Please understand the difference between “happy” and “healthy”. When you’ve got the flu you probably feel miserable with it, but I’ve been sick for years. I can’t be miserable all the time, in fact I work hard at not being miserable. So if you’re talking to me and I sound happy, it means I’m happy. That’s all. I may be tired. I may be in pain. I may be sicker than ever. Please, don’t say, “Oh, you’re sounding better!”. I am not sounding better, I am sounding happy. If you want to comment on that, you’re welcome.
This really made me smile and pins down something i have been bothered about in the back of my mind for some time: Why does it annoy me so much when people say “You are looking well”, or “You sound good” or whatever. I always feel a bit guilty about feeling so prickled by it, when they simply want me to be feeling well and to be improving with all their hearts and are just expressing it… but it feels like it is just a conversation to make them feel better about it; to let them off the hook; to avoid facing the truths about my illness. When i try to explain that they have simply caught me at a good moment and that in general nothing has changed, i get this look, as if to say “Why are you denying improvement? Don’t you want to get well? Be grateful for what good times you have!”
(I must say i am more tolerant of this when it comes from people very close to me who do know largely what my life is like or who see/speak to me regularly, as maybe i do sound a bit better than the last time, but i am safe in the knowledge that they know this does not mean anything more than that, that right now i can speak, but afterwards i will be exhausted and i may not be able to…)
I may look well because i have spent all the day up to this point (and probably yesterday too) making an effort to be clean, have had my hair washed, to have sloughed all the unsightly dry flaky skin off my face and moisturised, to have got out my nice clothes, rested effectively and eaten sensibly and taken a sleeping tablet, a painkiller and all the other things that i need in order to ensure i can function for this occasion of seeing you. I may even feel quite good after all this planning and preparation and be enjoying myself in this rare foray into your world, but like Cinderella, the mirage will soon fade, and i will feel so ill and have so many extra symptoms over the next few days in “payback” that i really cannot just forget this and enjoy “looking so well”. It is not your fault, of course, but how i look at the moment is irrelevant to the bigger picture. “Looking well” can sometimes feel like a curse and a barrier to understanding.
The other common exclamation is “Isn’t it lovely weather, that must really help you!” It helps me in the same way it helps anyone else, and yes, it is nice now that spring has come that i can sit in the back yard and get some fresh air and sunshine (occasionally) and have a change of the usual four walls to some al fresco four walls with birdsong and the like, but it is said to me as if it will actually make me well… My illness is not caused by depression, i actually don’t think it is perpetuated by depression (it just makes it harder to live with). To suggest that all i need is some sunshine for my severe and chronic health condition to improve is really irritating, and again i feel so guilty for being grumpy about it and usually just say, “oh yes it is nice to have nice weather” (and think “but i feel as ill as ever)”.
So now you are reading this and thinking “well i didn’t mean anything by it, what the hell am i supposed to say then? Nothing?” No of course not, but please, just ASK how i am. If you must, you can ask if the sunshine helps me(but don’t expect a sunny answer to that one – my patience is wearing thinner and thinner on this issue).
When you do ask me how i am, of course, that opens up a whole new set of issues: Do you really what to know how i am? Do you want details? Do you want to understand what my life is actually like? Or do you want a “Fine thanks” or a “Not bad today” with no details? It is hard for me to know. Even if i know you really do care and want to engage with it, how can i explain how i am? How can i quantify my wellness or illness in a way you can understand? Sometimes i can say i am “better” but do you know what that means? Do you think i am on the way to getting properly better? Or do you know i mean a-tiny-bit-that-only-a-chronically-ill-person-would-notice-as-an-improvement-and-it-could-all-change-in-the-next-five-minutes-better?
I find when asked “how are you?” these days, i just say “i am ok right now thanks” or something along those lines, because, of course i have been better, and i have inevitably been a lot worse (well i am having a conversation, so evidently not SO bad) so everything else is just in between these two… how i am changes minute by minute, hour by hour and day by day but also not a lot really changes.
So i appreciate you asking, and that you do care, but know that these questions are so loaded for me, and there is a lot more going on behind my reply…