To clarify the title, this is something I’ve known inside myself I need to write about publicly for a long time, but it feels very overwhelming and self-exposing. I’ve worked up the courage to do it, with the hope that SOMEONE out there might actually find something valuable in what I have to share. Make a comment if you’re listening. But it’s complicated for me, hence must be divided into parts . . .
Part One: Human Interaction
I’ve never been one of those people who lies in response to the question, “How are you?” If someone asks the question in greeting, and they are merely acquaintances—or even strangers—I usually answer with something simple like, “I’m okay.” It’s truthful, even if mentally I’m adding clarifications like: “I’m okay even though my head feels like it weighs three hundred pounds.” Or I’m okay in spite of the sensation that I have a spike poking out of my brain.” Or: “I’m okay even though my body would desperately prefer to be in bed.” If I say “I’m okay,” I really am okay. Okay is relative, but I’m not socially naive enough to think that every person I encounter who politely asks the question should know—or even want to know—the whole truth. I consider my answer to be in keeping with social discretion.
When someone asks how I’m doing, and that person is within certain social circles where I know they’re aware of my health challenges, I tend to give a more open answer while still attempting to keep it simple. “It’s a struggle but I’m managing.” “I’m very blessed in spite of the challenges.” “I’m just taking it one day at a time.” These are a few of many typical answers I might give in response to the question. I don’t want to really get into an oratory about my health in a brief encounter with another person. It’s very complicated, and I’ve found from vast experience—and much regret—that trying to explain an iceberg in the time available to barely expose the tiniest tip of ice, ends up giving people the wrong impression, or thinking they know the whole story from that small piece of information, which often follows with people giving well-intended advice that is something my medical journey crossed off the list years ago. So, I try to keep it brief and as positive as I can manage, and quickly try to turn it around with, “How are you?” I often hear myself saying in conversations: “Enough about my health; it’s boring.” And to me it is. If someone is genuinely interested in the details of my medical issues, they’d better be prepared for a lengthy oration that could likely benefit from a Powerpoint demonstration. So, we’d better be sitting someplace comfortable, because I can’t stand up very long.
I’ve had a few well-meaning people come right out and tell me that I should just tell people I’m fine, I’m great, I’m wonderful. Even if I’m not. And if I say it and believe it then I will be. This never felt comfortable to me. I’ve observed those people as I know they’re in pain or suffering—whether emotionally or physically—and they smile and pretend it’s okay and lie to even the people who sincerely want to know and would like to help. What kind of humanity are we if we’re not here to help each other, to offer compassion and kindness even if we can’t solve the problems? Ironically, I had a conversation with one of my sons about this, since I was wondering at one time if there was something wrong with me in wanting to be honest in answering the “How are you?” greeting in our culture. He was working on a psychology degree at the time, and we had many fascinating conversations about psychological principles. He told me that this very thing had been a recent topic of one of his class lectures. This attitude of being dishonest with yourself and others about your own physical or emotional state had actually proven to be a common precursor to suicide. Whoa! Okay, I’m just going to try to keep being honest. My opinion is that if you don’t want to know how someone is doing, don’t ask. Say “It’s good to see you,” or “I hope you’re doing well” or “That color looks good on you.” But don’t ask someone how they’re doing if you don’t want an honest answer. That’s life according to Anita.
While I’m still up on my soapbox, I must admit that I’ve given an enormous amount of thought about how physical and emotional ailments are treated within our culture. Even though I’m well aware that people have their own issues, most of which they would also keep to themselves, I’m also aware that my challenges are extreme in contrast to the average person, and it takes more than a sentence or two to give someone even a glimpse into the reality of what I deal with day-to-day. Casual greetings don’t offer opportunities to delve into the realities of true human drama—but that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. One of my points being that we can’t express—or get insight into—the real struggles of people through Twitter, Instagram, and texts. And Facebook was never intended to be “Dear Diary.” Now, I love all of these technological marvels of social media. I love to share little things and I love to get glimpses into the lives of others. But when it comes to facing and dealing with the BIG things, I believe we truly need more face time with people who really care about us, and people we really care about. If miles or situations prevent face time, then get on the phone and talk. It’s the next best thing to being there. Something happens in actual conversation that doesn’t happen through social media. When I’m able to talk and cry to someone about how it REALLY is, I feel validated and comforted (depending of course on how they respond, but then I usually have discernment enough to not delve deeply into conversation with someone I don’t trust). The wonderful thing is that I can do the same for others. When I hear about the real-life struggles of another person, I want to be able to offer encouragement and perspective, I want to be a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on—whether figuratively or literally. This interaction of human compassion is at the heart of true love and pure charity. Coming from someone who has become extremely isolated and downhearted due to excessive health issues and depression, I cannot express the value of such interaction. And yet life is crazy and full of busyness, and it’s so easy to just send a text or ask in passing, “How are you?” without really listening to the answer. I’m as guilty of it as anyone else. But I don’t want to be. I want to listen more, care more, and be heard more. I believe it could be a huge step in the quest to help alleviate human suffering.