It’s not a question I ever thought I’d dread. We start most interactions – meaningful and casual alike – by checking in with one another: ‘How’re you?’ ‘Good thanks, and yourself?’. But for those of us with more complex answers, that simple question becomes a minefield.
How am I? How much does this person know about me, and my illness? How much do I want them to know? What have others told them, if I myself haven’t disclosed much? When it comes to acquaintances, I smile and shrug and tell them I can’t complain. My close friends get the honest answer, unless I’m too sick to do anything but fake it till I make it. It’s the in-between that causes me problems.
I volunteer at the local Riding for Disabled group, and as my dad runs it and I’ve been helping there for seven years, a lot of people know a lot about me one way or the other. Some of them are friends of the family, and so will be asking me how I am knowing I’ve recently been very ill. Others may have heard I’ve not been well, but not know how, or if that’s even true. Others have no idea. Responding to an inquiry after my health is therefore more than a little complicated!
I’ve ended up accidentally telling someone about my recent illness already, and I’m not sure how much I want people to know. Disclosure is always complex. Most people will respond well enough, and I’m lucky in that I relatively rarely get treated to a ‘medication is all a con and you should heal yourself with the power of x’ lecture. But one lecture can send me spiralling off into doubt and depression. Am I making this up? Is it really that bad? Wouldn’t I be better off without drugs?
There’s also the fact that once you’ve told someone you’ve spent the last few months deeply depressed and incapacited, you’ve both got to participate in the ‘poor you’ dance. I hate this dance! It’s the one where I say what’s been going on, you express your sadness, perhaps with bonus arm on my arm in comfort*, and then I try and brush it off and claim it’s fine and not that bad because I hate being comforted. I fully accept that this is my problem to deal with. My weirdness around being comforted is really not something I can, or should, ask the world to accommodate, but it still means I hate the ‘poor you’ dance.
I suppose this is where I should sum things up, but I don’t think there’s a neat summary to be found here. Should we all accept that awkwardness around the question of ‘how are you’ is just a thing that happens? Should we start using a different standard opening question? Should I move to the middle of a wilderness? And, most importantly, do I need to choreograph actual moves to the Poor You Dance, and perhaps start an internet sensation? These are the important questions of our time, guys.
*This is, maybe, the one thing I could reasonably ask people to change. Please try to avoid touching people without asking their consent. A significant minority of people find it really uncomfortable, myself included! (In fact, if I’m panicking, touching me literally results in me not breathing. Touch: not always comforting!)