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  • Writer's pictureTara Vaughan

How Are You?

How are you? I hate those words. What do they even mean? We all say it and we all hear it, several times a day I’m sure we all have the same or similar responses:

“How are you?”

“I’m fine. How are you?”

“Okay thanks”

We ask our friends and family how they are but do we ever really ask? Or worse do we really want to hear the answer?

Some of my responses to that question this week have been:

“Okay thanks, pretty exhausted, been a long day”

“I’m well thanks”

“I’m good, still trying to find balance”

“I’m good thanks, pretty tired”

Others I just ignored and went straight into conversation. And then there is this that I wrote to a dear friend of mine:

“I’m okay, trying to do more things but it’s still pretty tiring being full on human. When I look back to when I used to work and play, I don’t know how I did it. I don’t know how you do what you do. It feels like a long way off to be able to do a full days work and be fine to do that for a week/month/year. I did a full day on Tuesday and I was so tired and emotional yesterday, it took it out of me completely. I feel like I’m trying to run before I can walk but I just want to run, I’m bored of crawling.”

How many of us out there respond by saying “I’m fine” when in fact we are not. Why can’t we say:

“I’m struggling today”

“I’m feeling hopeless/lost”

“My depression/anxiety is really bad at the moment”

I found that before I told anyone that I was suffering with mental ill health, I was hesitant when I needed support most. I didn’t want to be a burden. I was sure people where just asking because it’s the thing to do, I believed they didn’t really want to know. Now I try, well it really depends on who’s asking me, to tell people how I’m doing, honestly. But it’s difficult. Do people really want to hear my honest answer? I try to tell myself that they wouldn’t ask if they didn’t care. But those words “How are you?” are so over used that I don’t believe them anymore. Perhaps it needs to be phrased in a different way or asked twice “no really, how are you?”. I try to ask people “How are you doing” or “How are you doing today”, I think the second one for sure tells people that I am willing to listen and interested in how they are feeling.

I know that some friends won’t want to ask in fear of being told what’s really going on. Hell I have some friends that haven’t reached out in over a year and some are now starting to since they’re hearing I’m not in such a dark place. I like to think it’s not because they are bad friends but because they don’t know what to say if I did open up to them about my mental ill health. Trust me when I say you don’t have to be an expert – I have enough of them around! Just being there means the world to me. Take what I say seriously. What I say might seem strange to you but it’s real to me. It takes courage to open up and be vulnerable so don’t laugh or take what I say as a joke.

You don’t need to know all the answers, again I have professionals around for that, but being there and listening can make such a difference. You don’t have to fix me and please don’t try to, it’s not your job and things aren’t going to change straight away.

If you’re lost for words to say, try saying:

“That’s sounds really difficult”

“Thanks for telling me”

“I really appreciate your honesty and vulnerability”

“Thanks for trusting me and opening up to me”

“I’m here for you”

Don’t think that you’re prying or asking too many questions; it shows me that you care. If you’re not sure what to ask try:

“What does it feel like?”

“What kind of thoughts are you having?”

“How can I help?”

“What can I do?”

“Can you teach me how to be there for you?”

“I want to help”

Remember that I am still human and I do still like doing things that we would normally do together, sometimes I just find it hard. A text asking me to join in means the world to me, even if I end up cancelling last minute due to a bout of anxiety. If you’re still uncertain and want to know more then you can learn more or read about other people who have experienced similar things.

I hope this helps if you are on the receiving end of a friend or family member who suffers from a mental health problem. I know it can be difficult supporting someone if you’ve not gone through it yourself but please remember that you being there will mean the world to that person.

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