“How are you doing?” Can Be a Complicated Question

A friend asks me “how are you doing” and I freeze. It’s like being stunned with a taser. I just don’t know what to say. A simple question from a kind and caring person launches me into a tailspin of momentary anxiety. 

I feel trapped.

I want to say that I feel terrible. But let’s face it, I pretty much feel bad every day with some achy joint, stiffness, fatigue, or other rheumatoid arthritis-related complaint. So it would be redundant and also burdensome to unload on my friend. There is virtually nothing they can do to help, except to continue being a good friend.

Why get into all this?

On the other hand, the other aspects of my life are doing OK. Work is good. Family about the same. Husband, great. I’m definitely doing better than many people. I’ve got all the essentials—food, clothing, and shelter. But then there’s the bad CRP results and feeling pretty sure my treatment plan is not working anymore. I’m stressed because I feel yucky, which just makes me feel worse. Sleeping is fitful and getting comfortable is difficult. The uncertainty of what I should do is weighing on my mind.

So you can see, with my mind working a mile a minute, that a simple question just doesn’t have a simple answer. I want to respond to my friend, but I don’t know how far to go. I want to ask, how long have you got? But frankly, I even bore myself with these health-related thoughts and concerns. Perhaps I should try to add it all up and take the average? Where does that come out in the equation of “how am I doing-ness”? Maybe “doing OK”? Or I can do deeper—“not feeling great, but otherwise OK”?

I suppose it does depend on the friend and the situation. If it’s a quick chat, I don’t want to delve into things about my RA. Even with my closest friends I have a hard time detailing my current status of well-being. For one, it can change drastically day to day. For another, it just starts feeling operatic to name my aches and concerns. Is that even what they were really asking?

Probably not, right? It was more like a “hey, what’s up” to see that I’m still plugging along. But if a friend slowly emphasizes the words, that is a door opened. That is a serious inquiry. And I’m not on the spot to explain, but trying not to burden.

When I get up in the morning, my husband asks how I am and I often say that I don’t know yet. He is asking to find out if I need extra medicine or to move slower or make other accommodations that I may need for the day. But it is true that it takes me awhile to feel things out. For example, I may feel stiff when I get out of bed, but feel better once I start moving. Then again, today I immediately could feel that I was more achy and sore. It just depends, but sometimes I just need to take my time.
So, I honestly don’t always know how I am doing at all times. Which makes a simple question even harder to answer. Maybe I could respond “rain delay” and let them know later? Or “Kelly is not in at the moment, but will respond when she gets back”?
I don’t mean to overcomplicate a kind question. And I’m happy that people care enough to ask. So perhaps it’s just better just to say: “doing fine. How are you?”

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