As we journey through our lives with chronic pain and illness, we undoubtedly will come across people who ask us “How are you?” Some are truly caring and want to be empathetic and/or reach out with help. Others are being polite, but might not be expecting details (especially not the gory ones). And others might have ulterior motives – they might be feasting on gossip or eager to use our status against us (say, in the workplace, where illness might be associated with inability or weakness).
I never like to lie when someone asks me how I’m doing. If it’s a bad day, I just can’t truthfully say, “Oh, I’m really doing well!” But, on the other hand, I try to work hard at discerning to whom I’m speaking and just how much information is necessary for a given conversation. And, on those very bad days, well, I’m not usually very communicative at all to the “outside” world (but my doctor and closest friends might get an earful!)
Two things help me in the discernment process – Who to tell what. First, I gauge how well I know the person to whom I’m speaking. How well do they understand illness in general and my situation in particular, for example. And I also assess the context of the conversation. Where are we? Is this a long conversation in which my health situation will play a role or be relevant to the topic of discussion?
Finally, I also try to figure out my reason for offering the information and how that will affect the manner in which I present it: If I’m frustrated at my joint im-mobility, my words might sound angrier than I’d like and it might cause push back during a conversation with someone who isn’t close to me, for example.
The better we know ourselves and the more we nurture those few, true relationships in our lives, the more freely and capably we’ll be able to communicate and participate in more satisfying conversations that go beyond “Ouch” and move on to “Oh…”
Joy and peace,