“How are you?”- the dreaded question

Silhouette of two people sitting on the ground with a clouded dark sky overhead

One of the hardest questions to answer, is the question “how are you?”. Yup, this simple everyday question stresses me out, a lot. And, even worse, I often catch myself asking this question of others as well. It’s one of those unwritten societal rules. You meet someone, say hello, ask them how they are and then the conversation follows.

Also, I think that most of us answer this question by a simple “fine”, whether or not we are actually fine.

When every day is hard

This question didn’t faze me as much prior to my accident. Sure, I would reply with “fine” while actually being stressed out about work or having been way to busy. Nevertheless that question itself didn’t bother me as much. So what’s making this question so much harder now? Harder in the sense, that whenever someone tries to really have a conversation about how I feel, I end up fighting back my tears?

I think it’s because life feels different. Nowadays most days feel like climbing a mountain. Everything requires energy and every day I know that I don’t have enough energy to make it through the day. That I need to sleep during the day and have breaks, in order to get through. As a result, most days feel like a struggle. A struggle to make it to the top without getting injured along the way. So whenever I answer with “fine”, it’s far from the whole truth.

What would you want to know?

A second problem is that “how are you” is an incredible open-ended question. My injured brain immediately tries to make the question more clear by trying to figure out what you are actually asking. Does the question relates to today or the whole week? Physical or mental? Are you asking if I managed to do the things I have to do or want to do? Work life or home life? About how I view my life in general or react to the world outside? And wait, are you really asking or just trying to be polite? Trying to work out what you are asking, requires a lot of mental energy and this increases the temptation to just say ‘”fine” and be done with it.

But do people want to know how you are? If I’m being honest I expect that I would answer most days with ‘I’m tired and am glad to see you, but really look forward to go to bed again’. Doing so might make others feel bad, or worse, pity me or reply with “I’m tired too”. Resulting in me getting irritated again as being tired, or more accurately fatigued, because of brain injury or other illnesses or disabilities, is simply not the same as not having had enough sleep. When we say we are tired (or in my case it’s often feeling mentally exhausted), we struggle with our thinking, with our sense of balance, with our ability to talk, of staying in control over our emotional responses, with finding things or locations and so on.

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Trying to be honest

So what could make this question less intimidating? I’m not sure, but as I’ve written before, maybe openness can help. Maybe instead of answering with “fine”, it can help to be a little more honest. My hope is that by doing so, it could help others as well. To let them know that it’s okay not to be okay. That we don’t have to be strong all the time. And most importantly that we are all trying to do our best, but that sometimes we need a little help. Cause who feels fine all the time? Life can be incredible hard. And I do believe that there is strength in feeling connected.

Which brings us to the next question, what should we answer? I’ve been thinking about this and think that I might have found a first step … *drumroll* … spoon-related answers.

A multitude of spoon options

For those of you who have no idea what I mean, this relates to the spoon-theory, something I’ve mentioned before. In short, the spoon-theory is a way to explain to others what’s it like to live your life when energy is a scarce resource.

I find it much easier to tell how I am, when I think in spoons. Also, I feel that by doing so I would do myself more justice. After all I have to deal with the fact that I have a disability, that is my reality.

Thinking back to the last couple of weeks, I can say that there were times when the spoons were plentiful, days when I carefully managed my spoons and got through the day, days in which I fell short of spoons and days in which I ran out of spoons after breakfast. Now the whole spoon thing is just one side of the story. You can feel like you have a lot of energy and all the spoons in the world and still have a bad day, because you’re struggling with negative thoughts or emotions. But for me, there is often a correlation between my energy level and my mood. So I think I will give this a try.

I’ll let you know how it turns out!

Do you struggle with this question? How do you choose to respond?

2 Replies to ““How are you?”- the dreaded question”

  1. This article basically formulated exactly how I feel. I am now eight months through my recovery, and it has not been easy. When I started going back to work (gradually), I really dreaded the question ”How are you?” . I was fighting back tears everytime I was asked, because yes, everyday is a struggle. Even a ”good’ day, is still a stuggle. I started to feel like if I answer honestly, noone will want to talk to me.. And so I always went with ”Good, thanks, and you?”, while crying on the inside.

    I must say, I am starting to feel a bit better now.. And on some good days, I can actually say , yes I am good. This came with accepting the current situation, accepting the ‘new normal’, and (trying) not comparing myself to before my head injury.

    I don’t know if anyone is going to read this,.. But I noticed, that reading these articles and comments helps me, because I see I am not in this alone. Others are going through it too.

    So stay strong everyone!

    1. Thank you so much for sharing your story and I’m so glad to know that reading this has helped you in feeling less alone.

      I’m so glad that you have noticed that you feel a little better now. I wish you all the strength, courage and compassion to help yourself in finding a new normal that works for you.

      You are not alone and I’m rooting for you. Take care! 💙

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