Someone asks me how I’m doing, and I say, “I’m fine.” It’s a normal response to a typical question. Nothing fancy or verbose. It’s not an epic soliloquy. We aren’t meticulously detailing every second of a day that’s been pretty basic. Not a great day but not a bad one either. It was just, you know, fine I guess.
They look at us, their overly groomed eyebrows arch, and a smirk tugs at the corners of their mouth. They take a deep breath and ask, “You know what ‘fine’ really means don’t you?”
Here we go. They’re going to say it. They’re going to take a simple statement and turn it into a thing. A two-word sentence and a four-letter word. My response was a simple reflex, not a covert operation. I’m not fishing for psychoanalysis or asking to be probed by aliens. I’m simply stating a fact but they can’t leave it at that, can they?
“F**ked up, insecure, neurotic, and emotional.”
There it is. They said it!
I was fine a minute ago but now I’m mildly annoyed. It’s inching its way to moderately put out. Maybe they’ll leave it there? I can play it off with a chuckle, a wink, or a good old fashion, “You so funny.” That’ll work, right?
Nope. Not a chance. They’re going to push it. It’s in their eyes. That look. The sneer. All-knowing and a little too smug. They’re expecting me to crack open like a can and spill the beans. Jokes on you! This can is a joke toy filled with springy snakes.
I have moments when I’m overly emotional and sometimes those moments are irrational. I cry every time those kittens play with toilet paper in that commercial because they’re just so squishy. I burnt the last slice of bread and had a small meltdown. Can anyone say first world problem? Yeah, I’m a little overwhelmed right now.
My neurosis are floating around in my cranium like a wave crashing into a tidal pool. My brain is a barrel full of monkeys on a good day and raging baboons on a bad day. I’ve got a handful of insecurities, and they trip me up more often than I care to admit. Am I f**ked up? Yes. I have my moments but don’t we all?
This moment? I think I’m actually, fine. Like the old-timey kinda fine. Way back in the good old days when fine meant fine. Before acronyms became a fad. When words were clearly defined by a dictionary, not some smart fart with an attitude. Now we’re duct-taping words onto other words, and we need to be a codebreaker to figure them out. It’s madness I tell you. Madness!
I miss the good ole’ days.
Did I just age myself by thirty years? No, wait, I don’t answer that.
I’m guilty of saying that I’m fine when I was keeping my life together with supplies I salvaged from a recycling depot. Barely managing to function like a human being who, clearly, was nowhere near okay. I’m not alone. We all do it. The words come out of our mouths faster than a superhero changes clothes in a phone booth.
I’ve been laying on a gurney in an emergency room, hooked up to an IV, and beeping monitors. The doctor asks how I’m doing and I say those two words. I feel and look like death but I say that I’m okay, all right, fine, just peachy Doc. How are you? Having a good day? Looks busy out there.
What? No! No shut up. Shut up. Shut up! What am I saying? Why am I saying it? Stop talking woman. Clearly I’m not okay. That’s why I’m here. What is wrong with me?
Again, don’t answer that.
If there’s a time and place to be completely honest, it’s in a hospital or a doctors office or when paramedics arrive. Stoicism, while it has its moments, can take a coffee break. Honesty may not all ways be the best policy, go on comment down below, but when machines are beeping and tubes are going into places? Yes, honesty should take centre stage.
Being, what was it, f**ked up, insecure, neurotic, and emotional is a perfectly acceptable response to pain, suffering, and possible death. Wow, hello darkness. It’s okay to say I’m not fine. It’s the reason I was there in the first place! I don’t go to emergency rooms for a cocktail and some girl talk. Clearly I’m not okay but these words come out of my mouth and they’re just plain goofy.
I know I’m not fine.
Nurses know I’m not fine.
The person washing the floors knows I’m not fine.
The doctor knows I’m not fine. That’s why they went to school for many, many, many, years. They’re trained to tell when someone is not fine. I’m not fooling them or anyone for that matter. They have eyes. Clearly fine is on a vacation in Maui.
But the second they ask how I’m doing? It’s as if what ails me suddenly vanishes and in a snap, my body is functioning at maximum efficiency. The fever, chills, body aches, and nausea freeze in place. Why? I don’t know.
Is it a miracle? Probably not. Maybe it’s a startle response? Don’t move! I think they’re on to us. Everyone be quiet. Did she say it? She said it! Do you think they bought it?
No dumb ass! They’re clearly very smart people with basic deductive reasoning skills. Did that stop me from saying it? No! As the words are coming out of my mouth, I’m thinking, “What the hell woman?” In my mind I’m yelling at myself: Don’t say it. Don’t say it. Why’d you say it?
It’s a lie. Not a very good lie. It’s like I’m three years old and I’m trying to convince my mom I didn’t steal the chocolate cake that was just sitting on the counter. What’s that on my face? Nothing. Why’d you ask?
The better question is: Who leaves a slice of cake unattended anyway? You’re asking for trouble. Not trying to blame the victim but…
Sorry, where was I?
I’m Fine. Liar!
Peachy? Your pants are on fire!
Groovy? Nifty? Right as rain?
Oh for shame you horrible little liar!
Maybe I don’t want to be a bother? Well, okay sure there’s that but if I’m in a hospital we’re a little past bothersome. Having a chronic illness has led to countless hours in those blasted walls and I’ve developed a very deep resentment towards hospitals. Are there people that actually like hospitals? If it’s your happy place, then do you! Me? I don’t want to be within a three-block radius. I think I’m allergic, but what do I know?
If I’m there, I’m there for a pretty good reason and I probably should’ve gone in sooner. I’ve probably put it off until my body is about to shut down completely because hospitals suck. Logically, being a bother can’t be the reason why I say what I said because I’m too sick to bother anyone. How’s that for deductive reasoning skills?
If I say I’m fine then maybe I’ll actually be fine? Say it with enough conviction and voila it becomes reality. Yeah, because that’s how life works. Delusions of good health and good times. Close my eyes real tight. Tighter. Tighter. Now hold my breath, stamp my feet, and spin in circles really fast.
Did it work? No? Shocker. Saying I’m fine didn’t make it happen? Well, now what? I plum out of ideas.
I guess the good news is I’m not lying to everyone around me. Bad news is I’m lying to myself. Damn, that’s a downer. Sure, I can be pretty convincing when I need to be but, no, it’s not working. The machines still beep. The IV still sticks out of my arm. The gurney still does a number on my back. The doctors are looking at me like I just grew a second head.
Maybe admitting that I’m not okay is a sign of weakness and that brings an uncomfortable amount of vulnerability? As if being in a weakened state is a reflection of who I am at my very core. Being sick is a moral failing? A punishment for something I did, thought, felt at some point in my journey across this mortal coil.
Say it out loud and it sounds silly.
I hate being, feeling, vulnerable. Does anyone like it? I’ve never met anyone who likes being vulnerable. Being sick is, for me, the height of vulnerability. Being completely dependant on someone else for not only survival but basic day to day needs. Having to be fed, bathed, and helped out of bed.
Literally and figuratively being exposed feels so helpless. At times, hopeless. Dependant. Vulnerable. Needy. Saying I’m fine is a way to take some of that power back even if it is a lie. Even if it doesn’t change the reality of that moment, it keeps me from falling apart.
But it’s not real. It’s not helpful. It changes nothing. Being honest, allowing myself to be vulnerable, is the only way I’m going to get to the other side.
I’m trying to say it a little less often, be more honest with myself, but I feel it sitting in the back of my throat. Stretching its hamstrings. Bouncing up and down. Limbering up for the hundred-meter sprint. It’s got a collection of medals but there’s one spot that’s just itching for another gold.
The words want to come up, and I’ve gotta shove them back down with brute force and a toilet plunger. It’s okay to not be okay for a while. It’s fine if that word matches the letters of some acronym. Admitting it is uncomfortable but it doesn’t make us weak. We’re not a bother, and it’s not going to make our situation any less real. We are where we are, and it okay to put it into words or just cry because we burnt the toast.
Then again, sometimes fine means I’m not ready to talk about it yet. It can mean I need time to process or maybe I need to find the right person to talk too. It’s a way of politely saying: Don’t make a thing out of something until I’m ready for that thing to be a thing. You know what I mean?
Oh and sometimes fine means, well, fine. Not good, not bad, but overall I’m doing well. The English language is so bizarre am I right? If you’re trying to learn, you have my utmost sympathy.
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For reliable, up to date, information about COVID-19 pandemic please check out these sites:
- The World Health Organization (https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019)
- The Centre for Disease Control (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html)
- The Public Health Agency (https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health.html)