Hi, How Are Ya?

Featured Image: A drawing I found while on a hike.

Title from a SpongeBob episode

As per my post “Quarter Life Crisis“, you very well may know that I’m not doing fantastic right now, and thus I’ve been struggling with how to answer the question “How are you?”

How I answer the question depends on how comfortable I am with being truthful, how I think the other person is doing, and how dark I think I can get before they get overly concerned.

The other day one of my favorite bartenders asked me how I had been, and I straight up froze — I squinted my eyes, opened and closed my mouth, one eye twitched, and there was a solid 10 seconds of silence until he broke it by saying, jokingly, “So, good?”

I could not articulate how I had been even though I had wanted to. I was comfortable enough to say I wasn’t doing well but not confident enough to put into words exactly what I had been feeling, maybe because I don’t think I truly knew myself.

My friend had given me some good advice after he had walked away — deflect. What I should have said was: “we just got back from six flags!” and that would have been that.

Just now, as I sit in church writing this on the paper program, someone came up to me, introduced herself, and asked me how I was. I remembered what my friend had said about deflecting, and so I said, “Well, it’s a beautiful day out; really lifts the spirits” — which was both factual as well as alluded to the fact that my spirits required lifting. 

At my gynecologist a few weeks ago, she had asked me how I was and my kneejerk response was “Good, how are you?” even though I actually wanted to bring something up to her. I wish that kneejerk response wasn’t so ingrained into us. It feels like lying, it feels inauthentic, it feels performative. It cheats us out a real response before we have the chance to think of one.

When my mother asked me how I had been last weekend, my voice cracked when I said: “Not well.” I wanted to say more. I wanted to admit that I felt like I was on the brink of death. She asked me why and I threw up my hands in exasperation and said, “What do you mean? Everything!” — but that wasn’t a fair answer either.

I think we should just be goddamn honest about it. Otherwise, what is the point of asking? I want to be comfortable saying that I’m not doing great, but when people ask that, they’re barely expecting a response because it’s just a formality. Is it rude to give a real response? Or is it disingenuous to lie and say that we’re good? 

We shouldn’t have to lie no matter who we are talking to. The more we are all honest, the better we can help each other. It’s hard to help others when we don’t know how they are feeling, and it’s hard to ask for help when we don’t know if they’re asking us how we are because they care or because it’s a formality. You don’t want to be the guy who emotionally dumps every time they ask you how you’re doing, but you also don’t want to isolate yourself by not being honest with the people who care about you.

But it may be not always be necessary to tell everyone how you are feeling, especially if you don’t have a plan for when they invariably ask how they can help or what can they do. It may even be in your best interest to not explicitly state that you need to be talked off a ledge (i.e., your employer).

So here are some pre-made responses I’ve made for when you’re not at your best:

“I’m not doing great, but happy you reached out! How are ya?” (friendly and sweet)

“I could be better, but couldn’t we all? How have you been?” (we’re all in this together)

“Well, I’ve got some hot tea if you’re ready for it” (always ask before you emotionally dump!)

“Things are okay. How about you?” (vague and relatable)

“The world is on fire but also underwater, we’re about to go into another recession, the eviction and student debt moratorium is about to expire and no one can afford a home and the rent is too damn high so we’ll all be homeless soon, gluten-free food is too expensive, the military and prison industrial complexes have way too strong a hold on our economy and therefore will never be reformed, they aren’t bringing snack wraps back at McDonalds, and don’t forget the literal plague we’re in, but besides that…I’m decent.”

Bonus Content: 

I wrote down a quote from this Sunday’s sermon: “Don’t stay home and suffocate in your sorrow.”

It’s been making me want to go somewhere, or do something crazy. So stay tuned to see what I do to get out my house.

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