'How Am I? Fine' (and Other Lies I Tell Because of My Health)


When you ask me how I am, I’ll almost always say, “Fine.” This “fine” is similar to when a boyfriend asks his girlfriend if they can skip date night and she says, “Whatever.” She doesn’t actually mean “whatever,” but she’s telling you what you want to hear. Sometimes a lie is just easier.

Most of the time when people ask, “How are you?” it’s a formality. A nonchalant politeness which in general doesn’t actually require an honest response. We’ve been conditioned into this exact formulaic exchange for pretty much anyone we come in contact with:

“How are you?”

“Good, thanks. How are you?”

“Fine thanks.”

End scene.

And weirdly this exchange is not that different from what happens when people who know me, and know I have a chronic illness ask me how I am. They’ll say out of duty or even real, genuine concern, “How are you?” And I’ll say, “Oh, I’m OK.”

I’m not OK.

But I can’t just say that. Because the truth is ugly and uncomfortable. If I actually said how I was, they would squirm from the awful reality of my chronic illness.

Just imagine if I actually said, “Well my pain meds aren’t effective for me anymore, so I spent all night debating if my nerve pain was enough to warrant another trip to the ER for a few hours of morphine-induced relief.”

I can almost hear the palpable discomfort, pity, and guilt.

So instead I’ll say, “I’m fine.” Or, “I’m OK.”

I say this for their benefit. I say this to comfort them. And it works.

Most of the time, when I say I’m fine, people aren’t actually looking. They don’t notice me shifting my weight to distribute the nerve pain running up my legs. They don’t notice the pack of meds I have tethered to me at all times. They can’t see me calculating the route with the least resistance between my crutches or wheelchair and the world around me.

And that’s OK.

Because for them to notice these “tells” would mean that they would have had to experience chronic illness intimately. They would have had to need a reason to do all of these things themselves, or have had someone close to them exercise these exact coping mechanisms. And I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

So for now, I’ll continue to lie and say, “I’m fine,” until the truth gets easier to swallow.

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Thinkstock Image By: matsilvan


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