The Myth of Being Fine

When my mom was being hospitalized with cancer, I spent nearly every day in the hospital; I ate poorly, and hardly slept and was paralyzed with anxiety and fear. This is when I noticed my tendency to try to control my feelings to make others comfortable. When someone asked me how I was I’d answer ‘fine,’ which clearly wasn’t true. I was whatever the opposite of fine is. 

The problem wasn’t saying ‘I’m fine’, it was trying to be fine so that others wouldn’t be uncomfortable. For years, I did this with uncomfortable emotions. I tried not to be angry, impatient or sad. I believed no one would like me if I expressed those emotions.

There are two important things I learned about this habit. First, feelings aren’t good or bad. Being sad doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with me. Second, not expressing the full range of feelings makes me inauthentic. If I don’t show up as an honest authentic person I’m not able to be vulnerable. Vulnerability is the way that we connect to each another so when I don’t share real feelings I don’t develop meaningful bonds with other human beings.

Another mistake I often made was trying to craft my feelings to match how I thought I should feel.  When I bought my first house I thought I should be happy and excited but in fact, I was scared and anxious about the future. Because I didn’t allow myself to acknowledge my fears I didn’t talk to my husband about how nervous I felt about missing a mortgage payment. It was a missed opportunity to build intimacy in the early years of our marriage and I could have been comforted by sharing the burden with him. 

Context is important. I don’t need to make myself vulnerable to the checker at the grocery store and don’t need to go around spewing my feelings at other people. It means I need to acknowledge how I’m feeling within myself. When my mom was sick, I didn’t need to tell everyone I met that I was sad, tired, frustrated, and scared, but I did need to know what was going on inside of me. When a close friend asked how I was doing, I’d say, “I’m so tired I can hardly think” or “I’m afraid my mom is going to die.” This was an honest reflection of who I was in that moment. Most of my friends were asking because they sincerely wanted to know.

I encourage you to try a little experiment, the next time someone asks how you’re doing try noticing how you really are. Scan your body, notice if you really are doing okay. Then respect that truth, you can decide how vulnerable you are willing to be in that particular situation, and maybe you’ll say ‘fine’ or maybe you decide this is a moment to be honest with yourself and someone you love and trust. Maybe, just once, you can try saying, “I’m scared,” or “I’m tired,” or “I’ve been feeling lonely so thanks for asking."