The “How are you?” Conundrum

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.

Heck With It, I’m Doing This

Nobody wants to be a whiner. Absolutely nobody.  When you ask a little kid what he wants to be when he grows up—assuming you’re one of those annoying people that do that—he’ll never say, “I wanna be a whiner!” Or she, for that matter. Gender hasn’t really got anything to do with it, but there’s no gender-neutral pronoun except “it”, and that just sounds objectifying. I suppose you could say “they”, but that’s still technically not grammatical. Not that I’ve ever had much truck with grammar as a doctrine.

Regardless, to reiterate: Nobody wants to be a whiner. Nobody wants to run around complaining about all their problems to everyone and never being taken seriously because all they ever do is run around and complain about their problems. Whether we realize it or not, the majority of people just want to be liked (or loved, if you want to get a little deeper), and whiners are not likable.

The trouble is, I am a whiner. I really am. Or at least, I was when I was younger—I’m trying not to be now. Growing up and all that junk. For most of my life, though, I’ve complained about various problems and pains I’ve had. And there’s a very simple explanation for this: I’m sick. Chronically sick, in fact; which is a scary, fancy doctor-word for constantly (and, among ordinary people, apparently code for “not really”). I’m the kind of sick where, if I don’t scare someone in the pew behind us at church, I consider it a good day. I’ve got enough diagnosises (diagnosi? Once again—grammar’s really more of a nice idea than a reliable tool) and suspected problems I could probably write a song with all the fancy words. Just to hit the current high points, I have (drum roll) tethered spinal cord syndrome, asthma, scoliosis, potential Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, low white blood cell count, and lots of symptoms that explode when it all collides. Not to mention side effects from medication. Medication, that fickle blessing that gives with one hand and destroys with another. It’s like some kind of Greek god or something: It’s awful, but you can’t live without it.

Told you I was a whiner, didn’t I?

And that’s the trouble—when you’ve got so many problems it’s easier to name the parts of your body that still work (for example, I have fantastic hair), you end up complaining a lot. And when you don’t get diagnosed with much of anything useful till you’re fifteen, people naturally don’t really take your complaining seriously. And then, after you’re diagnosed, people still don’t really take you seriously, because reasons. Again, whiners aren’t taken seriously as a rule, even if they have plenty of stuff to whine about.

As a result of all this, I’ve always tried to keep my mouth shut wherever possible (with arguably little success, admittedly). Sure, in real life (or “IRL” as all the cool kids say) I can’t help twitching uncontrollably (hence the title of the blog), but on the internet I don’t have to twitch. Thus, I’ve always tried to keep any mentions of my health on the internet as curt and prayer-request oriented as possible. No need to bring people down, right? I can be whoever I wanna be on the internet… Right?

Turns out, no, not really, not without bottling yourself up and feeling like you’re gonna go crazy.

So, as of today, I’m done, I’m tearing off the veil (which was full of whiny holes anyway, and probably only existed in my head), and I’m gonna start talking about my health on the internet. Really, honestly talking. I’m done with feeling ashamed of things I can’t fix, and of the poorly-repressed complaining that probably would’ve spared me a lot of heck if any of the doctors had cared to listen. Is doing this scary? Absolutely. Am I going to keep the complaining exclusive to this special blog so I don’t bother people? Well, yeah. But am I doing it? Yes! Am I excited? No, I feel like I’m gonna throw up.

But I’m doing it, no backsies, and maybe I won’t regret it horribly tomorrow.

And, who knows, maybe this will resonate with other sick people or something. Somehow. Some way.

… Right?