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9 Reasons I Say I'm Fine When I'm Far From It

When you you ask how I’m feeling or doing, you’ll most likely get one of two answers: “I’m fine” or “I’m doing OK.” You’ll get this answer unless you’re a close friend or family member, and even then you still might get this answer. If you want to know the truth, though, 99.9 percent of the time I’m far from fine or OK.

You’re probably wondering to yourself why I say “I’m fine” or “I’m OK” when I’m far from it. The answer to that is kind of a loaded one and has many different aspects to it.

1. After being sick for 13 years, it’s the answer I’ve trained myself to say. In all honesty, I sometimes don’t even realize I’m saying it when it comes out of my mouth. It’s essentially become an involuntary response that I don’t have to think about because I’ve said it so many times before.

2. Most people honestly don’t seem to care. People ask me how I’m feeling or how I’m doing because they know I’m sick and feel obligated to, so they may think it’s the “polite” thing to do. We’ve all been there before — we exchange niceties with someone and ask the questions we think we’re supposed to, to be seen as considerate and oblige societal norms. However, I think most people don’t really want an answer beyond “I’m doing well, thanks.” I’m not doing well, though, and I’m not going to completely lie, so years ago I just started saying “I’m fine” or “I’m OK.” To me it’s code for “I feel like shit,” but to other people it’s a passing answer when they ask me how I am. If I were to say “I’m actually doing terrible” or something along those lines, then I would either feel obligated to explain why or the other person might feel obligated to ask why. But to most people, “I’m fine” or “I’m OK” is an acceptable answer to the question and can even correlate in their minds to “I’m doing well” and sends them on their way because they heard what they wanted to.

3. With some people, saying something more then “I’m fine” opens a whole can of worms. This part of the answer itself breaks down into several parts:

a). So many people seem to think they’re self-taught naturopaths or homeopathic doctors (and in no way am I knocking real, educated, reputable naturopaths or homeopathic doctors because I’ve been to so many of them), but I’m talking about the people who are Google or random-uncredited-website educated, self-declared naturopaths or homeopathic doctors. They have a list full of these random things to try because they read X,Y, and Z about people with autoimmune diseases or migraines or this or that. Well, that’s great, but do they know if I can take that with my medications and other supplements? Usually not. Do they know the short- and long-term side effects of what they’re suggesting? Again, no. Do they know what happens when the person taking this remedy has multiple autoimmune diseases plus so much more? Once again, no. And so on and so forth, but you get the picture at this point.

b). You get so many people whose aunt’s sister’s mother-in-law did this specific thing and it “cured” their occasional migraines or arthritis and I should just do that and I’ll be fine. Or someone whose friend-of-a-friend has Crohn’s disease too, and they just smoke marijuana and they’re fine now so I need to do that and I’ll be fine, too. I’m not trying to put down what other people do to feel better by any means at all, it’s just that a lot of times things people suggest to me don’t even have to do with what’s wrong with me or aren’t feasible for my situation because of other circumstances. Furthermore, a lot of people don’t understand that what worked for that one person they heard about isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution and most likely isn’t going to magically make me feel all better. Another frustrating thing is when people have an idea that I’d like to try, they almost never actually follow up with the information on said idea that they were going to “send” me.

c). Some people get really weird about medical stuff. The world of medicine is a tricky place and those who Google-educate themselves on the world of medicine tend to make it an even trickier one. Some people have really strong opinions on medical things and they are not interested in hearing other sides of the argument and instead will just argue with you that they’re right. I completely believe that we all have the right to have our own opinions, but I don’t appreciate someone without a medical degree or knowledge of my condition telling me that what I’m doing is wrong or not enough or not OK. I also take some pretty controversial medications (that I would love to not take) and because of things going on in our country, people will straight up judge me for that without taking the time to understand why I have to take these medications.

d). People can be mean. I know this is something that both people with and without chronic illness experience, but some people can be extra mean to people who struggle with things they don’t understand. People might tell you you’re being a baby, that you’re lazy, that you’re faking it, that you just need to suck it up. Some people make “jokes” that they think are funny, but are actually just cruel. These people have zero idea what you’re going through, don’t really seem to care, and certainly don’t seem to want to hear about it, so it’s like they just tell you the first thing that comes to their mind. There are also the people who are quietly mean, who want to know just because they’re nosy, not because they care. It seems like they want to know so they can tell their friends what you said and gossip and make things up and spread rumors. However, whether people decide to be blatantly mean or quietly mean, I don’t need that negativity in my life.

4. I don’t want to come off as a “complainer,” a “Debbie Downer,” “needy,” etc. Let’s be honest, everyone wants to be around positive people. I don’t think many people want to be around the girl they think is “whining” all the time about how they feel, even if that girl is 1,000 percent justified in that “whining,” “complaining,” or whatever the hell else she wants to do or say about her chronic illness. Can this really suck sometimes and not be fair? Of course, but unfortunately it’s the reality of things and how the world works.

5. Some people feel the need to list things they think I got in life as a consolation prize for being sick. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had this conversation with people:

Person: “How are you?”
Me: “I’m not doing so well, this, this, and this is going on with my health.”
Person: “Oh wow that sucks! Well, at least you look good!” or “At least you’re pretty!” or “At least you’re smart!” or at least a million other things.

Pretty much any of the other things you’re going to list that you think are a consolation prize for me being sick are really not and I think it’s actually quite insulting to say them. It’s really nice that you think I look good, but I would rather look terrible and feel good and I can say that to pretty much anything people come up with. Not to sound mean, but there’s thinking positively and then there’s saying things you just think sound positive, and I think this falls into the latter category.

6. Some people feel the need to tell me about the health problems they may have and some people get this weird competitive thing going like “who’s sicker,” which is something I really don’t want to get involved in because it doesn’t do anything for either person involved. Additionally, it’s not that I don’t care or am not compassionate, but it gets very difficult for me to sit there and listen to someone complain to me because they have a cold, or that one time six months ago they got a migraine, or how bad their knees hurt and they had to switch from running to speed-walking because of it and that’s just been so hard on them.

It’s not that I don’t doubt that any of these things are difficult for people — having a cold sucks, having a migraine (even for just one day) can be mind numbingly awful, and having to give up one thing you love to do because of pain in one place in your body isn’t fair. But I’m often dealing with things on so much greater of a scale that I sometimes have a hard time being very sympathetic to things that seem minor to me. What I’m trying to say is that I would be thrilled if I just got a migraine every once in awhile, and while I’m not trying to belittle how that affects your life by any means, when you’re complaining about it to me and trying to sympathize with me (or want sympathy from me) it just doesn’t make sense because there’s really no comparison.

7. Many people just don’t understand. Unless you live with chronic illness every day, it’s hard to understand and unimaginable to most. I can sit here and try to explain how I feel until I’m blue in the face, but it’s not really something that just explaining helps — it’s something you need to see, talk about, and be around constantly to even start to try to understand it. And to be honest, as frustrating as it can be for me (and it’s definitely frustrating) I don’t fault people for this at all because I am happy for them that they don’t deal with chronic illness every day and that they feel good and that they don’t have to go through the hell that people who have chronic illnesses do. I don’t mind attempting to explain it to people who care or are genuinely curious, but it’s not something I can do by answering “How are you?” and it’s far from the simple or quick response that most people are looking for in response to that question.

8. If I answer truthfully, most people just end up feeling sorry for me, which I don’t want. Not to sound mean, but someone feeling sorry for me doesn’t do anything to help me and honestly just makes me uncomfortable. It’s a funny thing when you get sick — you actually spend a good amount of your time comforting people when they’re trying to deal with their feelings about what you’re going through. I know that sounds strange, but it’s so true. Every time I make a new friend who genuinely cares and we take the time to talk about my health, I almost have to go into counselor mode and help them process it all. I don’t mind taking the time to do this at all, but it’s not something that I’m going to do with everyone since it’s hard for me to explain and can be emotional, confusing, etc. for the other person involved.

9. It gets boring to talk about for both me and the other person (or people) involved in the conversation. I don’t want to spend all my time explaining medical stuff and how I feel and people don’t want to hear me talk about that stuff all the time. This is partially why saying “I’m fine” or “I’m OK” has become such a knee-jerk reaction for me, because it gives me that little bit of normalcy I so crave, and it gives me an out to not have to get into this stuff that I have to get into with so many other people. Most days, even if I am having the worst pain day ever, I want to just say “I’m fine” and get that part of the conversation over with so we can talk about clothes, or nail polish, or a television show, or blogging, or anything to distract me from how awful I feel.

So after reading all of this you’re probably thinking to yourself, “Well, how am I supposed to respond to her when she says, ‘I’m fine?!’” There’s actually a very simple answer to this: If you genuinely want to know how I am, what’s going on with my health, have earnest questions, and have a little time to really talk, then just say, “No really. I want to know how you are.” However, if you don’t want to know, don’t care, don’t have the time for the full answer, etc. then just keep going with our conversation, don’t dwell on it, or think about it more then you would with another person. And guess what? If you fall into that second category I don’t fault you at all. Just talk to me about whatever else and distract me from how I feel, and I will completely appreciate that.

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Thinkstock photo by Vladimir Arndt

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