When you deal with mental health concerns you are often over-thinking the simple: brushing your teeth is suddenly overwhelming; having a shower becomes optional; and multitasking seems daunting. While very few individuals are able to regularly accomplish all of the daily tasks they have, those living with a mental health challenge have an extra limited capacity for task management, and it may ebb and flow day-to-day. Low functioning days may mean that you must pick only one thing that you can accomplish in the day. Sometimes that choice is between feeding the children and cleaning the house or between washing the dishes or cleaning the floor. Only one thing can happen.
In the same regards to over thinking the simple, those with mental health concerns can find social interactions challenging. A social outing may become a series of self-conscious ‘what ifs’: What if someone notices that I didn’t shower today? What if they can see that the kids dressed themselves? What if they know that I am struggling?
Social niceties can become draining just in the simple act of going out and then someone innocently asks, “How are you?” The dreaded question, always said in passing, not really wanting a true response, “Hey, how’s it going?”
How do you answer this when you have a mental health challenge? How can you be authentic to yourself and your experience without ripping your heart out and handing it over, sometimes to a complete stranger?
Do you answer “fine” and elicit a side glance with a question mark written all over their face, as your tone wasn’t quite right? Do you fake it and answer “good” like is expected of you? Or do you answer honestly and say “broken, sick, tired, drained or done” and in so doing, welcoming the sympathy and onslaught of questions that will quickly follow.
As a mental health advocate and someone who struggles with my own mental health – this very question is challenging for me. I teach my children to always tell the truth, to be honest and authentic. How do I answer this question, remain within my values and yet offer myself grace when the answer of “not great, I don’t know if I can do this anymore” is socially unacceptable?
Perhaps you find a middle ground. Be fully authentic with those in your inner circle. Answer with “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure I can do this” or “I feel overwhelmed, please help me.” And for those acquaintances, co-workers or passers-by a simple “fine” should suffice.
Perhaps in answering authentically to everyone, you become a champion for no longer making mental health concerns a taboo topic. You give an honest reply and hope that those who truly want to know how you are doing, take a moment to hear you and maybe help.
Whatever your response in that moment of “how are you?” remember that you are not inadequate or ‘less than’ anyone else. Remember, you are not only your response to these questions and you are not what you did or did not accomplish that day. You are SO MUCH more than these things. In that moment remember simply: you are enough.