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Why I Lie When You Ask Me How I'm Feeling

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Honestly, I totally get it. It makes perfect sense as to why people who know me and care about me ask me how I am feeling every time we talk to each other. In a way it is flattering because people just want the best for me and are hoping that I am starting to feel better while I am in treatment for chronic Lyme disease. But if I am completely honest, this question is a trigger for me and here is why…

I don’t want to be a liar, but this question turns me into one. “I’m fine.” Or, “I’m awesome.” Or some other version of this answer is typically untrue even though one day I hope to give this answer and mean it.

You may wonder why I would lie instead of telling the truth. Well, for one thing, I get so tired of talking about the illness that I just don’t feel like going through the list of symptoms I may be feeling at that exact moment. So I say I am fine. When I am around other people I want to talk about every day things like everyone else. The weather, world events, sports, our kids, and heck, even politics would be a better conversation than how I am feeling. I just want to be “normal” and have non-sick, normal conversations. I don’t want my illness to define me, so I will lie to avoid sympathy and long conversations about my condition.

Secondly, talking about all the symptoms over and over just reminds me how crappy I really do feel, and honestly, I don’t want to be or need to be reminded. Trust me, I know just how horrible I feel and trust me, you really don’t want to know and probably don’t truly care. Even if you did care, chances are unless you have experienced a chronic illness of some sort you can’t even begin to imagine what it is like.

Another reason I may lie is because I can’t gauge just how sincere the question is. Most people just say, “How are you?” as a conversation starter and don’t actually want to know how you are actually feeling. In our society, “How are you?” is a pleasantry, not a real question.

Imagine being in a check-out line at the store and the cashier, who is a complete stranger to you, says, “Good morning, how are you today?” They don’t actually want to know how I am. They don’t want me to say, “Honestly, I am barely able to walk, I feel like I am going to vomit at any moment, and I have a splitting headache. The soles of my feet feel like they are bruised and have 10,000 needles sticking in them, my joints are so stiff I can barely move, I’m exhausted and want to lie down in the middle of this gross floor. I have 20 different muscles cramping and twitching at this exact moment and I am not sure if I will remember where I am when I am driving home. And how are you?” It just wouldn’t be socially acceptable. So, I say, “I’m fine, how are you?” It’s just easier.

Another scenario when people ask this question is they don’t understand chronic Lyme disease. They expect because I am dressed and am wearing makeup that I feel fantastic, even if I am dying inside. Lyme is an invisible illness that no one can see. I am desperate to feel normal, so on good days I do enjoy getting dressed and putting on makeup. But a “good” day may just mean a day I am not bedridden. It doesn’t necessarily mean I actually feel good. So, if I am dressed with makeup on and someone asks me, “How are you?” and I tell them how sick I really feel, it seems like I am a liar. So, the best course for me is to lie and say I am fine, which is actually quite ironic.

Sometimes, people expect that because I am currently in treatment (on antibiotics and other herbals) that I should feel back to normal in a few days like one does when being treated for strep throat or an earache. They think if I actually have a good day and can go to the store shopping that I am cured. No, no, and no. That, unfortunately is not how chronic Lyme disease works.

A black and white picture of an empty road on a cloudy day.

I can have a decent day only to be followed by a day I can’t get out of bed for seemingly no rhyme or reason. Those who have chronic Lyme disease are on long doses of antibiotics (months and months) and are not “cured” in seven to 10 days like other illnesses antibiotics are used to treat. We have good days and we have bad days. We can be in remission for months (and sometimes years), only to relapse again. So, it gets confusing to people who haven’t lived with the disease to understand that sometimes I can go out and have a nice time and the next day (or a few hours later) I am in bed unable to function. So, saying “I’m fine” is just so much less complicated than explaining all of this every single time someone asks how I am. Really, it is a conversation killer.

Last, I may lie simply because I am a people-pleaser. I am much less of a people-pleaser than I used to be, but in general, I hate to disappoint people. So, when you ask me how I am feeling and are expecting (and usually I can tell when people are expecting this answer) to hear, “Better!” or, “Great!” because of one of the many reasons I’ve already listed, I just want to say what you want to hear. It is just simply easier, less stressful, and less complicated to let you think I am good.

In all honesty, I hate when people ask me how I am feeling. It is just awkward and confusing for me. What I would prefer is, “What’s going on in your life right now?,” “What’s new?” or, “How was your weekend?” These questions let me avoid all talk of illness and let me answer with things that are happening in my life despite chronic Lyme. I can guarantee you would like hearing about my kids, my art, my weekend, or my view on world politics better than hearing me lie to you or list all my chronic Lyme disease symptoms. That I am sure of.

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Originally published: June 20, 2017
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