I’ve been noticing that one of the most challenging questions for me these days is How are you? Shouted from a social distance as I huddle low to the ground fighting with my snowshoe bindings, the easy dismissal of I’m fine or, on occasion, I”m good, launches across the cold distance. And the same comes back. Sometimes it’s the start of a longer conversation, often not.
When asked the same question in a more intimate setting, the pressure to provide more than a perfunctory response is greater. Do you want the shiny title page version, the index page, or the chapter on truth and revelation? If I’m going with the cover page, I am likely to answer by telling you what I’ve been doing. I find it easier to provide details on my doings rather than my beings or feelings. Being busy seems to be a badge of honour worn by many. And a handy and safe shield for unwanted, unpleasant, or unrealized emotions.
I experience a shift from a conversation to a connection only when I choose to respond with emotional status and honesty. It isn’t for everyone. It isn’t for all situations. It can be risky. I do know that when my truth makes another uncomfortable, we have a lot in common.
What I find interesting about this question that is benign on the surface, yet loaded and layered, is how often I convey a mismatch. Don’t be fooled by how I look. And I won’t be fooled by how you look. The social isolation of pandemic safety measures, the flat screen conversations, and lack of physical contact make verbal connection critical for me. It forces me to be tethered to myself. It forces me to find a circuit for linkage to others.
Many years ago, as I stood gazing out the window of our living room, trying to ground myself in the day ahead and quell the dread and shame of too much wine the night before, I professed over the telephone to a friend that I was fine. She came back immediately with concern. She told me that FINE stood for f*cked up, insecure, neurotic and emotional. I had inadvertently been honest. I was dressed for the day; white blouse, dark slacks, heels, pearls and a fitted blazer. I had my eyebrows on, dark circle concealer applied, mascara to pull my eyes out from their sockets and a painted lipstick smile. A regular day of school drop-offs, client calls, elder parent check-ins and meal preparation loomed like a journey to Everest base camp.
Shifting from a conversation to open and honest communication was foreign to me. It was so completely unfamiliar that the underlying fear holding me in felt normal. Looking good while being FINE continued to propel me. Until I admitted that the disconnection was stage4; terminal.
Now, should I choose to, I have the courage and language for connection. I may still have my eyebrows and lipstick on, however, they won’t be my whole story. I have a dear friend who reminds me not to confuse how I’m doing with how I’m feeling. I allow myself to be tired without the list of herculean accomplishments for justification. I share when I feel fragile. Because it means I might tear up. I know when I am a hot mess (my daughter’s perfect description for impatient and frustrated). It is characterized by upper lip sweat and a desire to rip off your clothes. I confess to being grumpy and having sharp elbows. And then almost immediately I am calmer. Any sense that I am irritable and restless is reported as being scratchy. When I am accused of being short, I know it means that anger and impatience are showing. I need to go in and connect with the inner me.
I am thankful that I am learning to connect and tether. Open and honest relationships are what keep me enthused and engaged in life. I am FINE; fit, interested, new, and energized.
At least, that is my experience.