How Are You?
The exchange always starts out the same – someone walks past me, smiles, and asks ‘how are you’ and my response is almost always ‘I’m fine, and you?’ So many times the person who inquires, barely slows to ask the question as they keep walking to their destination and rarely will even pause to reply to my polite response given in turn inquiring about them.
This exchange is repeated multiple times most every day - it bothers me that I give the same answer over and over and know that they aren’t really asking or hearing my reply. The question is just a habit of manners drilled into us by our mother and others when we were much younger. Equally hard is to be honest as to how I really am – I will venture out of the norm and respond differently to the question at some times, but it still barely slows the other person down. As much as we get along and they care about me, they really don’t want to hear how I am, day in and day out. I don’t want to focus on my state either, especially when my health is taking wide swings of not so good days and more.
‘How are you?’ – I’m here, is one of those replies I will throw out at times when it’s a day that I could be doing better. The people who have seen me with this crazy disease since the beginning seem to understand this response and will at least slow to issue a standard reply of something like ‘that’s good,’ before they move on.
At times, often just for variety and my own amusement, the exchange might go ‘how are you?’ to which I will say I’ve got a pulse, or I’m this side of the ground. Both of these will normally elicit an acknowledgement that I have attempted levity in my response, but again it is rarely enough for the recipient to really stop and have a deeper exchange.
All of this brings me to the larger question - how should I respond to these inquiries? “How are you?” is so engrained into our culture and habits, and is used almost universally in the United States. I’m not sure about other cultures, but I guess there is a similar greeting everywhere.
A brief response of “I’m doing good,” will often cause my coworkers to at least pause and smile because they understand the use – I work in an English department where they know the difference between feeling well, being fine, and doing good. I’m not sure if they think I have misused or abused the English language, but I like to think I am always doing good in all that I do; I am not always so positive that I am fine or well.
When someone asks ‘how are you,’ what am I supposed to say? How am I supposed to be, living with MS, not knowing about the future, living on the edge, left wondering what will happen next whether it is a change in my health or a breakthrough in treatment?
When you are asked that question – ‘how are you?’ – do you take it as an invitation to be honest and expound on your answer or do you merely do what the majority of us practice and reply ‘I’m fine and how are you?’ and keep walking.
Wishing you well,
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