Sunday, November 19, 2006

"How Are You?"

One of my personality krenks is that when people ask this question, I tend to tell them. It's taken me years to learn that most of the time, they don't want to know. Most of the time, the question's a polite, perfunctory way of acknowledging someone's presence, rather than a request for a life story. Most of the time, the appropriate response is, "Fine, thanks," even if you're in crisis-clinic mode and expecting the end of the world as we know it in the next five minutes.

My current therapist would call this a boundary issue. (My previous therapist used to do a very funny riff on the real meaning of "fine," which is an acronym for "F***ed up, Insecure, Neurotic and Emotional.") One reason I have trouble in this area is that when I ask how someone is, I usually really want to know the answer, so I have trouble remembering that other people don't.

I've gotten a little better at saying, "Fine, thanks," especially when I really am fine. But when I'm not fine, I still tend to go into TMI mode.

Last week in the photocopier room at work, a colleague asked how I was. I told him -- and immediately thought, Oh, you idiot, he didn't really want to hear all that!

But to my surprise and gratitude, he responded with immediate sympathy and concern: told me that he has trouble at this time of year too, shared his own experience with a light box, wished me luck, confided that he hasn't ordered his spring books yet, either.

On Friday, we had a group of friends over to watch Joss Whedon's Serenity. Some of them asked how I was. I told them, not without some misgivings that they might flee the house as a result. That didn't happen; instead, we got into a lively conversation about various antidepressants. (What was that I was saying about depression being a household word?) One of our friends said, "My mom has a lightbox she never uses. We'll give it to you. Can you cancel the order on yours?"

There was some interruption -- someone else arriving at the house, maybe -- and I never got a chance to follow up on that question. After everybody left, I remembered it, and figured I'd just stick with the lightbox I'd ordered; our friends could give the unused one to someone else.

But last night, the phone rang. "Hey, Susan, can you cancel your order? Do you want that lightbox? I can pick it up tomorrow and drop it by the house on Monday." So we've now canceled the Amazon order, and I'll be getting a hand-me-down lightbox (which evidently cost $800 new) on Monday.

If I hadn't told the truth when my friends asked me how I was, this wouldn't have happened.

I have great friends and colleagues, but I have to say that these two experiences aren't helping me with my boundary issue.


  1. Hi, Susan! I do the "How are you?" real life response too. There is one lady at church who really wants to know when I answer that question. She is wonderfully sweet about it.

    I like that "fine" riff. Funny responses to greetings are a fun social variation. In college I used to hear the guys greet each other saying, "How you doing?" and the response was always, "Without!" My Navy recruiter taught me one that I used to do that claimed I was, "Sweet, sexy, shy, innocent, adorable, irresistible and modest, with emphasis on the modesty!" all said with a very sincere face. Or as close as I can get when I say that one.

    Congratulations on getting a light box for free! I knew they were expensive but had no idea they ran that high. Good for you! Are you going to do something nice for Christmas with the no longer needing to be spent funds?

    Happy Holidays!

  2. Hi, Lee! The lightbox we ordered was about $150; this must be an old model from back when they were much more expensive.

    As for Christmas, I can't even think about it yet. Let me get through Thanksgiving first!

  3. Hi, Susan! I think my sister spent about 30 minutes at a time in front of her light box. She did various things to fill up the time while she was sitting there with it shining on her face.

    Happy Thanksgiving and I hope you have a great one. I don't have much planned for that besides work. Christmas, on the other hand, is already happening. I've been playing the music and have given 3 gifts out so far. It's always been my favorite holiday.


  4. Light boxes are great. Expensive, but great. I have one sitting on my desk and I use it about 2-3 hours a day. It's made a big difference in my life.


  5. I always get uncomfortable too when people ask me how I am, and I end up pausing too long while I debate in my head whether the person really wants to know or is just being polite. Ugh. Congrats on the lightbox, I hope it works some sunshine magic for you. Happy Thanksgiving.

  6. Hi,
    Great post idea. Very Relavent. I think most people expect a postive answer when this question is asked. Like "I am fine thank you". I don't think many want to hear about "i am not good today" or "I have.... problem"



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