Give InKind is proud to feature Sarah Dillingham. If you are dealing with chronic hand pain, please check out our helpful directory on the Grace & Able website and join us over in the Living with Hand Pain community.
One of the most puzzling things about people with chronic illness is that we often tell people that we’re fine when we’re not.
I have rheumatoid disease (aka rheumatoid arthritis). It is an autoimmune condition where my immune system attacks my own body, especially my joints.
This is about as much fun as it sounds. Imagine someone slowly trying to pull your fingers off of your hands or prise your knee apart with a screwdriver and you’ll get the idea.
I’m in pain every day. Yet whenever anyone asks me how I’m doing, I automatically say ‘I’m fine thanks!’.
So what’s going on?
- When it’s just a social nicety
Let’s be honest. Most of the time when an acquaintance asks ‘how are you?’ they don’t really care about the answer. They are expecting to hear ‘good, how are you?’
I’ve made the mistake of answering this question honestly. I see their eyes glaze over as they start scanning the room for an escape route.
If it’s someone I don’t know very well, I stick with ‘I’m fine.’ and move the conversation along.
- When I’m having too much fun to talk about miserable things
Chronic illness is exhausting, which means I don’t get to socialize as much as I like.
When I’m out and about seeing friends, I want to make the most of my precious socializing time.
Sometimes, the last thing I want to talk about is my health.
So even though my friends are asking because they genuinely care, I may respond with an ‘I’m fine’. I’d rather use my precious socializing time to take a day off of thinking and talking about my illness to focus on something else.
- When an honest answer could be used as ammunition
Disclosing your health condition at work is a very personal decision.
While many colleagues are understanding and supportive, you may feel wary about disclosing too much, especially if you are in a competitive working environment.
Keeping healthy boundaries and being thoughtful about who you disclose to is sensible.
When colleagues ask, ‘I’m fine’ can be the most appropriate answer.
- When chronic pain is chronic
There is no cure for rheumatoid disease.
Medication and home management slow the progress of the condition, but it doesn’t stop it. It’s a lifelong condition.
I’m very conscious about wearing out other people’s sympathy. I don’t want to bore my friends and family by talking about my health 24 / 7.
I save my ‘I’m not fine’ moments for when I really need their support.
- When we’re just about holding it together
Sometimes I say ‘I’m fine’ because if I started talking about how hard it is I would collapse in a puddle of tears.
And nobody wants to do that in the middle of Costco.
These are the times when you may need to lean on your friends, family or whatever support system you have. Don’t struggle alone if you don’t have to.
What to do when you’re not fine
Chronic illness is tough.
There’s no shame in reaching out for support.
Accessing the support you need, when you need it is crucial.
If you can’t talk with your friends or family, please consider finding support via your medical provider, a charity or one of the many incredible online patient communities.
We all need spaces to vent, share, support and have the occasional laugh.
If you are in crisis, please call The National Suicide Prevention hotline on 1-800-273-8255.
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