I’m convinced there’s not another word that could be taken to mean so many different things. When I go to the doctor, that’s often all I hear. “Your labs are fine.” You’re fine. Everything’s fine.
On paper, I’m fine. My rheumatologist said he doesn’t even need to see me again for another year. Obviously to him, I’m fine. I am starting to think that maybe we accidentally stumbled upon the least of my problems (Sjogren’s syndrome) and have yet to discover the bulk of my issues. Constant stomach problems and continued weight loss, but I’m fine! No worries here.
And yet, “fine” is my favorite thing to say when people ask me how I am doing. I don’t know exactly why I do it on any particular day, but here are my theories:
1. Comparatively at the moment, I really am fine. “Fine” is such a relative term. My response may really mean: Compared to having my insides revolt against me the last three days, today I’m fine.
2. Much of the time, people don’t want to know the real answer to the “how are you?” question. When I have been honest in my response, it makes most people incredibly uncomfortable. Very few people have a clue what to say at that point, and I cannot blame them. Some feel the need to say things like, “It will all get better soon,” “The sun’ll come out tomorrow!” (I may have made that one up) or my personal pet peeve, “Well, you look good!” FYI – that last one is a terrible thing to say to a person with a chronic illness. It may not sound like it in your head, but in ours it’s as if you don’t believe we are really sick. Why the heck anyone would make up a debilitating illness is beyond me.
3. Some days, if I tell you the real answer to the question, there is a good possibility I will burst into tears, making us both incredibly uncomfortable. I am trying to appear much stronger than I am in weak moments, so bear with me!
4. I do not want to see pity in your eyes. There is a very fine line between showing understanding and pity. The few people who really listen and understand have meant more to me than they will ever know. They also don’t see me as the poor, pitiful, sick Karina. They remind me in my darkest hours, when I have trouble believing it myself, that I still have something, however small, to offer the world.
5. Sometimes I want people to believe that I am fine. I simply want to be normal again. I want to be part of the land of the living, where people go to work, attend social events and don’t spend every waking moment thinking about what’s going on in and out of their bodies. I want to have a life outside of this illness!
6. I want to believe I am fine. There’s really something credible to the theory that the status of the mind affects the status of the body. There have been numerous times that I’ve been convinced I will never get better. Of course, if I have that mindset I won’t get better! I have to believe that one day this will end, either in this life or the next, so my “I’m fine” response may mean that I’m trying to convince myself as well as you.
So, what are you supposed to do with my “I’m fine” response? That is an excellent question and sometimes I’m not even sure I know the answer. I guess I just want you to know that sometimes “I’m fine” can be taken at face value and sometimes it may say so much more. If you truly want to know the real answer, if you have some time to listen and maybe a pocketful of tissues just in case, ask again. If I trust that you really want to know, I may tell you. But don’t do this unless you really want to know. I cannot handle baring my soul to you if what I get in return is cheap, flippant responses, dismissing everything I have just said. It’s OK to not know what to say. A silent hug speaks much louder than empty words. Also realize that at the moment you ask, I really might be OK, so don’t be offended if my answer stays the same! No matter what I say, please know I love you for asking but I also may not be ready to tell you.
This post originally appeared on Beautiful Rubble.
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Thinkstock photo via max-kegfire.