A woman speaking to another woman who has a fake smile on while the space behind her is dark and chaotic.

You’re Not Always Fine. How Are You REALLY Doing? 

In one of my recent articles titled, "You’re Not Dying and You Don’t Have Cancer. Why Are You So Sad?" I wrote about a conference I went to where I listened to a speaker talk about grief. Speaker, Nora McInerny, had recently lost a pregnancy, lost her father, and lost her husband all within a few months. In her speech about grief, she talked a lot about how when asked how we’re doing, no matter how we’re REALLY doing, many of us respond with a simple, “I’m fine.”

You don’t have to be 'fine'

Nora also hosts a podcast called ‘Terrible, Actually Thanks for Asking.’ In her podcast, she talks with and interviews people who are grieving. They talk a lot about how okay it is to not be ‘fine’ when going through difficult things.

We have all been asked the courteous and obligatory question, “How are you?” And...sometimes, most of the time, it’s easier to just robotically answer with, “I’m fine.” The sarcastic side of me loves the title of Nora’s podcast! I’d love to be able to respond to this question with, “Terrible, actually thanks for asking!” when I’m having that type of moment/day/week/year...

Saying I’m fine is a way to hide

I say “I’m fine” so often, but had never heard anyone discuss it before Nora. I guess I assumed other people did it too, but her saying it out loud made me wonder why I say it when a lot of times, I’m not. After thinking about it, I realized a few things.

First, it almost comes out without thinking about it, like an autopilot answer. I also realized that I actually have many reasons why I say it:

  • I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining.
  • I don’t want to burden anybody.
  • Talking about it brings up feelings I don’t always want to feel.
  • Does the person who’s asking really, actually, and truthfully want to know how I’m doing, or are they just being courteous?

Saying, “I’m fine” is a great way to hide what I’m really feeling and often trying to avoid.

Opening up about how you're really doing

Another message Nora gave was that we don’t have to tell people that we’re ‘fine’ when we’re not. Obviously, there’s a time and a place for a ‘real’ answer to the question, “How are you?” She gave the example of not being able to show her face at her local Target anymore because the teenaged boy who checked her out asked how she was...and she told him the truth instead of just saying, “I’m fine, how are you?” Needless to say, wrong place, wrong time, wrong person…

But, when someone who really does care asks and we answer with, “I’m fine,” it puts up a barrier between us and doesn’t allow for meaningful and healing conversations. When someone who really and truly cares about you asks how you are, it’s okay to tell them. This is one way we can connect with each other and attempt to not feel so alone.

Grieving vision loss

When the topic does arise about this invisible illness, people (friends, spouses, strangers, whoever) often don’t always ‘get it.’ Here are some of the things I’ve heard from people I love dearly that hurt me deeply in regards to my macular degeneration: “But, you don’t look like you struggle to see,” or, “But, you can see now, right?” or, “There’s sure to be a cure for that before it makes you blind,”...and my personal favorite, “It’s not like you’re dying, you don’t have cancer.”

Macular degeneration isn’t terminal...but, we're still grieving

Dramatic pause.

Really?

How do we explain to others that these comments are hurtful? Maybe we aren't dying, but we are grieving the loss of something really major in our lives, our vision.

Preventing misunderstandings

No wonder it’s sometimes easier to avoid these conversations altogether. We can’t necessarily fault our loved ones for things they don’t understand...I mean, how could they? They haven’t experienced it. It’s kind of like when your parents told you to try a new food when you were a kid and you decided how you felt about it before ever even attempting to try? Only, this one really hurts feelings.

How do you explain to someone how devastating it can feel to lose vision and possibly go blind? And should you? I think yes. One way to educate others about our struggles is to not hide behind being ‘fine’ and having honest, sometimes hard, but meaningful conversations.

Building walls doesn’t allow others to understand or help,

Andrea Junge (who is sometimes terrible, actually thanks for asking!)

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