Yesterday, someone asked me how I was. After pausing for a moment, I sighed to ease the pain in my head, “I suppose that I am doing OK.” To my surprise, my classmate thanked me. “You are the only person here who answers that question honestly. Probably the only person in the whole world.”
Of course, other people do respond truthfully when asked how they are. However, it is uncommon to hear anything other than “OK,” “good,” “great,” and other similar words. Why is it that few people honestly answer this question? Ironically, my response was not even totally correct. At that moment, my head spun with pain as I worried about driving home safely. Yet explaining that to someone would not have been normal.
Perhaps only certain answers are socially acceptable when someone asks “How are you doing?” My aspergian brain urges me to answer bluntly. When I do this, people often feel uncomfortable, shocked, and/or bewildered. Do you have to lie about doing well when someone asks you about your life?
When someone struggles with depression, bipolar disorder, an eating disorder, anxiety, OCD, self-harm, suicidal thoughts, PTSD, and other mental health issues, it is often hard to be honest about the inner darkness and hurt. Thus, lying about emotions seems like the easiest option. Saying “I am fine” becomes a habit. Pretty soon, one responds positively without even trying.
In fact, most people seem to answer “How are you doing?” without really stopping to think about the honest answer. When is the last time that you really opened up to someone when they inquired this? What was the reaction that you received? Sometimes people are understanding and willing to listen to your struggles. Yet, many times I ended up being brushed off or dismissed hurriedly. This made me feel even worse which might be the reason that I now fear being open about my inner battle.
So if people do not want to hear the blunt answer to this question, why do we keep asking it? Plus, this is usually asked in informal or hurried settings. Passing someone in the hall, standing in line for a few moments, seeing a new acquaintance – being honest about difficult issues would be uncommon in most of these scenarios.
Yet I continue to ask and respond to this question. More often, however, my response has been the truth about pain or difficulties. People often a bit surprised but usually offer kind encouragement or a promise to pray for me. Others hurry away as quickly as possible. No matter how much you want to be accepted and loved, some will not be willing to stand by your side in hard times. This is painful but their own problem with little to do with you.
So how am I doing right now? Well, there are many emotions mixed up inside of me. Here are a few:
- Frightened about the goal I just set with my dietician to eat more of my meal plan
- Excited to start practice for the one act show I was just cast in
- Nervous about disappointing people at work and making them mad
- Overwhelmed to buy tickets to Oxford and finish planning my trip for the summer
- Conflicted about a relationship that I cannot seem to stop thinking about
- Worried for a dear friend in a potentially dangerous situation
- Dizzy every moment of the day
- Hurt at the thought of being beautiful and amazing for a little while and then becoming worthless in that person’s eyes
- Determined to do well in my homework
- Loved by wonderful friends on campus
- Frustrated by my desire to eat although I already had breakfast
- Ashamed of not being kinder to my mother when I left this morning
- Drained for a reason that I am not sure of which is making me very Annoyed
Some of these I would rapidly share with anyone who asked. Others will remain a secret when acquaintances cheerily inquire about my life. Finding the balance between honesty and silence is not a simple task. However, to be socially acceptable, one must learn how to do this.