felt I was met with a myriad of reactions from physical recoil to awkwardness levels akin to bumping into your ex when you’re with your new beau. The truth is many people are uncomfortable hearing anything remotely medical. Even if we don’t talk in gruesome detail you can see the panic flash across their face that we just might. They take the handbrake off and flee from our conversational alley before we’ve even started down it. And that’s where the circle meets; we experience negative reactions to discussing our illness so we stop.
I suppose what I would like you to take away from this blog if anything, is that it’s OK not to be OK. If someone asks how you are, tell them. If they are uncomfortable with your response then they probably won’t ask again and you’ll know it’s a no go area with that particular individual. That’s ok too; there are plenty of others grown-ups who actively care and will listen and will have shoulders wide and absorbent enough for you to openly sob into if that’s what you need.
Please don’t hide your pain away for fear of judgment; it only serves to exacerbate an already anxious and isolating experience.
If you’re not fine then that’s fine.