How Are You?
When my husband passed away, it seemed like every time I turned around someone was asking me how I was. Gawd. I despised that question. They would call, text, stop by or message me to inquire. And although it was done from love, it felt invasive, insensitive, inconsiderate and even cruel. It would stop me in my tracks. How do I answer that? The perfectionist in me wanted to give them the most accurate response. The people pleaser in me wanted to just say what they wanted to hear. The psycho in me wanted to scream and break things. The child in me wanted to break down and cry. The smart ass in me wanted to say fucking fantastic and roll my eyes.
My best friend would remind me regularly that I didn't owe anybody an explanation. But I kind of can't help myself. It's like a form of Tourette Syndrome. I've always had a big mouth when it comes to spilling my own tea. When someone asks me how I am, it feels physically impossible for me to be vague. I'm an open book. I love details. I am super honest. I'm an oversharer. I have a hard time saying fine, thanks and moving on.
Usually, people say how are you in passing. It's just a polite gesture or a way of saying hello. They are in no way intending to enter into a dialogue of any kind about your actual life. I felt that some people would ask just to be nosy. Like they wanted more information or details about my husband's death. They were looking for drama. It felt like some people just wanted to check in so they could cross that off their to do list and feel good about themselves. But there were, of course, the ones who genuinely cared and wanted to know the honest truth about how we were.
The three little words how are you could be so complicated. Depending on the day, the circumstance or the moon, I could be experiencing a variety of different feelings and sometimes all at once. I used to avoid the question altogether. I would turn it back around and just repeat how are you? Sometimes I would say okay, I guess or today is a good day. Other times I could only manage we're doing the best we can. I didn't want anyone to think I was too happy or too sad. I would try to find the appropriate amount of mourning, whatever that was. I mostly felt awful but I didn't want to alarm anyone. I've always tried to prove how capable I am and this was no exception.
I was asked a few times if I was feeling better. I wasn't quite sure how to quantify that. I was getting out of bed everyday so that was good. But I was having health anxiety and panic so I was obviously a mess. I was getting my son to school on time so I was winning. But I was having trouble digesting food so I was obviously falling apart. I was leaving the house regularly so yay me! But I was serving mac 'n' cheese for dinner so I was clearly failing at life. When I told people that my son was really struggling they would react with a look of shock on their face and say really? Um. Yes. Really.
I was terrified that if I was my honest self, people would judge me. They would make assumptions and draw conclusions. They might be concerned. They might talk about me. They might think I was not doing how they would expect I should be doing at that point in my journey.
What I feared would happen if I told people I was doing great:
They would raise their eyebrows. They would say wow, that was fast! They would think I didn't really love him. They would think I was over him. They would judge me for not grieving long enough. They would assume I didn't miss him anymore. They would think I had moved on. They would think I was all better now. They would stop checking in on me. They would believe that I had this on my own. They would think I didn't need any help. They would forget about me. They would move on.
What might have happened if I told people I was doing great:
They might have been happy for me. They might have felt relieved. They might have congratulated me. They might have celebrated me. They might have felt grateful for me. They might have thought that was wonderful. They might have told me their prayers for me worked. They might have thought I was doing a good job. They might have been proud of me. They might have told me I was a strong woman. They might have been inspired by me.
What I feared would happen if I told people I felt terrible:
They would be uncomfortable. They would think I was stuck in my grief. They would tell me I need to move on. They would think I was weak. They would assume I was not as strong as they thought I was. They would tell me I needed medication. They would give me advice. They would worry about me. They would think I couldn't take care of my son. They would call CPS. They would say it just takes time. They would judge me. They would feel sorry for me. They would think I was a train wreck.
What might have happened if I told people I felt terrible:
They might have offered their help. They might have just listened to me. They might have thanked me for my honesty. They might have prayed for me. They might have said encouraging words to me. They might have shared their own story with me. They might have held me. They might have cried with me. They might have told me that I could do this. They might have had faith in me.
It has taken me over two years but I can finally answer that dreaded question more honestly. It took a lot of practice. I literally had to anticipate it coming, rehearse the words in my mind, and force them to come out of my mouth. I am no longer in survival mode. I am fully functioning. I have moments. I have hard days. I have thoughts and feelings. I am human. But I can see the light. It gets closer every day. I take baby steps. I practice kindness to myself. I am healing and growing. I am learning who I really am. I am not back to my old self. I am becoming a new version of me. I am reinventing. I am not finding a new normal. I am not settling. I am in charge. I am living with intention. I have a new perspective. I am so extremely grateful for everything that I have. I have compassion for others. I choose to believe we are all doing the best we can. We all have our struggles. We are more alike than we think and stronger than we know. We are all in this together. So, how am I? I am good, thank you. How are you?