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How I Respond to 'How Are You?' on Pain Days (Instead of the Usual, 'I'm Good')

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As a little girl, around the age of 5 or 6, my parents taught me how to answer our home phone.

I can still remember my answering script to this day. I would eagerly rush to the ringing phone and in my brightest, best grown-up voice possible, I would say:

Hello, 1234567, can I help you?”

The caller inevitably asked:

“Is your mum or dad there?”

My scripted response was:

“Yes, I’ll just get them. Can I please ask who’s calling?”

My decorum and professionalism, at that young age, then departed as I ran excitedly through the house shouting:

“Mum, Dad, phone call… Mr./Mrs. __ is on the phone.”

Oh well, I’m sure the caller had a good chuckle.

That phone answering training as a little girl really paved the way for how I would communicate in adult life. In my business career the emphasis on professionalism and excellent customer service further instilled that need to present oneself in an upbeat, positive manner. Add in my own natural positive disposition, and my default mode, no matter my circumstances, is to sound bright, upbeat and happy.

The other day my home care liaison manager phoned me to book some allied service home visits: physio, OT, podiatrist etc.

I was lying on the bed as the phone was ringing, writhing in pain. My rare disease was doing its best to break me. New stress fractures in my pelvis, ankle and feet, on top of my existing non-union femur break and rheumatoid arthritis were all working against me.

On a good day my pain level is 5/10. When I’m waiting for my pain meds to kick in, the pain level is around 9/10.

I had only just swallowed my afternoon medication as the phone began to ring. Thankfully it was right next to me on the bed. My phone is really like an additional limb, a lifeline I’m never without.

I was pale and feeling distressed, yet this is how I answered the phone:

“Sam Moss, can I help you?” *Insert smiling face and cheerful voice*

“Hi Sam. It’s Mandy, how are you?”

“Hi Mandy, I’m good, how are you?”

There we have it! I could hear these words spouting out of my mouth.

“I’m good.”

I could feel myself screaming internally: “No, you’re not good. You’re far from good. You can hardly breath from the pain and you can’t move.”

The ridiculous thing is this caller knew that. There was no need for me to put on a brave front. No need to pretend that all was perfect.

So why did I say, “I’m good.”?

I didn’t sleep well last night because of my pain, and in the early hours of the morning I began asking myself this question.

My answer is two-fold:

1. Conditioning – I’ve been trained from an early age to answer the phone in a professional manner, and my career endorsed that model.

2. Desire – I want to be “that healthy person,” and in many regards I still see myself like that. Mentally, I’m good. Physically… not so much!

There is a beautiful old hymn called, “It is well with my soul.” The first verse sums up exactly what I mean when I say, “I’m good… my body, not so much.”

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to know
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

As a Christian, my faith helps me experience that sense of peace, and it is well with my soul… no matter my circumstances.

My faith also convicts me that I need to be more honest and precise when talking to people about how I am. To say “I’m good” is far from true.

If I said, “It is well with my soul,” while accurate, it would sound pious and a bit ambiguous. Not really helpful for me or the caller.

So what can I say on the phone?

When I’m talking to someone face to face it’s pretty obvious I’m in pain. My eyes give it away. I’m constantly wriggling to try to get comfortable. My crutches are my constant companions, and when I do walk I am clearly disabled.

The phone is so different though. Those visual signs just aren’t there.

So, I’ve decided the best approach for me, when asked how I am on the phone, is to simply say, “I’m good… my body, not so much.”

It’s honest, precise, and if I need to expand then it opens an opportunity to do that.

Chronic Illness is difficult enough without us making it more complicated.

Keeping our responses to simple questions, short, sweet and honest, not only helps us manage our diseases better, it ultimately helps those who live and work with us or care for us.

It helps others better understand our needs and situation.

So today if you ask me how I am, I can pretty much guarantee my response will be, “I’m good… my body, not so much.”

Photo by Niklas Hamann on Unsplash

Originally published: March 27, 2018
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