Hello my Zebras and Spoonies! Thanks for coming and hanging out with me today, I’m glad that you are here. Today I want to talk about the lie that every person with chronic illness tells at some point. What’s the lie? “I’m fine.” That’s right. Every person with chronic illness will tell someone that they are fine when they are in fact not fine. Why do we do this?
There is no easy way to answer that question. It’s complicated. Let’s start by looking at how this phrase is generally used and go from there. In common usage, “I’m fine” is a generally positive way of saying “There’s nothing particularly wrong”; yet it also means that there isn’t anything superlatively right, well, or good. This is a way of saying that things are “ok”, meaning that they could be better or they could be worse. It generally implies that you are not having any significant problems in your life.
The first thing to keep in mind with this phrase is the idea of context and frame of reference. When using the phrase “I’m fine” someone with chronic illness can be using it in the same manner as described above. When having a good pain day, saying “I’m fine” pretty much means the same as it does for everyone else. We’re saying that there is nothing particularly wrong and that we’re ok. No significant problems.
But there are many times that we use this phrase and we are not using it the same as the common usage. Sometimes we say we are fine because we are having a difficult day and we are trying to help ourselves cope better. “I’m fine” is a lie we can tell in order to help us bolster ourselves when we need to get things done even when we are having a hard time. It can serve like a little pep talk. If we said out loud how hard our day was we would risk the flood gates opening and that would likely mean that nothing would get done that day.
There are times that we say “I’m fine” when we are not fine because we don’t want to explain how we are not fine. Sometimes it seems impossible to explain this to someone who doesn’t have our diagnoses. There are also times that there just isn’t any benefit to making those kinds of connections. I’ll admit that I pretty much always use this at work because I’m not going to get into how awful I feel with an acquaintance at work. There really isn’t any benefit for them or me in this explanation so it just isn’t worth the spoons.
Sometimes we just don’t have the spoons to give an explanation. In this case, we use “I’m fine” because there really isn’t anything else to say in those times. Maybe, “I don’t want to talk about it” can work but that usually leads to the other person trying to get you to talk about it. There are times that we are feeling crappy and we are also feeling emotional about how crappy we are feeling. Those emotions cost us spoons to regulate and process. Going into an explanation of how we are feeling during those times can cost a ton of spoons that we don’t always have.
Guilt is also a factor in why we use the phrase “I’m fine” when we are not fine. There are times that we feel like we are complaining too much or that we are being a burden because of our symptoms. During these times we will avoid talking about how we are feeling so that we can reduce this sense of guilt. Because it doesn’t matter how awesome a relationship is or how supportive a person is, there is a limit to how much they can support and help us. We try no to push people to that limit because we are afraid that it will result in loosing relationships.
Then there is the very real social interaction where people will ask you how you are feeling when they really don’t care about the answer. It is a strange social piece in our culture. I really wish people wouldn’t ask me how I am feeling when they don’t have time for the answer or don’t care about the answer. Like when you are passing someone in the hallway at work. Why ask me how I’m doing in that moment? We both know that you aren’t looking for an actual answer. This is a time for the “I’m fine” response regardless of how I am feeling. There is no point in telling someone that my pain is high or that I’ve been struggling with my heart rate when they aren’t looking for how I’m actually doing.
The thing about “I’m fine” that I find upsetting is what the implications are for our society. For what ever reason, in our culture, it’s never alright to be anything but good or fine. Well, the human experience doesn’t work that way and with around 60% of American adults having a chronic illness it is likely that most people are not “fine” when they tell you that they are fine. In truth, even if you are able bodied, it is likely that you are often times not “fine.” Why isn’t it ok to be not fine in our culture?
I think that we would do better if we could be more honest and supportive of each other. Imagine how amazing work would be if we started each shift with a check in that genuinely considered how we could best support each other through that shift. Not only would we all be happier at work, we would all be able to perform better at work. So, why isn’t this a thing?
Well, that’s about it for my rambling today. Thanks for coming and spending some time with me. If you like what you read, click on that like button. It really does help! Until we talk again, you take care of yourselves!