I ran into a friend today.
We bumped into each other at the polling place as I went to cast my vote for school board. She was working the polls as she does each election.
This is a friend I used to work with on occasion in my previous position. I always enjoyed getting the chance to work with her.
Today, she asked me about how I’m doing. It’s a fair question that people ask when they see me around town. They care. They want to know more. But the fear of answering this question sometimes causes me to turn the other way when I spot a neighbor in the grocery store. It also leads me to walk past an acquaintance in a restaurant, avoiding eye contact and hoping they don’t notice me.
Avoidance behaviors can quickly become my everyday existence if I’m not careful. But having to explain my complex health situation to others adds to the anxiety I’m already trying to get under control.
So I struggle with explaining my current life situation to other people.
They want to know if I’m working. Where I’m living. If I’m getting better. What treatment I’m doing. When I’ll be going back to work. What I’m doing with my time.
They see my outward appearance, which sometimes looks “good” from their perspective. But the problem lies in that I have several conditions that are considered “invisible illnesses.” The conditions I face do not affect my outward appearance to the level people think they should.
I believe the friend I ran into today truly cares. She’s well-meaning and supportive. She also spoke words of encouragement to me, which I appreciated!
But even with someone who is kind and considerate, I am still not quite sure what to say.
Answering the question of “how are you?” puts me in a vulnerable place.
Should I share that even though I am out voting today, I had to do it this morning because I didn’t know if I would have enough energy later in the afternoon or if anxiety would cause me to stay home?
Should I tell those who ask that I spent all day on the couch before I took a shower and got ready to go out to eat?
Do they need to know that brain fog was so heavy yesterday that when I went to write a blog post I could barely get out a couple sentences?
Should I share about all of the times in the past month where I went downhill to the point of stuttering, then being unable to speak at all? Or how when this happens, I don’t have coordination or strength to walk?
Is it important to share that the past couple weeks have been full of big, ugly tears from the pain – both physical and emotional?
I write openly about the things I have experienced, but the day-to-day ups and downs are hard to explain verbally in just a few minutes of time.
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I did my best to explain to my friend that there are ups and downs and that I have been having some good days lately. But “good” is still relative. My “good” is not the “good” of someone who is healthy.
Sharing about life with a chronic illness can put you into a vulnerable place. It’s not easy to explain what you’re going through when the situation is anything but simple. It’s hard to share without fear of judgment or misunderstanding.
The best thing I can do is gauge the situation based on who has asked and what they would like to know
, and never leave my house. (Kidding, kind of…) If it seems like they do actually want to know, I’ll share a little bit about the ups and downs in an attempt to help them understand. But if it is a passing “how are you?” I typically don’t get into any of it.
In all of this, it’s important for us to extend grace – to ourselves and to the people we interact with. We’re all human. We may not understand everything. We can call go a little easier on each other and on ourselves.
Now I want to hear from you: How do you handle the question, “How are you?”
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