“How are you?” you ask.
“I’m fine, thanks,” I reply.
But I’m not. Not really. I’m not ‘fine’. The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘fine’ (adjective) as ‘of very high quality’ or (adverb) ‘very well’. So, if that’s the case, then no, I’m not ‘fine’.
No-one really wants to hear the real response, though, do they? When you ask a person how they are, the last thing you’d expect is, “well, since you ask – you’d better take a seat, this could take a while – I’m not great. You really want to know how I am? Well…”
I know that if I was to do this, to reveal the truth, that one of several things might happen:
- My response would be met with sympathy. I don’t want sympathy. I appreciate the concern, I really do, but I can’t do anything with sympathy. Sympathy won’t help me sleep. Sympathy won’t stop my bones from aching. Sympathy won’t get my daughter the education she deserves and stop the niggling worry that has been eating at me for months and months.
- My response will be met with awkwardness. You’ll wish you hadn’t asked. Next time you probably won’t ask. In fact, you might just avoid making eye contact, avoid me, so that you aren’t bombarded with the truth you didn’t really want. I’ll regret ever having said anything and know that it’s probably one less social interaction from now on.
- My response will be met with “I don’t know how you do it”. I understand why you might say this, but really, I do it because it’s my child. It’s my life. I don’t have any other choice and, if I did, I’d still do it. Any of us would, wouldn’t we?
- My response will make me feel like I’m burdening you with my problems. I don’t like to feel I’m putting on people all the time. It’s not you, it’s me.
- My response will be met with well-meaning advice. I know you want to help and I really do appreciate it. I do. However, there’s a pretty good chance that I’ve already considered anything you might suggest. There’s always the small chance I haven’t, and, for this reason, I almost want to unburden myself to you, but… see the above.
So, if you ask me how I am, I’m fine. I’ll probably tell you I’m tired (although you can see that from the dark circles under my eyes) or I might say that I’m a bit stressed (but what’s new there?!), but mostly, I’m fine. Just fine, thanks for asking.