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.