“How are you?” is a question that many of us have heard. It’s probably the most frequently asked question we get. Because that’s the response we’ve learned to give, many of us automatically respond with ‘fine thanks, you?’ It’s the response we heard the adults around us give whenever they were asked how they were; they probably picked it up from the adults around them.
People are becoming more aware of this. Various campaigns encourage us to “ask twice” or “how are you, really?”
The issue is that we don’t always have an answer. We don’t always know how we’re doing.
OUR MINDS ARE KIND OF CRAZY!
Our minds can get a little buzzy and fuzzy at times. It’s similar to the static that occurs when a radio or television doesn’t have enough signal. There has been an overabundance of information received. Too many thoughts are racing through my mind. We’re completely suffocated.
Layers of thoughts, words, text, interactions, and messages pile on top of one another, jumbling themselves up. We are unable to think because ‘it’ is too loud. We’re overwhelmed and overloaded, and we need time to unwind before we can properly engage in any conversation.
There are times when we have thoughts but are unable to capture them in order to read them. In our minds, we can see them. They’re just beyond our field of vision. It’s just out of reach.
We are unable to apprehend them. We can’t pull them down or bring them close enough for us to read them. It’s extremely aggravating.
We know our thoughts are there, and we know that if we could just grab them and read them, we would be able to communicate much more effectively and tell you how we are. However, no matter how hard we try, they remain out of reach.
BRAIN FOG AND THE SUFFOCATION THAT FOLLOWS
We can be suffocated by brain fog. It can make our tongue thick and heavy and cloud our minds. Our thoughts become suffocated and buried beneath the thick, dense fog. Because the answer is suffocated by the fog, we can’t tell you how we’re doing. It’s so thick that nothing can get in or out of it. Our thoughts have slowed considerably.
Wading through this fog and digging down to uncover our thoughts and feelings would be required to give you a decent response. We are unable to do so due to a lack of energy. As a result, we can’t tell you how we’re doing.
It isn’t that simple after all! This then leads to a feeling of a disconnected self. We can lose touch with ourselves at times. This can occur both physically and psychologically.
We may not realise we’re hungry, thirsty, in pain, too hot, or too cold when we’re physically hungry, thirsty, or in pain. It can be dangerous at times because we forget to take care of our basic needs.
We lose touch with our thoughts and feelings on a psychological level. This is sometimes a trauma response; when we are exposed to traumatic events, our brain may shut down to protect us. To survive, we switch off.’ We squash and squish everything down sometimes because we’re not in a position to work through it. We may begin to live a strange spacey existence as a result of our disconnection. We have no idea how we are physically or mentally, and we are constantly disconnected from ourselves.
LIFE WAS NOT DESIGNED TO BE ALWAYS EASY
Life isn’t always easy. When we take the time to think about how we feel, it can be difficult to narrow it down to just one ‘thing.’
Every day, we experience a wide range of emotions. As a result, coming up with a succinct response to the “how are you?” question can be difficult. Is it true that we felt good and bad at the same time? Does that mean we’re ‘fine’? Is it possible to average our emotions? Not at all. Being ‘okay’ does not adequately describe how we are feeling. There are far too many things that are glossed over.
Maybe we could give you a more succinct response? But how much should we tell you if that’s the case? How much information should we provide? Our brain may become clogged as we try to figure this out. We find ourselves in a bind. We’re stumped for words, so we say ‘fine’ or ‘okay,’ and the conversation moves on.
BEING ASKED ‘HOW ARE YOU?’ IS AN OBJECTIVE QUESTION
Some of us have difficulty answering open-ended questions. When we try to respond to them, we quickly become overwhelmed as we try to figure out what we’re being asked.
Is it appropriate to discuss ‘how we are’ physically or mentally? Should we discuss ‘how we are’ at work, home, school, or university? Are we supposed to talk about our family relationships? Should we be discussing our sleeping habits? Do you want to know how we’re doing in terms of nutrition? Do you want to know if we get out of the house on a regular basis? What exactly do you want to know?
As we try to come up with an answer, all of these thoughts and questions can flood our minds. It’s becoming overwhelming and distressing. We may be unable to respond because we are unable to understand the question. We don’t know what to tell you because no answer seems ‘right.’
WE STRUGGLE WITH EMOTIONAL LITERACY
This is apparent in many communities and as a collective, mental health awareness still is not up to the level we all need for it to be. It is extremely difficult to identify feelings. Sometimes we know we’re feeling something but don’t know what it is. It doesn’t appear to fit any of the words in our internal word bank.
Some of us can give textbook definitions of various emotions. We might be able to describe how a person feels in certain situations academically. However, when we try to apply this academic knowledge to our own situations and identify our own emotions, we may find it difficult.
Sometimes, we are too tired to explain. It is exhausting to be depressed. It can also cause our sleep to become disrupted, exacerbating our tiredness. Turning our attention inward, figuring out our feelings, and communicating them is exhausting. It’s exhausting and can leave us feeling drained. We are aware that an honest response may result in follow-up questions, which we do not have the energy to answer.
It’s often far easier (and far less effort) to say we don’t know how we feel and hope the conversation moves on.
So, the next time someone asks you a simple question and you find yourself not being able to answer it; know that you are not alone. No one is trying to be deceptive, difficult, or evasive. There are a variety of reasons for not knowing how we are, ranging from genuine ignorance to a desire not to discuss it at the time.
We are not alone, whether we can understand our emotions or not. We are not the only ones who have felt this way.