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When 'I'm Fine' Means 'I'm Too Scared to Tell You How I Feel'

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As a person who has major depressive disorder, I sometimes experience difficulties when asked how I’m doing. Several thoughts go through my mind. Do they really want to know? Well, most people don’t want their day ruined by my thoughts, right? Just say you’re OK. Tell them something positive. Don’t ruin her day with your troubles. Everything in my racing mind tells me to smile and give them good news.

Simply put, I can’t muster more than just “I’m fine.” Sometimes I wish people knew what I mean when I say I’m fine. I wish they’d dig deeper. My voice says “I’m fine,” and though I give a weak smile, my face must give some indication I’m lying. What does “I’m fine” really mean to me, anyway? Well, it means lots of things.

I’m fine means I’m too scared to tell you how I feel. I’m afraid that what I’m thinking will make you judge me. I’m afraid you won’t really care. I’m afraid you’ll think I’m weak. Most of all, I’m afraid that when I tell you how I feel, you might give me some comment about how everyone feels the blues sometimes. This isn’t sometimes for me. This is almost all the time. This has been my entire life. I’m afraid you’ll minimize my feelings and sum it up with a kind-sounding, well-meaning equivocation.

I’m fine means that what goes on in my mind sounds scary and all too sad. My mind races from one negative thought to another, and I don’t think you really want to hear it. When you watch people on television, especially on comedy shows, talk about people who say how they really feel, all that really comes up is sketches like Debbie Downer from “Saturday Night Live.” I don’t want to be Debbie Downer. I don’t mean to feel how I feel or always come up with the downside to everything. I fight daily against pessimism and hopelessness. I fight against the feelings that the world would be better off without me. Depression makes you feel like you can’t cope with even minor stresses. Just as much as I don’t want to feel this way, I don’t want the people around me to know about my feelings.

In short, “I’m fine” means I’m really not fine. It means that I need someone, anyone to help get me out of my own mind. Sometimes it means I need help. I’m not OK, OK? Can’t anyone see the pain in my eyes and the hurt behind my smile? While part of me gives you this “I’m fine” line just to push you away, another part of me wants you to see that I need help. And it’s not that I think no one cares, but it’s hard to believe anyone would want to know about these horrible feelings. Feelings I still cannot adequately put into words. When I say “I’m fine,” it means my feelings are so awful that I can’t even tell you what I’m thinking.

Only those who identify with these feelings can truly understand the agony behind the words “I’m fine.” If you recognize when someone isn’t really fine, know that we really do want you to help us. Our instincts tell us to push you away because we’re either protecting ourselves from rejection or we’re just plain scared. For me, it’s easier to write out how I feel than to say the words out loud.

Deep down inside, I know there is hope, but it’s hard to see the silver lining through the clouds. Maybe you can show me where to find it.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Follow this journey on Embracing the Spectrum.

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Image via Thinkstock Images

Originally published: November 9, 2016
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