It's the first thing we say to each other every time we see each other. The "how are you" is just part of the greeting. You don't even think about it, right? Because the immediate answer is "I'm fine and how are you." It's so ingrained into us that even when we learn a new language it's the way we say hello. Never mind that we can't translate the answer, because here's the thing, unless the person you're greeting is a close friend or family member, you don't really want an honest answer. You're looking for the fine, the good, the okay...or perhaps a joke of some sort, but not the truth. Now, when you ask your friends and family this question, you want at least a quasi-honest answer. Maybe you don't want the full details about Aunt Marge's explosive diarrhea last week, but you want to know...oh, you're not feeling good, or you broke up with so-and-so, great now I can tell you I really never liked him.
But, what do you when the person you're talking to has a chronic illness? Now, you love this person, presumably, if you count them amongst your friends or your family members. But, you know they're sick, they're not going to say fine. They're going to give you an honest answer. Probably. Because here's the thing. People with chronic illness love that you care enough to ask, but shit, it depresses us to think about it, why should we dump it on you? Especially when you already know, because you've talked to their mother or something recently and you know they aren't doing well. Or, well, you look at them and you can tell....damn, you feel like crap right now, don't you, 'cause you look like crap, let me just tell you. But, it gets a little tiring doesn't it? I mean, you call for some small talk or to vent about your day, and you make the familiar, Hi, how are ya? And they tell you. They do not say fine. They tell you how they are, which may or may not be as bad as yesterday, but clearly is not good. And you find yourself not wanting to talk to them, because the normal is gone. You think all she thinks about is her illness, or it's always about him.
Okay, so put yourselves in our shoes. Suppose you simply aren't well, haven't been well and don't expect to be doing well anytime in the near future. What do you do when someone you love wants to know how you are? You can lie, which most frequently gets you in trouble. Because someone's going to believe you and not realize you lied just so you wouldn't have to answer that question, then when they find out later you just said fine so they'd feel okay, their feelings are going to be hurt. You can tell the truth, or some abbreviated version of it, which seems simple and straightforward, right? Try again. Because for someone with chronic illness, nothing is simple and straightforward. (For example, a good day for LQofU doesn't resemble a good day for most people. For me, any day I manage to shower, get dressed and still accomplish one other thing is a fantastic day.) So, if I say "fine" I'm thinking, "Hey, there's no eminent ER trip here, so I'm doing pretty good." But, you might be thinking I just talked to her and she said she was fine and now I hear she's really sick.
Or maybe, just maybe you're tired of the subject. Maybe you really care about someone who is sick, but you miss the good old days when you didn't spend the better part of every conversation talking about their doctors and their medications and how crappy they feel. Maybe you think to yourself, I am so tired of hearing about this I could just scream. You know what? Me too. I'm tired of being the sick girl, the one who talks about the doctors and the pills, but right now that's all there is. I'm sick, I'm going to the doctor and I'm doing my best to be a mom and a girlfriend and not succeeding very well. I'm sick of the same four walls. I'm sick of going back and forth from my bed to my couch. I'm sick of not having a life outside this illness.
So, let's just make a pact....unless we rarely talk, don't ask me how I'm feeling all the time. I'm tired of talking about it. If I don't tell you some detail of my treatment or illness you find out from someone else, don't take it personally, because it isn't personal. And if you ask me, I might not be feeling well enough to laugh the question off, I might be feeling so crappy that all you're going to get is the icky truth.
Oh, and if by chance, I happen to say fine, when you do ask me...please don't think that means I'm all better and that everything's great. That's not my reality, okay? But, if I ask how are you...I want the truth....;-)