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“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?”

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • aussiesusan
    2 years ago

    Hi – isn’t it often a loaded question – “ how r u “ or in Aussie “how ya goin” – u want to be honest and even at times just want to vent – I’ve had the same “bestie” for 40 years and thank god for her – a warm loving family – kids – grandkids and yet I still most of the time answer “ok” – my husband knows better – my granddaughter seems to know too – a wise 6 year old – when nana is hobbling around and sweating she’s no good – unquote- every now n then though a rabid rant on the actual condition comes flying out at those who’ve been kind enough to ask – I’m confident though they can handle it n we all move on – I used to run – now i creak along on a walker – I used to dance – now I tap my feet – I used to garden – now I buy flowers – I used to work with children – now I read to my granddaughter — n I still think i could be worse – glass half full girl – and a day at a time – keep shining kelly

  • Kelly Mack moderator author
    2 years ago

    Thanks auddiesusan, really appreciate it! Keep hanging in there! Best, Kelly ( Team)

  • Linda
    2 years ago

    I try to respond as genuinely as possible with something like, “I’m hanging in there,” or “I’ve had better days but I’m okay overall,” or “I’m in more pain today but I’m slugging through,” and then ask the other person how they’re doing. I’ve found it works pretty well most of the time,.

  • Kelly Mack moderator author
    2 years ago

    Hi Linda, that is great–honest yet easy-going. Thanks so much for commenting. Best, Kelly ( Team)

  • Eebtool
    2 years ago

    Hi Kelly,
    I have read several stories and Facebook posts dealing with this topic and RA and have thoughts. (Oh boy) Now by no way could I be described as a writer or even a good conversationalist, but I am hoping my thoughts come across to you here.
    I do realize that it can be difficult to be what seems like constantly being asked how we are doing. Looking for a reply that does not sound like you are trying to , well chew them a new one can be hard some days.
    Now in your educated way of communicating is there a way that we could be taught to sort of change the topic back to the consirned person? By this I mean when they ask “how are you feeling today?”, we just reply “doing well” and than change the topic politely.
    This is where having good communication skills come into play and maybe you can help and educate us a bit. After all, living with RA does not mean we get a social pass on politeness.
    What are some good ways to change the topic from our feelings to “How about that game last night” or something like that. My thinking is if the others around us can see we are comfortable, so to speak, with our disease, maybe they will see that and become more at ease around us and more relaxed.

  • Kelly Mack moderator author
    2 years ago

    Hi Eebtool, I like your thoughts here. I think there’s got to be a balance between sharing and not feeling pressured to over-share. Best, Kelly ( Team)

  • Lawrence 'rick' Phillips moderator
    2 years ago

    I always say grouchy. Depending on how I am really feeling, I may or may not laugh. It takes some interpretation to get to the bottom of my responses.

  • Kelly Mack moderator author
    2 years ago

    Ha ha ha, Rick! I like that! Makes me think of one of my favorite Sesame Street characters: Oscar the Grouch. 🙂 Best, Kelly ( Team)

  • Whiskersvtwin
    2 years ago

    This is completely accurate. I have the same thoughts and feelings but can never seem to process in a way that I can explain any of this to anyone – I just say, “good”. My wife & daughter ask me daily how I”m doing and sometimes I get annoyed because it could be the same as yesterday, better, or worse and I feel like saying – it just is! I never do though.
    I’m so fortunate that they both care and are supportive in every way, and I never reject their concerns. The toughest part of responding is not allowing the frustration, anger, sadness that I sometimes feel because of RA affect my response.

    Well, that was quite the ramble. Thanks for sharing and posting!

  • Richard Faust moderator
    2 years ago

    Hi Whiskersvtwin. No worries about the ramble and it is great to hear that the family is so supportive. As the husband of someone with RA, trust me when I say that we understand when the disease starts speaking for you. It may not always be easy, but we understand that the anger is not for us. Know, that you also do plenty for them. Wishing you and yours the best. Richard ( Team)

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