When someone asks, ‘how are you?’ the customary answer is just one word, ‘fine’. Those of us who live with chronic illness and pain are hardly ever fine. Maybe better than yesterday, or good enough to make it out of the house for a while, but fine? Not often.
If we are going to build a supportive community around us, we need to be honest about how we are feeling. It’s not in our interest to imply we are fine when we are not. We also don’t want to be a constant complainer, because no one wants to be around that person. Being honest about how you are feeling requires a bit of balance.
The trick, I’ve found, is to first be realistic about the person you are talking to and the context of the conversation. Then be as honest as you can, without whining. For example, some people don’t really want to know how you are; they’re just making small talk. It’s like the person who says ‘let’s do lunch sometime’ more to end the conversation than to actually make a date for lunch. So, I might say to this person no more than, “I’m just OK today.”
Someone who actually cares, but is on the periphery of your life might get a little more expanded answer, “It’s been a tough week, but I’m starting to feel better today.” Or conversely, “I’m just at the beginning of a flare, so I’m going to enjoy today as much as I can.” This conversation may or may not go any deeper.
For someone who is truly part of your everyday life, knows you well and knows you are ill, you need to tell the truth because the way you are feeling from day to day also affects them. “I need you to know I’m having a rough day today, so if I’m quiet or seem moody, it’s not you, I just don’t feel very well.” To the children it might be, “Mom’s going to need a helping hand from you today. I’m not feeling too strong, so thanks for being my big boy/girl.”
It is possible to be honest without coming across as a victim. It is possible to ask for help without seeming helpless. The people who really care about you would prefer to know the truth and will be supportive. If there is someone in your life who wants you to pretend to be doing great all the time, maybe they need a little push to get real, or a harder push to move outside the strong circle of support that you are building around you.