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What It Means When I Say 'I'm OK' as a Person With Fibromyalgia

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I’m afraid to have people ask me how I am. The one question that puts more fear into me than any is, “How are you doing?” And the question will come. I work on a help desk, and inevitably there’s small talk when the call begins.

“How are you?”

“I’m OK.”

Then comes the uncomfortable pause. “Oh,” the caller might say on the other end of the line or even “That doesn’t sound positive.” I can tell they’re uncomfortable, so I move on as quickly as possible. “How can I help you?” Inwardly, I’m thinking let’s ignore how I really am and get on with the call. I also know they don’t want the truth. We’re going through a social dance that’s expected and by my caged honesty, I’ve stepped on their toes or somehow missed the rhythm of the dance.

The truth is when I say I’m OK, it’s really more positive than you think. After all, I’m alive. I haven’t given in to the demons in my head that tell me it doesn’t matter whether I live or die. I’m in excruciating pain — I am every day. But I’m awake, I’m dressed, and I’m at work. A Herculean effort that I accomplish five days a week and try not to let anyone know what it costs me.

No, I’m not going to lie to you and tell you I’m fine, or worse yet, great! I’m sorry… wait, no I’m really not sorry that my existence makes you uncomfortable. You probably don’t realize it, but I’m doing the best I can with my fibromyalgia, which is untreated and my pain is a seven or eight each and every day. I’m doing the best I can with my depression and anxiety and PTSD, all of which is exacerbated by the judgmental “oh” I hear after I tell the caller that I’m “OK” and none of which is treated by the medical professionals where I live. They tell me there’s nothing they can do. So, I fear the “oh.” I tense up, waiting for it.

The truth is I’m in awe of those people who can smile in the face of pain, who can act like every day is a blessing and not a hellish chore. I wish I could tell you that I was great, wonderful, or a host of other superlatives, and we could smile together, knowing that we were smug and secure in how wonderful our lives were so we didn’t have to think about those who were merely OK.

Except I’m not one of those people. I’m pretty somber most of the time, dour quite often. My fibromyalgia makes talking on the phone difficult because I have to focus my mind that much harder when it’s caught in pain and fibro fog. I would be far more comfortable if I could call you, that way I could prepare myself if I thought you might get mad or upset with me. It would help me protect myself and deal with the PTSD that makes the slightest sound of frustration feel like a personal emotional assault — because I’m expecting it even if it doesn’t happen in the immediate moment.

So please, the next time you ask how someone is and they say “OK” or “fine, I guess” or something far less positive than you think they ought to have said, accept it. Say nothing or say, “OK” back. It’s fine. It really is, and then hopefully, someday, there will come a point, where I won’t be afraid to have you ask me how I am. Because when I say I’m OK, I really do mean it, and yes, it is OK.

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Originally published: November 7, 2016
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