I’m (Not) Okay


Where I live, the typical greeting upon seeing someone you know is to ask about their general well-being? The question is almost automatic and is often answered with the same or similar question.

Business sale

Man From Accounting: “Hi, how’s it going?”

Woman From HR: “Well, hello. How’ve you been?”

Many other English speaking places around the world have similar practices. For example, Londoner’s say “All right?” when they mean to say hello. And like here, “All right?” is the expected reply. Rarely are we actually interested in the welfare of the other; we use it as an extended greeting. That is not to say that everyone who asks the question isn’t concerned with answer. I’m guilty of doing the same thing.

I’ve been trying for many years to break this habit and become an active listener. Most people, I think, are not equal partners in a conversation; we are typically just waiting for our turn to speak. So, when people ask me “How are you?” I try to reply with an actual answer to this question. It amuses me when my answer throws them off and it gives me the chance to ask them the same question. For a brief moment, we find ourselves having an active conversation.

“I’m okay” or “Fine, how are you?” are also automatic answers that we use to answer the question. Most of the time, we’re not absolutely truthful because either we don’t want to reveal our private condition or we believe the person asking is not really interested in the details.

Since October, I’ve been asked different variations of this question many times. And many of those times, the question was a sincere inquiry of how I’m actually doing. I think most people want to believe that I’m okay, even when they suspect that I’m not. Still, others have asked out of habit and then promptly felt bad about asking the question.

While I am comforted by the sincerest inquiry about my emotional well-being, I have found it easier to answer “I’m okay.” I do this, not to protect my feelings or that I don’t think the question is sincere, but to protect the person who is asking the question. I can sense their empathy and I don’t want to make their burden heavier.

It’s easier to say “I’m okay” than “I’m a little upset that we received a letter from the insurance company addressed to David. The letter informed him that he has been removed from our health insurance plan and that if he’s ever looking for coverage in the future, they hope that he’d choose them.”

It’s easier to say “I’m okay” than “I had a moment before Christmas Dinner when I realized we set out three chairs instead of four at the kid’s table.”

It’s easier to say “I’m okay” than “I’m not having a good day and I can’t stay focused on work. I’ve been thinking about the people in our grief support group and hoping they can get through this, too.”

The next time you see me, and you extend your hand or open your arms for a hug, just know that when I say “I’m okay,” I’m really saying “I’m not okay, but you are making right now okay for me.”

And please don’t stop asking, because your hope gives me hope.

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12 comments

  1. I pray that you are well. You are often in my thoughts and in my prayers.

    1. Thank you, Audrey. And thank you for reading and commenting.

  2. Anonymous · · Reply

    You said it well! You & your family are always in my prayers. Thank you for the TRUTH that so many feel but do not say.

    1. Thank you for reading and commenting.

  3. Anonymous · · Reply

    Wow Skip. Thanks for being so honest. For you to say you “I don’t want to make their burden heavier.” is so selfless of you. B/c honestly, I can’t imagine many people having a heavier burden than you all right now. I continue to pray for all of you.

    1. Obviously, I didn’t ask to carry the burden, but I trust that God will equip me through my own prayers, your prayers and good intentions. I believe our main job here in this life is to relieve each others burden and to help heal hearts through love.

      Thank you for reading and commenting.

  4. Norm Cooper · · Reply

    A couple of weeks ago Ellen and I had a strange experience while on the elevator leaving the doctor’s office. It was one of those uneasy elevator experiences where it seems nobody cares to converse, there is just a quick grin followed by gazing at the ceiling or the floor. Just as the elevator was coming to a stop, a lady just announced to the other five people in the elevator that she had just found out that she had breast cancer. Although everyone existing the elevator offered her encouraging remarks I couldn’t help to wonder if she believed any of us. Sometimes our crowded and busy world can be very lonely. I say a prayer for her everyday.

    1. (^That’s my dad!)

      Sometimes, you just need to tell someone. And sometimes, it’s better to tell someone who’s not emotionally connected to you. I do hope she has the support, both emotional and financial, to fight the cancer.

  5. I find myself feeling the same way with the “how are you” question. We are in the midst of a very emotional time for our family and I am not feeling well. Right now my answer would be “I’m a mess, if the wind blows the wrong way I will probably cry and I don’t know the meaning of a good nights sleep. How are you?” But I don’t want to have to explain why I feel that way and, as you said, I don’t want to burden them with my troubles. So I choose “I’m okay.”
    I think of you often. I really do wonder how you are. Your burden is heavy, I wish I could carry some of it for you. If I can, please tell me.

    1. In reality, we’re moment to moment, but okay for the most part. It’s learning to deal with the moments and not denying the emotions that’s the toughest. My thoughts and prayers are with you, Tracy, and I hope all will be well and okay…really okay…with you and your family as soon as possible.

  6. I don’t comment very often on statuses or blogs etc as typically the ones that I would have something to say on – so do many others – making my comments seeming generic or miniscule in the grand scheme of the situation. In no way does this mean that I haven’t read or felt for whatever has happened or is happening whether it be exciting and happy or difficult and sad. I think also that sometimes we don’t know what to say – we want to be able to say the right things for the situation to help but its nearly impossible to truly know what the other person “needs” to hear – therefore we keep things generic and short just to show some kind of sentiment to let people know they are in our thoughts. Personally – there are times that I don’t want or expect any words – just comfort. . .and to know that there are some that care. When I don’t want to get into something about how I really am – my response is “I’m here” – I think that lets others know I’m not fully ok but don’t really want to get into it.

    With that being said, “Skip” – you and your family have been in my prayers and I think about you often. Thank you for being such an inspiration. *hugs*

    1. Thank you, Kim, and thank you for reading and commenting.

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