When Your Illness Makes You Feel Like a Liar for Answering 'How Are You?' With 'I'm Great'

“How are you doing?”

We’ve all been asked this question a plethora of times at various instances in life, be it by an inquiring co-worker, family member, stranger or significant other. More than anyone would like to admit, we’ve all also fabricated an “I’m doing great!” paired with a forced smile when the truth is less than savory.

The truth is, with or without a chronic illness, living is a difficult process for everyone. It’s like a maze — there are hindersome obstacles everywhere, and figuring out how to navigate those obstacles and come out alive can be infuriating. When you have a chronic illness it’s like navigating that maze in a suit that renders “normal” skills useless. So when someone asks how you’re doing, you may just want to scowl and shake a fist. You may want them to know what it feels like to be constantly in pain, having tests done, having a bedroom pharmacy and seeing doctors like it’s cool. You may want them to experience the heartache that followed when friends and significant others jumped ship. That’s until you realize that while the illnesses certainly aren’t empowering, the “survival spirit” that ignites while dealing with them, is.

You are beating the odds and continuing to navigate that maze of life. While it’s painful, you’re handling this. You’ve handled everything else — the uncertainty, the pain, the diagnoses, the narrowing of friends and relationships — through trial and error.  There will be new doctors, new medications, new friends and new beaus. Most importantly, there will be opportunities even your chronic illness can’t take away. There will be moments of wisdom, empathy and breakdowns.

The next time someone asks and you feel false in telling them you’re doing great, I have a secret for you. While you may not be doing great, you’re alive, and that means there’s a fighting chance. Try to ignore the nagging negative voice. As Robert Frost once said, “I can sum up life in three words – it goes on.” I encourage you to find something that makes you happy and fight for it. Give it all you’ve got, use that “sick spirit” and go for it. You’ve made it through the maze this far!

Image via Thinkstock.

Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.

Related to Chronic Illness

silhouette of mother playing with children on a beach at sunset

To the Sick Moms Worried for Their Children's Future

Sometimes, for my writing gigs about parenting, I feel like there are two categories of mothers in this world. It’s probably because I write for both groups. (I’d like to write for dads too, but I don’t relate as naturally to “dad stuff.”) When I see a mothering issue, my writerly mind starts to turn [...]
Teenage girl texting on the phone

When Your Friends Don't Support Your New Physical Limitations

“Don’t take it personal,” my fellow social worker friend said, “You are entitled to your feelings, but the truth is some people are limited in their ability to understand and empathize.” Her words not only provided the validation and empathy I needed but also a difficult lesson to be learned about individual and respective limits. [...]
Illustration of young woman in the image of "Pierrot".

Maybe It's Time We Broke the Rules of 'How Are You?'

It’s a routine we all know: “How are you?” “I’m fine, thank you…” I have taken issue with these statements for a while now. As far as I can tell, social norm is the key shaper of this question and response, this little game of politeness we play. I’ve tried bending the rules before, because [...]
Young woman in the dark crying,she is feeling hopeless

Yes, You're Allowed to Feel Upset About Your Illness

The other day I started bawling my eyes out while in a state of horrible anxiety, and my partner said to me, “Cheer up.” I said in response, “I’m allowed to feel upset for a little while, no?” He paused to consider it before saying, “Yes, of course you are.” We are the microwave generation, [...]