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When 'How Are You?' Becomes a Dreaded Question

How are you?

It’s a simple question. A question most people hear dozens of times a day or week. But for someone with depression, this questions brings with it a wave of dread, anxiety and sometimes even panic.

Honestly I used to panic when I knew I was seeing someone because I knew they were going to ask me “the question.” I used to get into such a panic I would stop going out or avoid eye contact and walk around staring at the floor for fear I was going to bump into someone who knew me.

I realized after a little while of this, it was inevitable I would see someone and be asked the question so I started to prepare myself better instead. I would have an answer ready to go.

I’m fine, thanks. How are you?

No matter how I felt I would have this answer ready immediately. Smile on and answer.

It worked every time. A positive answer followed by a question directed at them was a perfect way to get the attention off me straight away. It worked for many many years – and sometimes still does. Even when I was doing poorly, I stuck with it. No one ever questioned me. No one ever looked at me and said, “I know you’re not. Tell me the truth.”

And why would they?

They’ve asked me a question and I’ve answered. It’s not up to them to play detective every time they see me.

I chose to lie. Sometimes I still do.

But why?

Well for me, it’s because I don’t want to bother people. I don’t want to be the “miserable” friend. The one who always brings the mood down. The “burden.” If I am honest, I’m also a bit scared. How will they react if I tell them? Will they roll their eyes and tell me to get over it? Will they laugh? Will they just be annoyed by me and get out all the awful clichés?

Just think positive.

Are you taking your medication?

We all feel like that sometimes.

Will they all talk about me behind my back? Will they stop being my friend?

Or will they hug me? Will they tell me to open up more? Will they give me lots of compliments and tell me how important I am to them?

All of the above frighten me!

Having to cope with the negativity and possible abandonment would be awful, yes. But what if they showed me love and support? Care and compassion? I’m not used to that! I don’t like it! I don’t deserve it! It makes me hugely uncomfortable.

Luckily, I have some amazing people around me. We had conversations early on in my journey that the “how are you?” question is a pretty awful way to start a conversation. So instead they say things like:

How is therapy going?

How is the blog going?

How have things been going?

Just altering the question slightly makes it so much less scary. I have spoken about this with other friends who I met through mental health groups and therapies and they all agree.

Some of my friends and family have also gotten very good at recognizing when I am telling lies so I don’t tend to get away with not talking very often anymore. I realize I am very lucky to have such an amazing support network around me and I am so grateful to all of them.

When it does come to answering that inevitable question, I encourage you to be honest but with caution. Lying is definitely not the way to go, believe me, but I do understand how difficult and unrealistic it is to suddenly start opening up and being 100 percent honest! That’s why I say be honest with caution. I say things like:

I’m struggling a bit at the moment.

I’m not getting much sleep at the moment.

I’m OK, but my moods are up and down!

I’m not lying, but I’m also not giving a full account of my every feeling and emotion! I think by answering a little more honestly you’ll feel better and actually be surprised by some reactions you get. I know I have been. I have never had anyone be rude or run away, I promise!

Talking is the only way to end the awful stigma surrounding mental illness and talking will really and truly help you in your recovery. If you are someone who always lies like I did, make it your aim to open up and be honest with someone. Just one person. Over the phone, text, email or in person. Give it a try and let me know how you get on.

Wishing you all love and luck.

Stay safe.

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Thinkstock photo via Archv.

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