The I’m Fine Game

I’ve felt isolated and alone so often in this “I’m fine.  How are you?” world we live in.  What percentage of people who ask how you are really want an honest answer?  Very small, I’m sure.  That’s how it is in my life.  My close friends and family want to know, but so many others ask me, expecting the rote answer.   Sometimes I feel like a fake or a robot when I give it to them.

I’ve often wondered where this custom came from.  We ask each other a question  we don’t want to be answered honestly.  I find it strange.  And isolating.  I’ve told people, “I’m fine.” and smiled when I had tears in my eyes from being so totally not fine.  I felt alone when I did that, very alone.

In the award winning book, The Giver by Lois Lowry, Jonas has been chosen to carry all memories and feelings for his entire community.  A community devoid of diversity and emotion to the point of having no love, and seemingly, no death.  Soon after Jonas has experienced war, he finds his friends playing a game called “good guys and bad guys.”  As they point imaginary guns at each other and “die” as dramatically as possible, Jonas re-experiences real war.  He begs his friends to never play that game again.  But he knows they will.  They don’t even know what the game is about, since war has not existed in their culture for generations upon generations.

Jonas feels alone, isolated, and misunderstood.  He’s had experiences and feelings that others in his community have never had and can’t comprehend.  When I read that scene, I cried because I’ve experienced emotions that most people can’t comprehend.  People who don’t have mental illness.

The lady in the grocery store doesn’t want to hear that struggled all night not to burn myself when she says, “How are you?”  I don’t want her to know about it either.  So I play the game and say, “I’m fine.”

But I’ve become more honest with my good friends and family.  They haven’t had the urge to burn themselves, but they love me enough to offer empathy and caring.  Another place to be honest is a support group.  If you can’t find one, try NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) and DBSA (Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance.)  Both organizations have groups all over the country.  And of course therapy—a place of honesty, safety, and growth.   Find somewhere to be honest.  Somewhere  the isolation and loneliness can drop away, at least temporarily.  Somewhere to stop playing the “I’m fine” game. images (11)

An Inconstant Friend



Leslie Wells


I must beware of an inconstant friend

who owns an amusement park

that opens and closes without warning,

sometimes during the day—

sometimes at night.


He invites me to ride his calliope.

So I climb on the white unicorn—

a flowered wreath around his neck,

a gilded saddle on his back,

a phallic, golden horn thrusting

from his forehead.

Up and down, around and round

the music drowns out my thoughts.

I don’t think.

I just ride.

But the merry-go-round is rigged.

No one grabs the brass ring.

Not ever.


Next I ride his roller-coaster

with its intoxicating highs

and devastating lows.

I almost throw up.


His haunted house isn’t rigged—it’s real.

The residence of ghosts he can never forget or

abandon or escape.


The House of Mirrors

shows my reflection—inside-out.

He can see inside me.

He can see my heart.

He can see my soul.

He probes its orifices, curves, and hallows with his fingers and his teeth.

He eats me like cotton candy.

I dissolve on his tongue.

I am no more.

All that’s left is a paper stick.

I never do find the Tunnel of Love,

even though there’s signs for it

pointing this way and that.

The signs lie.

This park does not have a Tunnel of Love.


As I walk to the games

where I’ll lose all my money and not win

the pink plastic poodle

with its rhinestone collar,

he announces that the park is closed.


Not in ten minutes.





I rush to the exit.

As I head to my car

I turn

and see him locking the gate

and hanging his sign:



I lock my car doors

and drive away.








About Me


My name is Leslie Wells and I have been mentally ill most of my life.  The Post Traumatic Stress Disorder started after I was raped at age five.  I was also sexually abused as a child by my step-grandfather.  I was sixteen when I joined a Christian cult.  I stayed in this church for twenty-eight-years.  I stayed in a crazy, abusive marriage for twenty-two-years.  I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Major Depression, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and a few personality disorders.

But the abuse and mental illnesses are not the main elements of my story.  I have a wonderful twenty-three-year old daughter.  I am so proud of her as she works hard to follow her dream of getting a fine arts degree in ceramics.  I also have many loving relationships with family and friends.

And I have my creativity.  I’m doing the final edit—finally!—on my memoir, Unsafe: God, Sex, and Growing Up.  I am also writing the first draft of a novel.  I have my constant companion, my journal.  And the poetry I write.  I’ve been making collages for fifteen years.  I find out what other parts of my mind want my conscious mind to know as I place the images on the paper.  Not only do they speak to me, my collages seem to speak to others, as well.

I don’t ask myself where I would be without my creativity.  The answer isn’t pretty and the question is hypothetical–so why waste energy on it?  Is the question is hypothetical for you?  If it isn’t, I hope Creative and Mentally Ill can play a role in changing that.

Thank you!