'I'm Fine, Thanks!' — Why I'll Probably Lie When You Ask Me How I Am

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I don’t bother to talk about it most of the time, because more than likely people are just proffering a polite greeting, they don’t really want to know how I am.

I don’t feel that’s unreasonable most of the time, either. I don’t hold it against them for sure, mostly they’re just acquaintances, they don’t need to stop and listen to a list of my woes — I doubt they have time, that list is quite lengthy!

What does annoy me, however, is when a question comes from close friends or members of our extended family and I still feel compelled to tell them “I’m fine”.

Or, I start to tell them how I’m really feeling — only for them to jump in and cut me off to tell some ‘interesting’ little anecdote about someone they know, or another family member. Making it blatantly obvious how little they were interested in the first place.

So often people only listen for a big enough pause in which to begin talking themselves. They don’t hear what you are saying.

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I was always a sickly child. Nothing serious (apart from a ‘mystery illness’ when I was six months old, which was apparently life-threatening but I could never prize more information on that out of my family) — but I caught every bug and virus going.

Tonsillitis, swollen glands, mumps, glandular fever, coughs, colds, bronchitis, stomach upsets, chickenpox — fairly standard childhood ailments I suppose, but a lot, at the time it felt like I was never well.

In my teens, my gynecological problems began — the constant testing of blood, scans, and examinations. My endometriosis wasn’t diagnosed until I was in my mid-twenties, but it was there all along believe me! The laparoscopy which confirmed that condition also created complications of its own, like internal bleeding which needs further surgery to correct.

My endometriosis has spread quite considerably over time; my internal organs in my abdominal cavity are essentially welded together by adhesive growth where that which is growing has no place to be. I have had ‘chocolate cysts’ surrounding my ovaries, which are extremely painful in themselves.

And as for pregnancy and birth ... well, let’s just say for now that they were not really the joyful experience I had been led to believe they could be.

My child nearly died. I nearly died. Enough said.

Along with the gyno problems which surfaced hot on the heels of the hormones which triggered my menstrual cycle, my teenage years also saw the beginning of pains in my joints.

I’d always been ‘bendy’, which had actually been rather useful for my dance classes, but along with extra flexibility came the tendency to too much movement/hypermobility, (often partial) dislocation, and constant dull aching. Doctors said I was “too young” for these pains.

The blood tests for rheumatoid arthritis/Sjogren’s syndrome always came back negative but were done at least once every twelve months anyway just to be sure. Aside from that, my ailments tended to be rather brushed aside, treated as though the problem was more than likely in the mind of a somewhat dramatic and over-sensitive teenage girl.

At 23, I fell ill with some variety of a viral bug. It was a nasty one. Plus I was really run-down at the time. It lasted a fortnight, had me puking and delirious with fever. I developed a massive cold-sore-like scab on the side of my mouth, which made it impossible to eat — though all I was interested in was sips of water and Lucozade, which I managed through a straw.

When I was vaguely conscious/clear-headed, I posted tiny slivers of Kendal Mint Cake (made famous by its inclusion in climbers’ and explorers’ emergency packs) into the slight opening my lips could achieve and relished in the joyous buzz that miraculous block of sugar and peppermint oil can produce in the ill, starving and completely rung out body.

A while afterward, when I was well enough to get to the doctor's surgery, my general practitioner/primary care provider suggested that the young, on-call locum who had made the house call and left a prescription for antibiotics might have been better having me taken into hospital for tests.

I never fully recovered from that illness; my energy levels were (and are) seriously low; I needed to sleep so much, my existing level of consistent aches and pains skyrocketed. Eventually, I was diagnosed with M.E. (myalgic encephalomyelitis).

I had to stop dancing. I had to stop working (at that point, I’ve been in and out of work over the years since then).

I developed social anxiety issues I’d not suffered from before and my generalized anxiety spiked constantly, kicking off severe ‘can’t breathe/can only see white light’ panic attacks.

I’ve been prone to bouts with anxiety and depression all my life, but at times my collection of physical health problems have combined and colluded to provoke a serious mental slump.

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None of this has been helped in recent years by my child having life-threatening food allergies, which revved up my hypervigilance to spectacular heights, and my partner becoming disabled by long-term illness and needing constant care and attention, of which I am the main provider.

At present — should anyone be interested — my personal list of diagnosed conditions reads something like this:

Anxiety (Generalised and Social)
Asthma (Serious)
Costochondritis
C-PTSD
Clinical Depression
Eczema
Endometriosis
Fibromyalgia
Hernia (two, in different parts of my body)
Hypermobile Joints
Low Bone Density
M.E.
Osteoarthritis
Ovarian Cysts (of a ‘Chocolate’ variety)
Panic Attacks
Sleep Disturbance (Night Terrors)

Looking back over that list, I’m left feeling somewhat ‘greedy’ myself.

My ‘good days’ are overshadowed by pain and fatigue, but at a level at which I can just about manage to keep moving through the day, look after my family of humans and animals, deal with any admin, appointments, and usually spare a little energy for my reading and writing.

On my worst days, I still have to be sure everyone is fed, watered, and medicated correctly, at the very least — but these will also include a lot more pain meds for me, a great deal of being curled up with heat pads, soft blankets, clothes as loose as possible, naps, possibly tears and some help with my caring duties (for my disabled partner).

Should you ask in passing, I’m still most likely going to smile and tell you “I’m fine thanks!," but to the observant, it should be blatantly obvious that I’m far from that. 

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Sarah Wallace AKA Sadie Seroxcat has a degree in Education with English Literature; a great deal of experience with both mental and physical health issues, in both work and personal capacities; and writes mainly personal essays/creative non-fiction, plus a little poetry. Follow her on Medium.

This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.