Maybe it’s my imagination, but lately it seems that people are asking, “How are you?” more than usual. I’ve hated this question for decades. I feel stuck when people ask: do they really want to know? If so, how much should I share? This issue isn’t new to anyone with chronic illness. I’ve written about it before, as have a lot of other folks. But these days, I’m dealing with something else: normalizing my own not-okay-ness.
Let’s start with my real answer to “How are you?”, what I’d say if I were being honest with them and with myself, and then I’ll break things down.
I’m fine. Ok, I’m not really fine, but I’m fine enough, you know? I’m getting by. I’m surviving day-to-day and it’s good enough. I mean, sure, it’s not really good enough, but it’s as good enough as it can be right now, you know? It’s doable. I’m overwhelmed. I’m exhausted. I’m doing an elimination diet that is stressful and overwhelming. I’ve going to in-person occupational therapy twice a week which is a lot logistically, and that’s before you account for doing the exercises at home every day. It’s supposed to be twice a day but I. Just. Can’t. I’m still trying to do my physical therapy every day. I’m exhausted, did I mention that? I haven’t slept well these last few… days? weeks? And I’ve been having nightmares since the pandemic began, too. I’m anemic and my thyroid levels are off. Those two are probably related. I’ve waited months and I’m finally getting an iron infusion next week, since supplements don’t work (no, I don’t know why I can’t seem to absorb certain nutrients) and I’ve had bad experiences with the infusions in the past so I’m really nervous. The last two times I brought someone with me but with the pandemic, I can’t do that this time. I wish I could bring a dog to cuddle. Anyway, I’ll be glad to get that over-with, but it can take weeks, or even months, to feel the effects. Oh, and I got my period this week so I was extra emotional and I lost a lot of blood. I had to spend time washing blood out of clothes and going to the bathroom every hour or two to deal with it. I’m sure that’s not helping with the anemia, either. Did I mention the new pain I’m having? And the two new diagnoses I got this week? I might have forgotten that. And it’s summer and while for some reason I hoped it would be different this time, it’s not. The heat and humidity bring additional pain, and it sucks. And Covid cases are soaring and people still aren’t wearing masks which is so damn disrespectful. Plus several friends have told me big secrets recently and I really want to talk those things through with someone but I can’t because they’re not my secrets and eventually it’ll all come out but it could be a long time and meanwhile I keep worry about these people that I love so much. All I want to do is sit on my couch and read a good book, watch movies, and crochet. But I can’t. I have to do my occupational therapy and physical therapy and prepare meals and go to appointments and do housework and try to do at least a little bit of volunteer and paid work. But you know, I’m fine. Because I feel like I have to be. I’m getting by, one day at a time, and that’s enough, right?
That’s what I want to say. But I never do. Some people hear bits and pieces. I’ll tell a friend that my heavy period is probably making my anemia worse and is probably why I’m extra fatigued this week. Several folks know about the stress around the elimination diet. A few know about this and others know about that and some don’t know anything because I just don’t even want to deal with answering a bunch of follow-up questions. And through it all, when a good friend who also has chronic illness asked this week how I was doing, my answer was still to say that I was fine. Sure, this was partly because I just didn’t want to talk about all of the crap I’m dealing with. It was partly because I didn’t want to bother her with everything. But it was also partly because I truly believed for a moment that I was fine, or at least fine enough.
Even I can tell that I’m really not fine. Come on, look at that answer above. That is not a “fine” answer. But I’m continuing to live my life, and it’s giving me the illusion that I’m ok. I’m so tired that I’m not processing my feelings, I’m just pushing them aside. It’s the exact opposite of what I’ve been learning in therapy but at the same time, even my therapist agrees that sometimes I need to compartmentalize. Sometimes it’s helpful for self-preservation.
And maybe that’s what believing I’m “fine” is all about right now: self-preservation. Because if I think too much about the many ways that I am so obviously not at all “fine” then I may loose my shit. And frankly, I’m too tired to have the really good crying session that I probably need right now.
I think that sometimes we need to give ourselves the illusion that we’re doing okay as a way of surviving it all. I feel like it’s ok to do this, as long as it doesn’t last too long, and as long as I recognize what it is that I’m doing. At first I really believed I was ok. Now I see it for the facade it always was, but I’m still using it, holding up the shield of fine-ness while knowing the shield is fake. Eventually everything will break through (probably at my therapy session next week, the first in several weeks due to my therapist’s vacation) and then I can hopefully go back to seeing the truth. But until then, I’ll keep hiding behind my fake shield, because at least it’s helping me to get through each day.
Does anyone else do this? Do you ever truly believe you’re fine, even for a minute, when it’s obvious that you’re really not? Does it help? I’m curious to hear others’ perspectives and experiences.