I’m Fine. Really. Are You?

I’ve probably said the ‘F’ word a million times: Fine.

You’ve probably said it a million times yourself.

 “How are you?”

Unhappy. Scared. Hurt. Mad. Excited. Anxious. Happy. Confused. Heartbroken. Sick. Terrible. Alive. Coping. Lonely. Sad. Lost. Meh.

“I’m fine.”

It’s often one of the biggest lies we can tell ourselves and other people.

It happens everywhere…a stranger smiles at you in the elevator, you bump into your neighbour at the supermarket…and unless you happen to have sticks or a wheelchair – in which case that opens up a whole new level of conversation – social protocol calls for this inevitable exchange to take place:

You say “Hi, how are you?” and the standard response back will be, “I’m fine thanks, how are you?”

Both parties have an understanding that “I’m fine” is a secondary code for saying “Hello,” and there is no real substance or depth behind it.

So why do we keep saying “I’m fine”? Particularly when we’re not?

“I’m fine,” is a conditioned, automatic social protocol response that has been drilled into us from our early childhood years.

The words flow from our lips without thought, without pause.

Even when things are very clearly not fine, it’s unlikely that you are going to have the audacity to startle the Average Joe with your brutal honesty:

“I’m having a bit of a flare up. My right leg has been numb from thigh to ankle for the past three weeks; my hands are tingling and short circuiting like a failing strobe light; I’m getting backed up (constipated); I have zero appetite; fatigue has knocked the wind out of my sails; pain is having a party at my expense; my skin has broken out; the nerve burn is kicking into overdrive in my arms, which is making the application of makeup extremely difficult; my hormones are up sh!t creek without a paddle; I have an itchy-as-hell eye that is driving me nuts and I’m pretty sure I yanked out a grey hair this morning…you want me to keep going?!”

– Bree Hogan

In short:

Should you give an answer other than “I am fine,” you will be met with an awkward silence as the other person tries to assimilate the break in protocol.”

– Penny Rorrer, The Mighty,

The 2-Word Response I’d Like People With Chronic Illness To Give To ‘How Are You?’” 

“I’m fine,” may be a truly accurate description for you in that moment. You may really mean it.

However, we are all complex, multi-faceted human beings with a myriad of emotions, many of which are far more descriptive than the rather bland “I’m fine,” could ever hope to convey.

So odds are, nine times out of ten when we say “I’m fine,” we are telling a wee little white lie.

There are a lot of Pinocchio’s out there!

“I’m fine,” diverts conversation to safer waters.

People have their own problems and (most of the time) they really don’t want to hear about yours.

“I’m fine,” is a way of shielding others from life’s unpleasantries.

Whilst my health challenges are a major feature in my life, I don’t want to be the person who always talks about my medical problems when asked, “How are you?”

I want to share my life with family and friends but I feel that it’s got to be censored to a certain degree.  

Not a day goes by without me having to think about my medical challenges; not a day goes by without them impacting me in some way.

But it doesn’t always have to be that way for my family and friends.

They may ride the ‘Bree-train’ right along with me but sometimes they need to have a little rest stop.

Sometimes they need to hear something other than another diagnosis, another problem, another “I’m f%$#! Moment.”

So I’m fine. *Smiling*

“I’m fine,” is a fall back position for when you don’t have the either the energy or the words to adequately describe how you are feeling.

Imagine what would happen if we unlocked our creative self:

“Ok, you got me, my life is in the crapper! Like literally. I haven’t moved from the toilet seat all morning!” – Bree Hogan

“My chakras are chronically challenged and there are times when I feel like I’m up sh!t creek without a paddle. Again, quite literally! Now put that in your pipe and smoke it!” – Bree Hogan

A tad aggressive? Hmmm, undoubtedly yes!

A true expression of Bree-ish self? Booyeah!

“I’m fine,” is a defence mechanism for the times when you’d rather push whatever it is to the back of your mind and not talk about it.

“I’m fine,” can be a forced personal status because, quite frankly, there is often no time to not be fine.

Many of us have to be fine or at least attempt to convince ourselves that we are.

It’s like I talked about in my article last week, Chronic Pain: I’m Gonna Hurt No Matter What I Do.

When you’re constantly treading water and trying to hold your head up, you do what you need to do to survive.

You make a choice and you run with it as best as you know how; as best as you are able.

So you’re fine. I’m fine. Really.

“Behind every “fine” is a story, a past, a strong heart and a soul who has seen more and experienced more than most people will ever realise.”

– Erin Polk, The Mighty, What We Really Mean When We Say ‘I’m Fine.’” 

Your turn! Do you overuse the phrase “I’m fine”? How are you feeling right now? Comment below.

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Photo Credit: Pixabay

All photos and content the property of Starbrite Warrior and Bree Hogan. Not to be reproduced without permission.

44 Replies to “I’m Fine. Really. Are You?”

  1. Oh yes, so many times! My close friends and family can tell if I’m fibbing. So they now get “meh” which means I’m not great but can’t be bothered to talk about it. A good friend came to my rescue one day …. Hadn’t expected to run into her. She looked at me and said “You’re not fine. Sit down. I’ll get water.” Such a blessed relief. 😀

    1. I love that you use “Meh” Shona. Snap! I’ve been using it a lot of late myself, just to mix it up a bit (but only with family and friends, with strangers I still do the “fine” routine).

      What a lovely, perceptive friend you have to say those things to you at exactly the right moment. Hold onto her! Xx

  2. When asked how I’m doing I always state that I’m fine. This is not really a statement about myself at all. But rather an uplifting remarking aimed to add beauty and hope to the other person’s day. It’s a tradition we use to reassure one another that all is well in the world. Even if we personally aren’t experiencing the entire sweet package in the very time and place where we currently stand. It’s a simple and effective way to share positive energy between people causing a gentle ripple effect of warmth and happiness among friends and strangers alike.

    1. Wow, Denay, I love the angle that you have come at this from, very perceptive and certainly opens ones eyes to a different way of viewing the “I’m fine,” response. Thank you!

  3. It is so much easier to just say “I’m fine”. Anything else will result in a long drawn out conversation that will likely not end in anything being changed.

  4. This is all very true! Sometimes people don’t want to bother others with their worries but I think being honest about our struggles is also important. Even just in a simple way without going into details.

    1. Thanks Tiffany! It can be a hard balance to strike, can’t it? On the one hand you want to be honest (at least with some people!) but on the flip side, you don’t want to bombard them with details that will only stress them out. What to do, what to do….!

  5. I love this piece! I quit using the “I’m fine” response when I got tired of hearing myself say it! haha Now I only answer with “I’m great” when I’m having a good day or “Not too bad” if its a bad day. Just to shake it up a bit.

    1. I like how you try to shake things up a bit Liz. I think it would help to make the expected social exchange more interesting than the fall back line, “I’m fine.” I’m gonna try it 🙂

  6. I’ve thought about this a lot as well and I completely agree that the term is very overused. However, it would be really awkward to unleash all that is going on with me to an acquaintance or a complete stranger. Also, as you stated, in the moment that I am asked I usually am fine.

    1. Hey Ashley 🙂 Thanks for stopping by to join in the discussion.

      I agree with you, it’s a term that is very much overused but it’s become so ingrained in communications and it does help get us out of some conversations that we’d just rather not go any deeper into. Particularly with random strangers! Having said that, there are times when I know myself that I should probably be a bit more truthful in my answers when it’s my inner circle doing the asking. Xx

  7. I’ve thought about this lately. Like at work when co-workers and I pass in the halls and it’s all “how are you?” “Good/fine” and we keep moving. People don’t really ask “how are you?” and want to hear the answer, in my opinion. Which is why I opt to just say hello or to say nothing at all. I have been having a hard time lately with a breakup and life stressors and I tried to venture off “I’m fine” a little bit by saying “I’m ok” or something a little less “fine” and even that got weird looks from people like “what kind of response was that?”

    1. Hi Jill, thank you for joining in the discussion. I’m sorry to hear that you have been having a harder time of late and I truly hope that things start to brighten up for you again soon.

      “I’m fine,” really does seem to be the accepted response to the “How are you?” I also have found myself on the receiving end of weird looks if you answer slightly different. People are habitual! Imagine if we went into full-on disclosure mode…that’s why I laugh at the appropriateness of Penny Rorrer’s quote on The Mighty, “Should you give an answer other than “I am fine,” you will be met with an awkward silence as the other person tries to assimilate the break in protocol.”

  8. Bahhhh I laughed so hard at this because it is so true and all of your quotes fit me perfectly. How am I doing today? My low back is killing me – I can’t stand, sit, or lay down without it aching and reminding me that my nerves have the say-so when it comes to comfort. The ball of my right foot is asleep… literally just the ball! Yeah I get it, and you have my same humor. Can we be best friends? LOL Keep writing dear, I love your voice and you are bringing life and truth into the world. <3 A fellow writer

    1. Thanks so much Haley! We can totally be BFF’s 😉

      I had a good giggle at your responses to the “How are you?” question, particularly the line “reminding me that my nerves have the say-so when it comes to comfort.” My nerves are exactly the same! The collusion that is going on…man, someone needs to say something, lol! Xx

    1. Yes, Ana, it can be quite hard to sneak it past really close friends. They know us too well. Or one’s mother…mine just has to take one look at my face and she knows!

  9. This is so true, and I’m the worst offender! I do this ALL the time. Luckily, my boyfriend calls me out on it all the time, otherwise I don’t think I’d ever voice my opinions/feelings! I need to stop being so hesitant to tell people how I feel, and stop settling for “I’m fine” Loved this!

    1. Thank you Jasmine! Love how you have an in-house accountability buddy in your boyfriend. Nothing like being called out on something to keep you honest!

  10. I do this all the time largely when I’m actually truly upset about something, but want to avoid the potential conflict that comes with expressing how I feel.

    1. It’s a good cover story, isn’t it Rachel? And usually most people will buy it and we can move on to safer territory…

  11. I’m doing really well these days. I don’t tend to say “I’m fine.” I fall back on good or sometimes I think I ignore that I’ve been asked and focus on the other person.

    Really compassionate and informative post.

    1. Hi Kerin, thanks for stopping by to join in the discussion. I’m glad you are doing really well these days.

      Focusing on the other person is a good way to deflect the attention from ourselves, particularly if we really don’t want to get into a lengthy discussion off the back of the “How are you?” question. I’ve used it myself…

  12. I’ve also have been thinking about this topic.
    I think, that’s just the way people used to talk. When they ask, they don’t really care. Those are just good manners.

    1. Hi Iryna, I agree, it’s a good manners social protocol that has been drilled into us from childhood that we fall back on.

    1. ‘I’m fine,’ has many uses Liz. As you say, it’s used for both truth and deflection. It’s a pretty versatile little saying!

  13. I feel like this is something I was meant to read today. Lately, I definitely haven’t been fine, but from work to family and friends, it’s something I say naturally. It’s a constant lit we say every day without realizing it! Great post

    1. Thank you Kiara. I’m sorry to hear that you haven’t been feeling fine of late and I really hope there is brightness ahead for you very soon. Maybe this post will help you to find the words you have been looking for to express some of how you are feeling to those who are closest to you. Might make you feel a bit better.

      Sending hugs, Bree xx

  14. I definitely use it because I don’t want to have to explain what’s going on with me. It’s easier. Certainly people get the full on truth, but I know they can handle it.

    1. “I’m fine” is definitely an easy (and usually welcome) out when we don’t want to talk about things, isn’t it Cori?

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