How Are You?
By Arielle Ford
I feel distressed when people ask me the simple question, “How are you?”
What was once the easiest question in the world for me to answer has now become the hardest.
In the past, my answer was always some enthusiastic version of “life’s great.”
And it was.
The way my life has turned out has exceeded every hope, wish, or dream I’ve ever had and then some.
However, since my sister Debbie’s death, it is a nightmare to hear the question, “how are you?”
That is because I have two kinds of days these days:
On some days I am sad, depressed and weepy. On the other days I feel almost normal….I can think straight finally and although I am not “happy” I am certain that my core happiness is still in me and eventually I will be happy again.
The problem with “how are you?” is that if I am having a sad day, and the person asking isn’t one of a small handful of people that I feel comfortable sharing my “truth” with, I am at a loss for what to say without being disingenuous.
If I am having one of my “almost normal” days, I also don’t know what to say. Even though I may feel okay, or even remotely hopeful, I am still grieving and it just does not feel right to be my normal optimistic self. In fact, somehow the question alone can trigger me into having a sad day.
A friend of mine has tried to convince me that the question is just a “social nicety” and doesn’t really need much of a response, yet I haven’t yet figured out a “stock” answer that can move the conversation along quickly.
I realize that most people asking genuinely care, but often they want to know a whole lot more that I am willing to share. Plus nearly everyone I know either knew my sister, or knew of her, and many are going through their own feelings of loss and are in need of comfort themselves. It’s really difficult for me to acknowledge this—and I guess it’s another reason I am troubled by the “how are you” question – but I just don’t have it in me to help others feel better right now. And I feel pressured by social niceties.
I know if my sister would tell me to just allow myself to feel my pain, the loss, and the need for privacy and not worry about others at this time. She would say, “You are lovable… even when you are struggling and even when you are not feeling like a nice person.”
One of the most difficult conversations I have been getting pulled into is conversations about “what grieving is about.” In those scenerios, people try to offer recommendations and “support.” I know people think they are comforting me, but they really aren’t. I find it draining and uncomfortable.
I began life as an introvert but made a conscious decision to study extroverts until I became one myself. In the past few months I feel myself reverting back to my introverted ways. I just don’t have the inclination or energy to share myself. I think it is just where I need to be at this moment in time. According to many experts in the know, this it totally normal. I suppose this is normal but honestly, normal or not, it’s just how I am right now.
So, I am grateful for caller ID—and friends, loved ones, and acquaintances who are kind, understanding, and aware enough to know that sometimes the best way to support someone through a process like this is to just allow them their space. And to not feel compelled to ask that dreaded question, “how are you?”
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