As a recently inducted member of the Chronic Illness Club (CIC, if you will), I joined several online support groups. And now, 3+ years later, I see many posts about this topic. Many times, as Chronic Illness People, we struggle with how to respond when someone asks us how we are doing. Why do we struggle? Because
all of the time, most of the time, there is some pain or symptom(s) we are dealing with at the moment. So when we are asked this question, we feel trapped. We debate on what we should say: Should I say “I’m fine” even though I really am not? Should I say “I’m good” and hope that next time, if I say I am not so good since chronic illness symptoms wax and wane constantly, the other person will understand? For those who have never had nor been around someone with a chronic illness, it sincerely can be a difficult thing to understand completely.
If you have a chronic illness, then quite possibly I am preaching to the choir about the misunderstanding part. And many times, as members of the CIC, this is where we can severely get bogged down in these encounters with our unrealistic expectations, our over-analysis, and our misconception that there is a lack of empathy from others. Yes, there are times we will have encounters where the other person does not meet our minimal expectations,where this other person does not empathize at all. But I hope I can convince you that these negative encounters are or will be guaranteed to be few and far between after you check out my tried and true tips! So without further ado…..
While this may
seem like is an obvious one, let’s explore the root of why we may not want or don’t use this response more often and why we often are frustrated after we have the interaction. As CIC members, sometimes, we feel guilty merely stating “I’m OK” because in truth, we aren’t. Many times we are dealing with invisible symptoms, ones that can be very painful and/or ones that make us feel terrible inside such as headaches and nausea. Somehow, we feel that if we do not respond with the absolute truth that we are lying. On the other hand, sometimes we use this response but we really mean, “I feel like CRAP!” and when the other party doesn’t read our mind, we get frustrated, angry, and hurt. We think that the other just doesn’t care about us because he/she didn’t “get” that we merely stated the pat answer but expected a much different response. I know I have done this many times as I have tried to navigate chronic illness and communication. It’s tough. But, none of us are mind readers. If you want someone to know anything, you must tell them in concise words. That’s just how it works.
With this response, perhaps it will feel a bit more authentic and truthful. We have days, hours, minutes, where we have relief, and we can enjoy ourselves. But those moments can change on a dime as we well know. One of the hardest things, I think, for others not in the CIC to understand is how quickly symptoms can change. It was a challenge for me when I first became ill to get the hang of this game! One minute I can be decent. I can hold a conversation with absolutely no problem. Yet, not 5-20 minutes later, I am suffering severe nausea, and I am experiencing word-loss. This occurrence is hard enough for those of us experiencing this to discern, let alone someone who had no idea how this works. Personally, I like this response or a modification of it because I’ve found that people can understand it and relate to it on some level. Another version of this might be “I had a great day yesterday, but today is tough.” Most people get this kind of a statement.
This may result in the other person not knowing how to reply, but in my limited experience, people get this one as well. While you are not explaining the sordid details of why you are not feeling well (you can save that for your BFF who REALLY gets it), you are telling the person, hey I’m not doing too hot. Also, you are acknowledging his or her effort and thoughtfulness to check in on you. Look, bottom line is that if every interaction with us becomes a negative or an uncomfortable one for the other party, it probably won’t happen much, if at all after awhile. This is just human nature. We move towards positive interactions and away from negative ones. Granted, sometimes this can trigger more questions, but maybe that is a good thing! It can open the door for us to have a candid conversation about our illness. This can also lead to more positive interactions, as well as more understanding and empathy.
Regardless of how we respond to the question above, in the end, it isn’t the other person’s responsibility to make us feel a certain way, nor his or her obligation to “guess” what we mean. I know, I know. Psycho babble. But it is to our advantage if we can make these interactions more positive and less stressful for ourselves. All in all, others are sincerely trying to be kind and caring. While this isn’t as easily done with us, it can work. These small and yet important connections with others can be spirit lifting. It can help of feel connected to something bigger than ourselves. It can help us feel less isolated and less misunderstood.
Do you have any tricks or tips to add to enhancing communication with others? If so, please leave a COMMENT! I would love to hear about other techniques.
On a final note, I am on summer break from teaching high school. I just had a colleague text me, “Just checking on you and your health. I hope hope you have been able to relax!” I am replying with, “Yes, indeed! Summer break is so wonderful. I can rest whenever I please. Thank you for thinking of me. How are you doing?”
This completely made my day. Wishing you a both a painless and joyful day. -Belle