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.