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Two figured with speech bubbles for heads. One has a question mark and exclamation mark in it.

“How Are You Today?” and Other Hard Questions

Each time I encounter another person I face a choice: should I pretend to be the person I think I’m supposed to be or should I be authentic? Whenever we talk with another person, we are consciously or unconsciously determining how “real” to be in our communications.  This is evident in the seemingly harmless question “How are you today?

Sometimes the answer to that question may be easy; it may be one of those days where everything seems to be coming up roses, and it, therefore, feels natural to provide a positive response. However, there are many days when the answer is far more complicated. Perhaps we’re going through a divorce, getting over an illness, worried about a friend or relative, grieving a loss, or facing enormous pressure at work. We may not be doing that great, but we’re not going to get into those details with everyone we come into contact with. We have to determine in each encounter whether to give the perfunctory, “I’m fine, how are you?” or to be honest that it’s not the best of days.

The invisible/chronic illness barrier: How much do we communicate

For those of us living with a chronic condition such as rheumatoid arthritis/rheumatoid disease [RA/RD], the seemingly simple question “How are you today?” becomes even more loaded. Not only do we have to decide whether we’re going to be superficial or whether we’re going to be honest, we have to decide whether to risk the judgment and misunderstanding that often form a barrier between those of us with chronic illness and those without.

For example, if a supervisor or colleague asks how I’m doing, and the true answer is that I’m in a lot of pain and/or am very fatigued, I worry that if I share this information s/he may assume that my job performance will be impacted and see me as less valuable.

If others ask how I’m doing, and I share that I’m in pain due to RA/RD, there is a host of unhelpful responses I may get. They may tell me about their tennis elbow, attempting to form a connection but actually indicating they have no understanding of the difference between an injury and an autoimmune disease. They may ask if I’d like an ibuprofen, not understanding the extent of my pain, the number of pills I’ve already taken and the sophisticated medical treatments I’m on. They may share a “cure” they’ve read about or heard from a friend of a friend, not realizing how much energy I’ve put into trying to find answers in managing this condition. Or they may express their disbelief that I could have a disease with a statement such as, “But you look so good” or “But you’re too young!”

Sometimes I don’t have the energy to dispel myths around my invisible autoimmune illness

Depending on how much the pain and fatigue have ground my spirits down, I have varying levels of energy to take in unhelpful responses. While I do believe it is important to spread awareness about autoimmune conditions, as these common misconceptions will only persist in the absence of education, there are days where I just don’t have any extra energy to dispel myths. There are also people that I don’t feel safe enough with to able to trust that sharing I’m having a hard day won’t be held against me. In our go-go-go society that prizes “having it all,” admitting vulnerability isn’t always welcome.

Therefore, each time I’m asked, “How are you today?” I find myself running multiple assessments simultaneously. I’m asking myself, “Do I have the energy to handle an unhelpful response? Can I trust this person to know what I’m going through? Is it safe to be vulnerable?” as I determine my answer to this routine question. I’m constantly weighing whether the pros outweigh the cons of being authentic.

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

Comments

  • Chap55
    2 months ago

    I feel my very worst in the morning. To make matters worse, some days are much worse than others. On any of those real bad days, my walk from the parking garage to my office seemed torturous. I’m sure my misery was noticeable to anyone who saw me walking in. Normally, when I crossed paths with anyone, we would exchange hellos and ask how each other is doing. My usual everyday reply would be “Fine.” But on those rare horrendous days, I would say, “Ruff, ruff and I’m not barking.”

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    2 months ago

    Hey Chap55,

    Thank you for sharing your experience, and how you handle it in varying circumstances. You may find you can relate to this article about visible misery: https://rheumatoidarthritis.net/living/when-the-disability-becomes-visible/ and about hard mornings: https://rheumatoidarthritis.net/living/morning-misery/.

    Wishing you many “good days”,
    Tamara

  • B.Hughes
    2 months ago

    Today is not a good day. I think I’m having a flare in my neck. I’ve only experienced this once before but it’s happening again today. I can’t move my neck and I have a headache so bad it feels like it will explode at any minute.

  • B.Hughes
    2 months ago

    Sorry I didn’t read the artical before making my other comment so it doesn’t really pertain to this. I feel like if I go into the truth if I’m having a bad day. What’s it going to matter. I may get an ” oh I’m sorry.” Or a half hearted smile from people who don’t understand. That’s why I’m so grateful for the page. I feel like I can share and there are people who know what I’m going through.

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    2 months ago

    Hi B.Hughes,

    Yes, we get it here! And no apologies needed – you can share about your neck pain regardless of whether it’s directly related to the article. I encourage you to call your doctor about your neck. And personally, I’ve also suffered from neck pain and corresponding tension headaches for decades. One thing that really helps me is atlas chiropractic care – it’s a gentle form of chiropractic care without any crunching and popping. Instead, a small metal stylus is used to gently cause a reaction that puts the atlas in place, which in turn helps everything else. And for other parts of my body, the chiropractor uses an “activator” which is a similar gentle approach. It relieves me of about 80% of my pain within 24 hours, which is more than all the multitude of other things I’ve tried for my neck has done.

    Wishing you comfort and relief,
    Tamara

  • SisterSaraSue
    2 months ago

    I will usually say Fine,just fine. Then I may say I’m okay.. Some buy it some dont. I have very few good days, I stay in more than I go out so unless people visit me which never happens I don’t worry about having an answer for people.

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    2 months ago

    Hey SisterSaraSue,

    Thank you for sharing. I’m sorry that you aren’t having many good days, and I wish you as many of them as possible. Please know that we are here any time you want to share (or just vent).

    Gentle hugs,
    Tamara

  • Susie Que
    2 months ago

    I have gotten to the point of deciding what I’m going to say by who I will see.
    When someone tells me I look good I want to scream, but I usually just say I’m good. I know the pain shows on my face but that doesn’t mean I can or want to talk about it. I trust only a hand full of people to discuss my life of pain.
    I treasure those people.

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    2 months ago

    Hey Susie Que,

    Thanks so much for sharing your experience. Yes, I know what you mean about the trust required to feel comfortable discussing the hardships of RA, and how very valuable those people are who we can trust.

    Wishing you all the best,
    Tamara

  • AuntiePolgara
    2 months ago

    I usually make a joke about it, y something like “not dead yet, how about YOU?” or “old is better than dead.” (I’m 72)

    Either one of those responses usually gets a smile and a laugh. I can’t bring myself to say that I’m fine, because I’m not. Remember, if we don’t laugh about our problems, we will certainly cry.

    Also remember that life itself is progressive and fatal. 🙂

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    2 months ago

    Thanks AuntiePolgara for sharing your strategy and perspective! Yes, humor is an important coping mechanism. Glad to hear your thoughts, Tamara

  • Fordownr
    2 months ago

    Right on target. I usually “I woke up looking at the grass and not the roots…”

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    2 months ago

    That’s a new one! Thanks for the smile, and for sharing, Tamara

  • Heartsong
    2 months ago

    “upright and taking nourishment”
    “I’ve got a pulse”
    “upright and still breathing”
    and others
    All delivered with a bit of a smile

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    2 months ago

    Thanks Heartsong! I appreciate you sharing your responses. All the best, Tamara

  • Lawrence 'rick' Phillips
    2 months ago

    My response is not as good as tomorrow and not as bad as yesterday, or vice versa. It stumps most, confuses those who follow along, leaves me plenty of time to move on.

    I guess i let people do a two scenarist answer. I also seldom get the question twice from the same person, unless they are optimists.

    I think they just want to be certain I said what they wanted me to say.

  • Tamara Haag moderator author
    2 months ago

    I like the humor of “stumping” people with a riddle of an answer to what most people think of as a straight-forward question. As we know all too well, very little is straight-forward when it comes to RA. Thanks for sharing your unique response!

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