“If human beings don’t keep exercising their lips, he thought, their mouths probably seize up. After a few months’ consideration and observation he abandoned this theory in favor of a new one. If they don’t keep on exercising their lips, he thought, their brains start working.” — Hitch hikers guide to the galaxy
“How are you?” my friends ask. It’s a standard thing to say, a social convention. It’s a convention I find incredibly difficult. I can respond with a lie, of course. I’m almost expected to. “I’m fine!” or “Not bad” will fill the gap in the conversation and allow us to move on.
But I’m not fine. Those days I call a good day? I’m still more sick than a healthy person can imagine.
I say I am recovering, and I am. I am much better than a few weeks ago when I could not get up from my bed, could only lie there crying with pain. Now I can get up, sit in other parts of the house. Last week I even went for a ride on my motorbike! But yesterday when my sister came over for a coffee I nearly fell over after opening the door. I staggered away and managed to stay on my feet by grabbing the walking stick that I keep next to the door. Sitting on the sofa as my sister made the coffee, I was firmly told to stay sat down every time I tried to get up to do anything, because she knew just how ill I was.
A couple of days ago some friends came to visit us and stayed for 90 minutes or so. To begin with, I looked normal. I told them how I was feeling better, how I was improving. Half way through their visit, I got up to get something from my bedroom. I was unsteady on my feet, so that the second time I went to get something I was told not to bother. By the end of the visit, I was very visibly exhausted. Barely standing, face contorted with pain and fatigue. My friends concern was obvious.
Those two examples aside, who else would know what I go through? How would anyone see what I look like when so sick? I only go out when I am feeling good, so others will only ever see my absolute best and most healthy points. If they don’t come round when I am struggling in the morning, if they don’t spend 90 minutes with me until I am completely drained, they will just see a healthy person. I compound the problem by telling others that I’m fine or that I’m not bad, so they have it by my own admission that there is nothing wrong with me.
I highly recommend this blog post by Sue Marsh – The Sickie Friend Slam-Dunk. She explains how even people that see some of her struggle still judge and condemn her. I put it to you that if you know someone that says they are sick, that you don’t know the half of it. You have no idea what they go through when you aren’t looking. You don’t see them crying out in pain, falling over, failing to get to the bathroom in time, the mountains of pills that they have to take. Don’t judge based on what you see. And next time someone says “I’m fine!” just have a think about what they really mean by that.