How Are You? But, Actually?
“How are you?”
I cannot count the number of times someone has asked me this over the past few months. I get it: we’re a society of people who get by on the daily superficial interactions we have with each other. I too tend to preface my requests, favours, and casual conversations with this question. Here’s the kicker, though: I also cannot count the number of times I have, when posed with this question over the past few months, hesitated for a second longer than usual.
My hesitation is, more often than not, followed by an, “I’m okay. Yeah, I’m good.” But during those few seconds, I swear I’m confronted with a mirror of existential self-reflection—a mirror that I do not have the will or capacity to look into. The thought process around this interaction usually goes as follows:
“Hey, how are you?”
Crap, how am I?
Do you actually want to know how I’m doing?
If I share an honest answer, you might ask why.
Then I have to stand here unpacking the state of my existence to you.
I don’t want to open that door.
But the truth is, these past few months, I have not been doing that great. This calendar year has collectively, interpersonally, and personally been an incredibly difficult one thus far. Globally, we are in the midst of a pandemic that has impacted all of our lives in some way, shape, or form. Collectively, as Indigenous, Black, and people of colour, we have been carrying news headlines on our backs as if we didn’t already have enough to hold. Interpersonally, relationships have taken on new circumstances and new challenges. Personally, there is probably too much to name.
So if I were to answer that dreaded question honestly and openly, it would probably go something like this:
I’m perpetually tired from existing in a world that values my productivity more than my wellness. My sense of hope is wavering as I continue to hear news of violence against my communities. I feel weighted by an immense amount of grief that attempts to suffocate my ability to feel joy. I’m in lots of chronic pain, but thanks to my high-functioning anxiety and depression, I was able to get out of bed today. I’m sad, I’m annoyed, I’m frustrated, I’m missing family and my sense of self, and I really just want to constantly weep and eat large quantities of sweet and salty comfort food.
I doubt the receptionist at my dental office or the friend I haven’t talked to in a while would know how to respond to this between clients or texts. So I refrain.
During times of major transition, uncertainty, loss, and limited capacity, it can be enormously difficult to create space to feel all of these things at once. Pandemic or not, we are complex and layered beings who are trying to navigate our way through the ebbs and flows of life in a society that has the tendency to discount and dishonour our many realities. Having to respond with, “I’m good!” to every person who asks how I’m doing has also become exhausting, because I know that I don’t just end up lying to them, but also to myself.
No, we do not owe our barista or colleague every ounce of our present state of being, but by finding ways to honour how we really feel, we can begin to deconstruct and de-normalize the expectation of having to be “good” all the time.
I am allowed to be selective about who I let glimpse my reality, but I am also allowed to let myself in. Moving into the remainder of 2020, I am choosing to give myself permission to not be okay, and to share that truth in ways that honour my present self.
Rather than bombarding my barista with existential dread, I’m allowed to simply say, “I’m tired today, thank you.”
Rather than feeling bad about my current mental health state, I’m allowed to ask that one trusted friend if we can talk—even if it’s just to rant for a little bit.
Rather than placing the expectation of constant joy onto my relationship, I’m allowed to let my partner hold my frustration hand-in-hand while we watch a show together.
Rather than pretend it isn’t true, I’m allowed to take a brief peek in that mirror and say hello to the heaviness that is in my heart. To let it know that I am thinking of it. And then I’m allowed to eat that sweet and salty treat, because even when I’m not doing “good,” I deserve it.
However you are doing today—even if you don’t know how you are doing—there’s space for it.