In Australia this is such a common greeting. Hey, how’s it going? How’s things? Most of the time the socially acceptable reply is… “good”. Most of the time conforming to this little ritual is not a problem for me. It feels natural, simple and effortless. It’s the times when I cannot honestly answer ‘good’ that things get tricky.
My problem is that I find it very difficult to lie (or in less extreme language, to pretend). I don’t lie. It’s extremely hard for me. So saying ‘good’ when I’m not is a real struggle. I cannot utter the word ‘good’ without first dismissing the honest answer.
“How are you?”
“I’m at my wits end. I’ve been on the verge of tears for as long as my worn out brain can remember. It’s a constant struggle to face just one more day, to do just one more thing, to take just one more breath… *sigh*… oh wait, I forgot. You don’t care… sorry… What I meant to say was: I’m good. How are you?”
“Yeah, not bad, thanks.”
When things are not ‘fine’ this little greeting takes on a whole new meaning. It is a constant painful reminder that no-one cares. A reminder that people don’t actually want to know how I am. You might as well greet me with “Hi! I couldn’t care less about you. You’re a worthless human being. Please lift your game and stop burdening me with your problems.”
Yet despite the fact that this common greeting feels like a knife twisting in my heart, I know that when I’m down it’s good for me to be around people (instead of just hiding away). But how? I have no energy to deal with it.
To make matters worse, my biggest fear is that in my tiredness, I might say the wrong thing, make a scene, draw too much attention to myself, and be required to explain my non-conformity. Even just thinking about this possibility fills me with anxiety and dread making it harder still to muster the energy to face the world.
So what can I possibly do in this situation?! Can’t I just BE without being constantly reminded how little I am cared for?
I have a whiteboard in my bedroom. I’m looking at it right now. On the top, I have written:
“NEVER PRETEND TO BE OKAY!!”
It turns out this was the trick. If I didn’t pretend, then all of a sudden a gigantic burden was lifted. It was as if I ‘allowed’ myself to be down and this simple act made everything immeasurably easier. So my new strategy is that if I can’t say ‘good’ I’ll say ‘pass, next question.’ This has been so effective that I’ve only had to actually use it once or twice. It takes away all the anxiety associated with ‘facing the world’, and doesn’t force others to care either.
So now that I have this simple little strategy. Nothing has changed but everything is different.