How are YOU?

I spend too much time on Twitter, probably, because it seems weird that I could get to know so many people in 140-character increments. But it’s turned out to be a good resource for news and networking for a lot of things, including fibromyalgia and other invisible illnesses and disabilities.

A frustration I deal with as a sick person is how to respond to the question, “How are you?” After all, it can be a loaded question to a person with a chronic illness, and for the most part the question isn’t meant to be answered with anything other than, “good, and you?” One of my favorite tweeters, @LilPecan, (who, to my knowledge, does not identify as a person with a disability) has mentioned how annoying it is to be asked the question, “How are you?” and I have to agree. It makes me giggle to hear that LilPecan and friends will greet each other with, “Good, and you?” beating the “how are you?” question to the punch.

But this does make a point. Even people who aren’t sick think this question is silly. As a sick person, I really don’t know how to answer it. When it’s asked by another chronic sickie or someone who understands what I’m going through, I’ll usually be honest (“I’m ouchy and tired, but had a great weekend, thanks for asking!”), but when it’s asked by someone who doesn’t fit either of those categories, I usually just say, “Okay. How are you?” I suppose it’s deceptive, but I really don’t think acquaintances are that interested in which body parts hurt worst on a given day, or how I just want to sleep for a week from fatigue (not depression, which is a common assumption), or how I really shouldn’t have done that extra load of laundry today.

It can also be kind of disheartening, because it’s a bit of a reminder, albeit a tiny one, that I’m always going to feel like shit, at least to some degree, and I’m never going to BE “good.” I might feel good emotionally, or I might have a good day physically, but I don’t think I’ll actually BE “good.” Or “fine.” Or “Great! Thanks for asking!”

Does anyone remember that George Carlin skit about being asked “how are you?” I can’t seem to find it anywhere, though. I’m a bad blogger.

I understand why people ask this and make small talk, but I’d still like to challenge us all to find a better way to open up discussions. Asking how I am conjures up thoughts of my health and my abilities, and while I will talk about those things if you’re genuinely interested, I’m smart enough to know that you *really* don’t want to hear the details of my boring fibro-filled life when you ask how I am. I’m okay with that. You don’t have to hear the gory details, and if I were you, I probably wouldn’t want to hear all the gory details myself. This shit ain’t fun. So perhaps you could ask me, or any chronically ill person in your life, “What’s new?” And if you’re actually interested in how we’re feeling, you could ask, “How are you feeling?”

If I do get asked “How are you?” which I do, because I have polite friends, I don’t get upset. But I do get tripped up, because I’m not sure if they’re asking to be nice, to start conversation, or because they actually want to know how I’m feeling that day. We can blame “fibro fog” for that confusion, I’m okay with that. But if you’d just be a little more specific, I sure would appreciate it, so I don’t talk your ear off when you just wanted to know if I enjoyed my breakfast. ;)


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6 Responses to “How are YOU?”

  1. LilPecan Says:

    You obviously already know how I feel about this from my post. While I don’t have a chronic illness, I have run across instances where I’ve been feeling ill and have been asked this question. I know better than to answer truthfully. I have a friend who has many health issues and will never answer this question. She just ignores it. That wouldn’t be irritating except for the fact she feels compelled to ask the same question of others.
    When I know someone is chronically ill, has been sick, or is going through emotional problems and I want to know if they feel any better I ask, “How are you feeling?” It doesn’t get much more simple than that. If I haven’t spoken with someone in a while I may ask, “What have you been up to?” What ever I ask, I am looking for an answer. I don’t consider “How are you?” a greeting. There are many more original, sincere greetings to show someone you have an interest in them.

  2. Maija Haavisto Says:

    In Europe it’s generally considered OK to answer honestly to “how are you?”, though of course people probably still don’t want to hear “I’ve been feeling like shit, thanks for asking”. But you’re not necessarily expected to say “good” if it isn’t true. For example, when I started studying Dutch one of the first things that was taught is that if you’re asked how you are, you can answer “goed” or “nit so goed”.

    In Finnish people tend to ask a question that if you’re not good friends means more like “how are you?” but if you’re friends it means “what have you been up to?” Both are actually bothersome to answer, because I usually have nothing I can answer to the latter.

    I usually respond something like “as usual”, “nothing special”, “good and bad” or sometimes just “alive”.

  3. NeonRose Says:

    My search on the web seems to indicate that the “How are you” bit is part of a larger performance of “Life is worth losing”.. you can find that a bunch of places.
    here’s you instance for it.. (yes, that is ONE link)

  4. melissa Says:

    is this what you were thinking of?

    i <3 george carlin – probably because i learned to swear from watching him, oh and the fact that he was amazing – and this was the first thing that came to mind while i was reading your post.

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