No, It's Not Fine
We've all done it. We're talking with someone, and they ask how we are and we go off on this long string of terrible information. "Yeah my cat died, and both my parents have terminal cancer, my leg is about to amputated, and my gold fish just went bankrupt, but it's fine."
There it is. Those horrid three words. A quick turn at the end of a sentence in a vain attempt to undermine the emotional weight of what was just said. Which doesn't make much sense when you think about it. If someone asks how you are, and then you respond honestly and then dismiss at the end, why not just say, "I'm okay"?
What's the point of being honest about your feelings if you're just going to neglect them after?
I think this speaks to a deeper issue we're all facing these days. We are living in the golden age of social media mental health. What's that mean? Skim almost anyone's page and you'll people sharing memes about depression or tips on how to care for depressed friends, etc. The younger generations are hyper aware of their mental health and the need to share their feelings authentically. All of this is well and good.
I'm studying to be a counselor (hopefully), I will never dismiss the importance of being authentic to your friends about how you really feel. That's been discouraged far too much. Yet, all of this talking about feelings hasn't seemed to have produced much fruit, at least statistically speaking. Now we just have an expressive population that doesn't know what to do with their feelings, so they dismiss them. Which is preposterous.
So I applaud anyone who when asked "how are ya?" actually responds honestly. They tell their friends how they feel, good or bad. Although, there seems to be a creeping feeling in the back of all of our heads that this honesty is somehow burdensome.
We've become afraid that being our authentic selves makes us a burden to others.
Here enters the "but it's fine." The get out of jail free card of feelings. In order to make sure the tale of our miserable lives isn't dampening the room around us as we speak, we insert this final phrase to fix the issue. "My life is on fire, but don't worry about me. I'll take care of it." What does this say about ourselves? Why is it that we have such a fear of reaching out and asking for help. We'd rather drown than ask for the life vest because we're worried that it would be burdensome for our friends/family/etc. to offer us a spare one. Instead, we display our feelings but instead of wrestling with them with the help of others, we dismiss them in the last moment so as to continue the superficial facade of our own control over our lives.
Speaking of facade, the "but it's fine" also casts this Atlas-like notion to us and our problems. Here's a laundry list of the chaos of my life but I brush it off like it's nothing. "Oooo how strong" all of your friends must whisper behind your back as you carry the yoke of your emotional struggles so valiantly. Stop lying to everybody. We're all drowning, get in line, and let's start blowing up the life boat together.
I also think there's a deep fear that if we are honest about our feelings we'll get perceived as "playing the victim." And yes this happens, but that shouldn't stop you (us) from being honest with others even if there are people out there that use their stories as pity parties.
Feelings, by definition, are forces (passions as they have been called) within us that demand to be felt. It's what they are there for. Through the colored lenses of feeling we get to see life as a beautiful painting and not a black and white photograph. So why do we want rid of them? Well as we've just discussed, we want to have our cake and eat it to. We want the freedom to be authentic without the cost that it demands. Answering the question "how are you" genuinely comes with a bitter price. It's an open invitation to allow another person into your mess, your struggles, and your pain. It's what's called intimacy. That's a scary thing. That's where emotions get hurt, betrayals happen, all the horrid emotional things we can do to torture one another happens there, and yet, we crave it.
Intimacy has gotten a bad reputation recently, since it's become so attached to sexual intimacy, but it goes so much deeper. All relationships, friendly or romantically, or ideally intimate relationships. This intimacy deficit we're struggling with has manifested itself (in one way) in the "but it's fine" phrase. I think one reason intimacy has been pushed to just the physical is because that emotional intimacy is like a never ending cave. The exploration of it ceaseless, yet also dangerous.
Because while it is dangerous, it is also healing, life-giving even. Something akin to fire. It can reduce half a city to rubble, or it can sustain life with cooking and warmth. So does intimacy. A beloved priest of mine used to say intimacy is a deep word. When sounded out you get "Into-Me-See." (Clever, right?) But that's the ticket out of this mess. This false intimacy we've permitted ourselves to parade around. When we authentically connect with people, that's where the real work is done. It's often said that a lot of people that go to counseling just want someone to talk to that cares. They aren't look for clever psycho-therapeutic techniques. They don't have gratuitous amounts of childhood trauma. They just want someone in their life that when they speak to them they know they're listening and care.
Intimacy isn't rocket science. There isn't this perfect formula that must be memorized and utilized or else real intimacy is not achieved. Intimacy is sitting in silence with a friend. Holding them while they cry.
So, this has been a rather long way to say: the next time someone asks how you are, say it honestly, and don't dismiss it. Let the weight of your feelings and your story hang there, and maybe, just maybe, you and your friend can add another page to your book.
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