It is customary in our culture to greet someone with the question “how are you”? For the person with chronic illness this can be a difficult question to answer. Do I tell the truth or just answer with the standard “fine thanks how are you?” The answer may depend on who is asking the question. Of course to an acquaintance the standard answer works fine. One does not need to divulge everything to someone they don’t really know. But if it is someone who is a friend or family the decision of how to respond is more complex. The person with the illness thinks, “Should I say what I really feel? Will they think I am complaining? Does it matter to them to know the truth?” “Do they need to know the truth’? What is a simple question for most to answer becomes a conundrum for the person with chronic illness.
Here is a list of some of the responses I use:
How I feel: It’s a good day
How I feel: It’s an alright day
How I feel: It’s not too bad (little achy or fatigued)
How I Feel: It’s not too good (achy or fatigued)
Response: “Well, not too bad”
How I feel: It’s not a good day (having some aches and fatigue)
Response: “I’m here” with a smile
How I feel: It’s a bad day (pain, aches, and fatigue)
Response: “I could be better” with a shoulder shrug and smile
How I feel: It’s a very bad day (pain, aches, fatigue, migraine, etc)
Response: Silent because you will not see me out
My response can change based on who I asking the question. Most of the time, I will not go into too much detail about my aches and pains. There are some instances, like when speaking to my husband, that I feel I need to express what I am feeling. I am not looking for sympathy. Nor am I complaining about my situation. I just want people to understand why I cannot perform certain duties or attend certain functions.
In other cases, it is an opportunity to educate people regarding “invisible illnesses”. These illnesses include symptoms such as fatigue, pain, cognitive dysfunction, brain injuries, learning disabilities or mental health disorders. People generally assume if there is nothing physically wrong, one is working and can walk and talk then that person is healthy. They have no idea what is happening on the inside. This makes it difficult for the chronically ill to explain how it feels because one appears to be “normal”. Usually the ill person acts “normal” as well because one pushes through the sick symptoms just to feel like a normal person and do normal activities. I recall one day being so fatigued all I did was go to the grocery store, unload the groceries and put them away. Then I took a nap! I felt like an eighty year old lady! That doesn’t make sense for me to be tired just from grocery shopping!
In conclusion, the next time you go to the store and see a “normal” looking person parked in the handicapped space or using the electric scooter, don’t judge too quickly. That person may have an invisible illness which makes it difficult for them to walk around the store or across a parking lot. Just because you cannot see the disability doesn’t mean there isn’t one.
Today I am fine. So, how are you, really, today? Please comment.