“How Are You?” and Other Loaded Questions

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I once knew a lady who would say, “Don’t ask me how I am because I’ll tell you.”

It’s a brave thing to tell people how we’re really feeling. I know with whom I can fake it, but there are some people in my life that when they ask me it triggers my word vomit reflex.

It’s the same with,:”What did you do today?”; “How are you feeling?”; “Are things going well?”; “What do you do?”; “Do you have any children?”.

I don’t really do much in a day. I have to pace myself all the time. So I usually end up feeling pretty crappy when I tell someone the two things I did and they tell me the laundry list of things they accomplished. I usually feel pretty rough around the edges. Things are going, but how well is well? I don’t have a formal job. We can’t even think about children right now and it can be painful to talk about.

As far as the most loaded of all, “How are you?” that one is the worst.

The anxiety that goes along with the thoughts that proceed my answer:
“Do I lie?”
“If I say fine, will they ask a follow up?”
“Do they want to really know?”
“Will it be awkward to say?”
“What if they are having a great day and I ruin it?”
“What if I misread the situation and they are just being polite and want me to say I’m okay even though I’m not?”
“What if they aren’t overthinking it, have no expectations and whatever I do will be fine?”
“Is this too long a time to take to answer?”
“If I take too long they’ll know something is up.”
“You can only say, uuuuuhhhh, for so long.”
“Make a joke!”
“You’re okay in the grande scheme, right?”
“Just say you’re fine, just say something!

I’m fine. Thanks, and you?

Or the ever evasive, “How are YOU?” because usually people prefer to talk about themselves. I use this one a lot. Don’t call me on it.

Sometimes I’m just depressed. It’s a chemical imbalance. Sometimes I’m sad because my brain chemicals are out of whack and no other reason. Sometimes I have had a bad day of dissociating but I assume people won’t understand or I don’t have the energy to explain. Some days it’s a normal human reason to be upset. But how can I be honest about it?

How do we conquer, “How are you?” when the very question makes us want to cry?

  1. Know your audience
    There are people who want to know and people who are being polite. It really is okay to not melt every time you hear the question. Being transparent is a good and healthy thing, but you shouldn’t just entrust everyone to be a listening ear. Not everyone is equipped to handle the unabashed truth.
  2. Have key phrases
    You can be honest but not show all your cards. Simple deflections can keep you from falling apart while navigating you through the social interaction. “I’ve been better. How are you?” Chances are they will answer how they are first and you can ask more questions about what they said without having to talk about your stuff if you don’t want to. “I won’t complain.” It doesn’t mean there is nothing to be upset about, it just says that you won’t talk about it.

    “Taking it easy.” When you’re depressed, you should be taking it easy. You can play off the fact that the expression is usually meant for being relaxed when you mean that you’re being nicer to yourself than usual.

  3. Don’t be afraid to word vomit
    The people in your life that you trust –friends, family, spouses– should be able to handle when you aren’t doing well. So be honest. You can’t get the help you need if you aren’t honest. If that means crying in front of your small group or talking for twenty minutes straight not quite sure if your mom is still on the phone, do it. If you aren’t okay, say it.

We all go through seasons where those questions seem more loaded than usual. Navigating through it can be tough. Just remember to speak up when you need to, but also that you don’t owe anyone an explanation. If someone makes you uncomfortable and is trying to wheedle information out of you they aren’t listening. They’re in it to feel like they’re helping for their own sense of “doing good”. You have people in your life that love you and want to help. Even if you don’t see them. Maybe follow that impulse that comes with not being able to fake it through the “How are you?”s with some people. I’ve made more relationships by being up front than hiding.

Originally published August 24, 2015 at CathyTerranova.com.

(photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/8591632@N05/5019867710″>Painted Wooden Carved Welcome Bear</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a>)

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