Sometimes, the problem with people is not that they don’t take an interest, but that they do. Or, more properly, they pretend to take an interest so they can get through some social formalities and actually talk about what they wanna talk about without feeling self-centered. Very few people just cut to the chase and say what they want to say straight out, whether out of shyness (as in my case) or just out of societal practice. I don’t pretend to know why this is, but ultimately people like to start a conversation before they actually get to one.
One of the ways people do this (aside from talking about the weather, which is just stupid, because literally no one gives a care about the weather—not even weathermen) is to ask an interested question like, “How are you?” If they wanna be casual, they’ll say, “How’ve you been?” or, if they really do care (which can be worse) they’ll say, “How’re you feeling?”
The trouble with this question is that people don’t want an answer. Not a real one. They want the response dictated by social norms. Y’know, something like, “Pretty good,” or “Oh, fine.” At most, they’ll put up with a response that can be summarized by the phrase, “My job sucks.” They don’t want to actually be told how you’re feeling. Not if you’re feeling bad.
And that’s the trouble with being more or less permanently ill—you’re always feeling bad. You can’t answer the question honestly. If someone asks me, “So, how’ve you been?” I can’t say, “Well, my hair’s falling out.” After all, what are people supposed to say to that? The whole purpose of the “How are you?” protocol is to start a conversation, not totally kill one.
On a side note, yeah, my hair’s falling out. It sucks (you might even say it’s the last straw, heheh… I’m gonna go cry in a corner). I’m hoping it’ll just stop, which I think is probably Stage Two of New Symptom Discovery. No, wait, Stage Three. Stage One is Self-Doubt (“It’s probably just me…”) Stag Two is Confirmation (“Yeah, honey, it’s definitely getting thinner on top,”) and Stage Three is Terminal Optimism (“Maybe if I just ignore it it’ll stop…”).
Returning to the “How are you?” Conundrum.
As I said, it can be quite awkward when people ask how I am just to get a conversation going, but as I stated at the beginning, it can be even worse if they actually care. Because then you’re legitimately breaking bad news to them, and that can be even more awkward. “So, dear, how’ve you been?”—”Mostly bedridden.” I mean, come on, what kind of a conversation is that? That just brings everybody down.
My first go-to answer to this conundrum of a conversational starter was “I’m alright.” It’s nice and noncommittal, and in modern conversational English “alright” basically means “mediocre.” But recently I’ve been feeling anything but alright. I mean, 90% of the time I can’t remember who I am (I still need to write a blog post about memory problems—keep forgetting to do that). That’s hardly alright. So now I’ve come up with “Been better, been worse.” It’s usually true (I’m not crippled from a tethered spine anymore, for instance), and it sounds nice and cowboyish. On a side note, isn’t it weird that sounding like you don’t care about your own problems is somehow cool? If you think about it, not being fazed by serious problems is basically being out of touch with reality. It brings to mind that Mystery Science Theatre 3000 quote, “How do you deal with a man that sarcastic? It’s like he’s afraid to feel anything real.”
Anyway, I suppose that about wraps that up. In case you’re wondering, I’m not fine. I’ve been far better, though I have been worse.