Talking about an illness. When we ask someone we know is struggling or living daily with an illness and we ask, “How are you?” Do we really want to know? Are we looking for an answer of, “I’m okay, I’m hanging in there, some days are better than others.” Or do we really want to know?
When we ask, and the person really begins to share how they are feeling, do we tune out, thinking, here we go again, the litany of ailments, or do we try to steer the conversation away with a nod and a change of the subject?
If we are the ones who are dealing with an illness, do we tell people who ask how we’re doing? Or do we give the answer that we assume (but don’t know for sure) people want to hear?
Lately, this has become a hugely interesting topic for me. Not only because I’m introspectively noticing my own behavior, but because I write and give presentations on what it’s like to live with PTSD.
I’m passionate about writing and speaking to try to end the stigma of living with a mental illness. But, I, too, find myself second-guessing friends, and family when I’m asked, “How are you feeling?
Wow! Well, that was a bit of self-disclosure!
Right now, at this time of year, I may say, “I’m triggered and struggling a bit, but hanging in there and doing okay.” Really, I could be falling apart inside but I either don’t want to go there at the moment (which is sometimes very good distress tolerance tool), or I simply assume the person asking wants that answer.
But am I doing it to also end the conversation, and divert the attention away from me? I might be doing that at times. If that’s the case that would be an old coping mechanism of not letting people in, wearing the mask of I’m okay, and not letting myself be vulnerable.
But is that fair to them? Or me? I don’t require someone to fix me or my problems, just like other people wouldn’t expect me to fix them or their problems. Most of the time, we just want to be heard. If we are honest about how we are feeling, and not feeling shame about it, then that makes for a more authentic conversation. Otherwise, all the non-verbal gobbledygook can be misconstrued as something aimed at us. When really, both people are just trying to move forward after hearing the answer of, “I’m okay, I’m fine, I’m hanging in there.”
One of my besties asked me how I was the other day. I said, ” I’m fine.” I could tell she didn’t believe me. I was probably acting anxious, distracted, or a bit off. I completely shut down that part of the conversation. If I would have been honest and said, “I’m super triggered, I’m anxious, my lizard brain is trying to take over and have me live in a constant state of flashbacks,” she would have responded with great empathy, and our conversation and lunch date would have moved on.
Over the last week, I was extremely honored to be a guest blogger for a site that is bringing awareness to May Mental Health Month. I was just hired to give a presentation to a group in June, and I spent some time with people who also, gave the answer, “I’m Okay” when clearly they weren’t.
Since my goal, my passion is to keep the conversation going, and my message is, one of the ways to break the stigma mental illness is to ask questions, I am going to be much more honest when a friend or family member asks me how I’m doing. There are days when I may just say, “I’m okay, I’m fine, I’m hanging in there,” but hopefully there will be more days when I’m honest and say, “I’m having a really tough time right now, and I could really use your support.”
How are You?
image source: Pixabay
Thank you for reading my books: If I Could Tell You How It Feels, and Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph