When Answering 'How Are You?' Is Like Playing 'Two Truths and a Lie'
My children told me about this icebreaker game they played at both school and summer camp. A person tells two things about themselves that are true and one that isn’t. The rest of the group tries to guess which is the lie.
I try to be an honest person. Although, I do admit to an occasional omission or non-truth (usually involving watching episodes of “The Gilmore Girls” or eating ice cream with one daughter and not the other.) However, when it comes to my feelings and emotions, I am a jumbled mess.
“How are you?” seems like such an innocuous greeting. Unfortunately, I find it to be one of the most difficult to answer. First, I have to assess who is asking. If it is someone with whom I don’t have a relationship or if I don’t have the time or energy to get into how I am really feeling, then, the response, “Good. How about you?” just rolls off my tongue.
Walking away, I realize I am putting on a mask and going on with my internalizing. At the moment, it seems OK. Then, I think, “Why can’t I just do this all the time with everyone?” I remember doing it for so long, while inside I was falling apart.
When someone, who I care about and who cares about me, asks how I am doing, it is even more complicated. What runs through my mind is: Right now, do they really want the truth? Do they have the time or the energy for it? Do I? Can they handle the truth? Do they think at this point I am being dramatic with them because they see me interacting with other people as if I don’t have a care in the world? Am I becoming (or have I been) a burden with my prolonged need for support to this person?I’m so tired of hearing myself talk about the crap going on in my head. I bet they are too.
I could go on, but I think you get the point. After balancing the pros and cons of my different responses, something comes falling out. Sometimes, I simultaneously want to take it back or change my choice. If asking for a do over was socially acceptable, then I would. A lot of the time and more often than not, I’d like to change my truth into a lie.
This lie makes me much more pleasant to be around. Conversation doesn’t need to focus on my issues. I am the only one overtly affected by my depression. It just seems simpler. Not so healthy, but definitely easier on everyone except me.
There are many times I wish I could go back to my old standard response. Yet, alas, I have opened Pandora’s box. Being authentic after years of creating a multi-layered mask is like navigating my way through treacherous waters in a row boat. I am constantly being tossed around in the waves, and I feel like I am going to be thrown out at any second.
It’s actually funny when I think about it. I’ve never had a poker face (even though I was incredible at pretending I was fine for so many years). Nowadays, those who know me well are often able to see when I’m struggling (even when I don’t want or intend to tell them.) A sympathetic glance, a hug or even an eyebrow lift can both offer me what I need and reduce me to tears.
I’m betting that right about now those of you who know me are hoping not to run into me anytime soon, where you might feel compelled to ask, “How are you?” But I truly want you to think of it as a game, like two truths and a lie. Who knows what answer you really want and what I want to give?
I hope this insight into the scary workings of my mind helps to shed a light on the struggle so many of us experience.
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