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Why I Can Never Honestly Answer 'How Are You?'

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I am one of those people deemed “high-functioning” with mental illness. I could fly under the radar as a reasonably social and non-reclusive person most of the time. I regularly fight the inner battle of being alone or wanting companionship. I need both.

I dread the “How are you?” question because I can never answer honestly. I answer “fine” or even the half enthusiastic “good” because I don’t want to share how I might really feel. I don’t want the questions, the sympathetic nod, the suggestion to just get some rest, give it time or any of the other regular phrases of encouragement.

Truthfully, I don’t always know what’s wrong. I suffer from a low-grade feeling of discontent, and I feel guilty about it. I seek happiness outside of myself. I throw myself into projects, work, shows, relationships or whatever else I can do to distract the emptiness.

Many of my closest friends and family know very little about my battle with depression. I have increasingly hidden these thoughts and feelings from the people I love because I don’t want them to blame themselves, particularly my parents.

How could I be unhappy? From the outside, my life looks full of success. From multiple degrees to a family full of the best kind of love, my unhappiness feels selfish. Why isn’t it enough? Nothing ever feels enough.

I seek experiences perhaps because I dream of satisfaction. In brief moments, I find this and am content. However, it is fleeting. I soon find myself again alone, with a spiral of conflicting thoughts. The battle in my head feels like an epic civil war, on one side the person I think I should be and the other the person I am.

I share my story because I have realized my silence reflects my fear of shame, not for myself but for the loved ones in my life. I wonder how many people hide because they do not want their family to feel the burden of their battle. I also fear misunderstanding. It deeply hurts to hear the realities of mental illness described by those who have never experienced the crippling feeling of depression. I wish this were a matter of choice. I wish there was a quick fix. I wish I didn’t hide, but I do. I don’t want to talk about it. Sometimes, I don’t know how to talk about it, and the cycle continues.

It has taken me a long time to realize how my personal journey has influenced the choices in my life. Although, I continue to fight my own battle, the chance to support children with mental health risk motivates me deeply in my own future. I truly believe early support could have lifelong impacts, and this also means coaching parents through healthy responses to challenging behavior.

No one should have to fight an isolated battle. In fact, neglect shows profound negative impacts on healthy development. Perhaps, I will one day feel brave enough to insist my battle with mental illness is not about everyone else, nor is it a reflection of inadequacy.

Originally published: July 30, 2016
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