How are you … REALLY?
In the days, weeks and months after Mom died, I was asked by many people … “How are you?”
My early response was “I’m ok”. And although most people were likely confused by that statement, it stopped them from asking anything further. I very quickly figured out that it was easier to hide how I was feeling by making it all “ok” … so that’s what I did.
Seriously, I had just lost my Mom, how would I ever be “ok”? How could life ever go back to normal? How could the pain ever stop?
But I said I was ok. That was my mantra … and that kept everyone from pressing further.
After all, I looked ok. I looked like a normal teenage kid, I was doing the normal teenage stuff like socializing, doing well in high school, had many friends and seemed interested in boys. I looked normal.
And I realized that if I kept it altogether on the outside, no one would ask anything further.
So that’s what I did.
They wouldn’t see that I was dying on the inside - was often depressed, felt profoundly alone and considered ending it all just so I could be with Mom again … on more than one occasion.
They wouldn’t see that I craved a normal family life more than anything else and would often ingrain myself in the families of my friends just so I could have that feeling of belonging to a complete family for an overnight or a dinner together.
I shared in last week’s blog post about my experience when Dad and Sharyn were dating and how I loved being at their house because it felt like a family … even if it was just for just a few hours.
I did the same thing at my friend Susan’s right after Mom died, I would sleep over for as many days as they would have me because I craved the love and normalcy of a complete family.
In high school I ingrained myself in my friend’s Gretchen’s family where I got to stay many weekends and even during the week. I loved that her Mom started cooking early in the morning before going off to work and always made a meal for everyone at dinnertime. I loved that she baked (like Mom and I used to do together), and I loved that they included me in their family activities, traditions and her older brothers teased me the same way they did her and included me in their jokes.
Unfortunately, (or fortunately) ingraining myself into various families continued through my teenage years and well into adulthood. As an adult, my hiding continued and my new mantra became “I’m all good” which also stopped the questions and the conversation each and every time.
My adult hiding took on many forms:
- I punished myself with food and a never-ending cycle of overeating then dieting then relentless exercise
- I willingly took on the problems and worries of other just so I wouldn’t have to face my own,
- I hid my own insecurities about my body image behind makeup, shoes and purses (because as the saying goes “You are never too fat for those things”)
- And I made endless self-depreciating comments about my size so no one else had to say them first.
In order to keep my “I’m all good” thing going, I ingrained myself into my romantic relationships as well … all in an effort to feel normal, ok and that I had a place to belong. I willingly took on the likes, desires, lifestyle and family of the person I was in a relationship with because it was easier to do so rather than risk letting them see the broken me … and that I was far from being “all good".
It wasn’t until very recently (like seriously, in the past year), that I decided I was tired of being “good” and when a friend asked how I was doing one day, I gave them the pre-rehearsed answer of “I’m all good”.
They paused for a moment, leaned in a little closer and asked “So how are you … REALLY?
I held my breath for what seemed like an eternity and bravely shared them what was really going on in my life. I didn’t tell them everything (all 32 years worth) but I could tell by the look on their face that they softened somehow and perhaps were seeing me for the first time. Their eyes grew wide and I felt safe to keep going. What happened that day was probably the first truly honest answer I had ever given to the question of “How are you?”. And the weight I had been feeling all these years felt just a little lighter somehow.
My relationship with this person changed that day, as did the relationship with myself. I felt freer, lighter and the closeness we shared felt real for the first time.
The next time someone asked me “How are you", I tried being vulnerable and honest again and got the same response … open and loving arms and a real sense of closeness with that person. And the best part was that, by me vulnerably sharing the real, hot mess me, … it opened the door for them to do it too.
On the flip side, I have asked the same “How are you” question to others thousands of times in my 46 years. Was I wanting the real response or just the surface level “ok” or “good” so that the conversation never got past talking about the weather, the job, the family and all the other “safe" topics?
I totally get that I can’t ask everyone I encounter each day “How are you REALLY?” but I have bravely started doing this with the people I care about which has opened the door and allowed people to see the real, hot mess me for the first time in like … ever …
And what I have found is … THAT'S when true connection happens.
So much love,
P.S. So how are YOU … REALLY? Did you find it easier to hide how you were feeling after Mom died and just pick up and keep going? I would love to hear your experience in the comments below … or anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org.