“How Are You?”
I received this simple message from a friend today and it paralysed me.
It suddenly felt like a very loaded question. I delayed responding. I did not want to answer because I did not know how to. I wrote back a little while later, “I kind of feel these days that it depends who’s asking as to the answer I give.”
It was the most honest response to “How Are You?” I think I have given all year.
This message came shortly after a quick conversation I had just finished having with a friend overseas, who was clearly in crisis (based on something he wrote on Facebook), and I felt compelled to check in and make sure everything was OK.
“How are You” was the theme for today. And my theme for the year. I have asked it and have been asked it all year. I have only really told the truth to a few people.
As mothers and wives and daughters and friends and colleagues, we are so many things to so many people. As we juggle our daily tasks, different people see different sides of us. For the most part, we want to keep a brave face. Be strong and upbeat and appear calm. Give people confidence in our abilities. Smile brightly and make people feel happy. Because we believe that positive energy given out will mean it will be returned in larger doses.
“How are you” is normally asked with brevity, and answered the same way. “I’m fine”. “I’m great”. “Kicking goals.” People often ask it as they are running off to do another chore, with only time to hear a a quick response. These people do not ask you how you are because they except you to pour your emotions out to them. It would be highly awkward and uncomfortable for all parties if you did.
You either save that for your best friends, where you can freely burst out crying or blow up in an angry desperate rant at what life is dealing you. Or worse, you internalise it, and suffer stoically until it takes a toll on your health. This year, I shared different bits of myself with different people. Maybe it is a condition of being an expat and forming new and close friendships in a new country, while still having your closest lifelong friends in the country you were raised.
It has been a strange year for me on this front. I have both shared with, and have been the receiver of secrets and deep emotions from friends, that have revealed quite blatantly that few of us are speaking or living our truth. There is an overwhelming sense of expectation to be different characters for different people in our lives, be they family, friends or business associates. I have realised that the more I ask “How Are You”, the more I can recognise when “All good” means “not good at all”. And “OK”, means “not great”. More and more, people around me are withdrawing into themselves as a way of avoiding honest expression.
As this rollercoaster of a year draws to a close, I feel strongly that I have a much deeper awareness of what my heart truly feels and an urgency to let the words flow out of me. In part, this release was enabled as a result of the wonderful Soul Story Retreat I attended in November. Maybe it is because I have so many friends leading double lives, or leading lives that are not what they actually want, that has brought me to a point where I can’t answer a question like “How Are You” with the usual brevity.
If 2016 asked me How I Am, I would SCREAM:
I am sad, I am pissed off, I am disappointed. I am questioning everything.
I am also calm, and focused, and making inroads, and progressing and blessed and happy and full of love, and confused and angry and full of rage. I am all of these things, all at the same time.
Which is probably why I couldn’t answer “How Are You” today.
When I feel all jumbled up like this I always turn to Oprah.