This is an interpretive guide to the many colorful verbal and non-verbal responses a person with chronic health conditions may respond with to the seemingly non-threatening inquiry into their health and well-being: “How are You Today?”
1.) Rolls eyes & no verbal response:
Said individual heard, “What is your problem?” instead of, “How are you today?” He or she may feel physically poor or not, but their mental and emotional state is complicated. Struggle or exasperation is apparent. You may want to leave us alone.
2.) No verbal response, glassy eyes, & unresponsive:
The person either is in-pain, entered a medication induced haze, or is experiencing significant mental exhaustion. In my house, this response prompts further inquiries and occasionally, neurological testing. Please, be patient with us.
3.) “Hmms,” “Mhmms,” & other Guttural Sounds:
I acknowledge your effort and consideration, but presently I’m annoyed and potentially confused about how to answer. Bugger off.
4.) The Shoulder Shrug:
Oops. Oh no, I didn’t, but yes, I just did. The shoulder shrug translates into, “Who cares how I feel?” or “Why do you always ask me questions I can’t answer?”
5.) “I’m fine.” + sarcastic tone:
Today, I’m cognoscente enough to acknowledge and respond, but I have no real desire to discuss my personal health and well-being. Next topic.
6.) “I’m fine.” + pleasant, slightly flippant tone:
Today isn’t such a bad day. I still don’t want to discuss my health and well-being. Next topic.
7.) “Good.” or “Doing well.”
8.) “Okay.” or “I’m okay.”
This is one of the worst responses a person with chronic health conditions can respond with, because these statements cover anything from a near death experience to life is good. Usually, “okay” refers to a peaceful or resigned mental state despite the actual circumstances, but can indicate great suffering. When I was hospitalized at 15 years old in pediatric oncology/ hematology, my doctors forbade me from answering their questions with, “okay.”
9.) “Today is a good day.”:
Break out the party hats and plan a fiesta, because this is a rare response that may actually indicate what is entailed.
10.) “I feel bad,” or “I don’t feel well.”
A rare glimpse of honesty that smacks of sheer concern or desperation. Be prepared for a long day that usually involves a change of plans anywhere from calling 911 to increased medication for coping with concerning symptoms or canceling that dinner reservation . . .
Some individuals are better at expressing their emotions and state of being, but many people with chronic health conditions learn to cope by shutting down or minimizing our struggles. We assume, “Who wants to talk about that day after day,” or “What is the point?” Usually, we will risk expressing certain concerns or frustrations, and react with surprise when a person interacts with sincere empathy and compassion. If you are just going through the motions and don’t care, we can tell and vice versa. We prefer discussing others’ health and well-being versus our own. And tend to be acutely attuned to the suffering around us, especially those silently suffering. So I ask, “How are you today?”