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The 2-Word Response I'd Like People With Chronic Illness to Give to 'How Are You?'

It happens every time you meet someone and interact on any level in society.

It does not matter if you are at a bank, doctor’s appointment, checking out at a grocery store or getting your hair done… invariably one question will be asked by friends and strangers alike, and only one answer that is acceptable per the Social Contract we all seem to follow.

That question: “How are you?”

We are trained to answer this in one of two ways:  “I am fine, and you?” or simply “I am fine,” — though not asking how the other is can be considered “antisocial” and thereby comes close to breaking the Social Contract as well.

In the Contract, it does not matter how we really are.

Should you give any answer other than “I am fine,” you will be met with an awkward silence as the other person tries to assimilate the break in protocol. They will glance at you out of the corner of their eyes to look for visual clues of your response being a joke and may even blush in embarrassment for you or show other signs of societal distress.

The largest and most troubling result of this is that it perpetuates the “invisible” part of so many invisible illnesses.

We do not want to be seen as complainers or to endure the discomfort of others as we struggle to make it day by day, so we will say “I’m fine” when inside we are screaming to be seen.

We belittle ourselves, our struggles and our triumphs when we follow the Social Contract. We say that one little white lie so often during the course of a day, then wonder why no one ever seems to understand just how bad things really are in our different chronic illness communities.

I am proposing that we willingly and adamantly break that Social Contract!

Their discomfort over reality stepping on that mundane moment will be short and will not have a big impact on their days, but to us it will be freeing and liberating to admit how we really are. It will be freeing and liberating to be seen.

I am not saying to lay out your aches and pains in detail to a stranger, but maybe simply answer with anything other than “I’m fine.”

For us “I’m fine” is a lie, and we should not be made to feel like we need to lie anymore.

I think we need to drop the “fine” and replace it with “here.”

“I’m here” is not a lie but instead a gentle indication that we are present and deserve to be seen.

“I’m here” is a small celebration that we are still present despite all we have faced.

And… should anyone respond with “I’m here, too” then both of you will know you are seen and in that moment both are not invisible.

Imagine how much bigger our world would become if we break that Social Contract.

I’m here… how are you?

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