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Alternatives to "How are you feeling?"

 
gardener
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What are your alternatives to "How are you feeling?". How do you answer the question?

I've been going through some personal and health challenges over the last year or so, and "how are you feeling?" is the question I get most tired of hearing, and have the most difficulty answering. I especially hate the question when it's posed in text-form rather than asked in person/over the phone, or if it's the first question someone asks me.

Sometimes  I can say "today is a good day", or "this week's been good". But I get very tired about focusing on how I am feeling and of trying to put a positive light on things. Even on a good day, I end up thinking about the last not good day when I answer the question, as it's all comparative. Honestly - at this point, I don't think reflecting on it too much is very good for my mental health, and I am tired of complaining. There are some days when I just don't care to think about it, I just want to live in the moment and not be reminded I have a chronic illness.  

There are some people who ask me literally every time I talk to them. It's a chronic condition - it's honestly not changed since last time they asked. All of the people who ask it are people I do care about but are not close to- often distant coworkers, friends of the family, etc -  so I don't want to brush them off. I am glad that they care, I just get tired of answering the question!

Some seem to only want to hear "oh, I'm awesome!" and get disappointed with me if I tell them "not great" or that things aren't improving much, and some seem to want entertainment from the trainwreck of "I feel terrible", and pressure me to say how "I really feel" when I say it's been good lately. Often now I'll answer clinically. I don't really mind sharing how things are going with people or people understanding what's happening in my life - I just mind having someone "demand" the answer...

So I have been working to not ask other people "how are you feeling?" - because honestly, mostly it's pretty obvious. When my sister was in the hospital recently - i didn't ask how she felt (she couldn't eat and was in a lot of pain - did I really need to ask?). I used humour and asked how her luxurious government accommodations were, and teased her a bit, and asked if the doctors had figured out the cause yet. When I talked to a friend with health issues (who is close enough I actually feel comfortable saying how I feel) - I asked how his move was going, and how his work was going. We both later talked about how we were feeling, but it was voluntary.

So yeah - what are some alternatives to "how are you feeling?" that still show you care and are willing to listen?
 
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I went through that after my brother died.  People always ask how you are doing.  It doesn't take more than a couple times of telling them the truth before you realize, they are just asking because it's a social convention.  They don't actually want to hear anything other than, "I'm fine, how are you?".  This only applies to more casual acquaintances of course, as you mentioned.  People close to you are probably really concerned, but they aren't the people I think you are talking about.  My assumption is that people who are really close friends and family, you can talk to truthfully.  So, my short answer, and the way I handle it, is just to say "I'm fine, how are you?".  It's short, follows social convention, and doesn't create awkwardness.

Best to you with your struggles, I hope you have more good days and weeks than bad.
 
Catie George
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Good point about the social-askers Trace. They can be annoying but I actually don't mind them too much, as most of them are content with "I'm a lot better than I was" or "There are good days and bad days, but i am doing better".  It's the people who aren't content with that answer that are challenging.

I work with a lot of people who I've spent 3-6 months with working 12 hrs a day, eating 2-3 meals a day together at some point, working really closely on "us versus the world" kinds of projects. So we are close enough that some are genuinely concerned, but we don't interact regularly. Others, I think just want to hear "I'm great, I can start working 12+ hr days outdoors in winter next week! I'll take night shift" (I've turned down three offers to do something like this in the last 2 months).  
 
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I'm following in hopes of learning something.
I have a friend who's had cancer for the last couple of years. Sometimes he's better and sometimes he's worse. I don't ask about it unless he invites asking, we talk about our dogs, our plants, our clients, etc (just had lunch with him last Friday, and in his words we are a bunch of malevolent gossipers). I don't want to make him feel bad ("how am I? I still have cancer!") but I also feel almost as bad avoiding the topic. I mean, this is a big part of his life, it's obviously important, and the last thing I want to do is make him feel bad about talking about it.
 
pollinator
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Tereza Okava wrote:I'm following in hopes of learning something.
I have a friend who's had cancer for the last couple of years. Sometimes he's better and sometimes he's worse. I don't ask about it unless he invites asking, we talk about our dogs, our plants, our clients, etc (just had lunch with him last Friday, and in his words we are a bunch of malevolent gossipers). I don't want to make him feel bad ("how am I? I still have cancer!") but I also feel almost as bad avoiding the topic. I mean, this is a big part of his life, it's obviously important, and the last thing I want to do is make him feel bad about talking about it.



My pastor loves people, and what he does is ask, "How are you feeling Travis, no, I mean how are you really feeling." I am not sure if the written word is translating well on here, but it is a huge difference, it conveys a sense of, "I really do care". I like that Tereza, and I have had cancer for 3 years now.

Catie...my heart goes out to you. I know how you feel.

I do not harbor any ill feelings for anyone who asks such a quick answer. We live in a world where the medical profession is amazing, people get sick, and then people get better. With cancer it seems, people either get better, or they die. So I realize that is the misconception that is out there, so I extend them some grace...some slack if you will.

For the chronically ill, there is a grieving process just like the loss of a family member, because their is a huge loss. Some people grieve at different stages, and I saw this a lot when I was a Divorce Councilor at our church. People would just expect someone to "get on with their lives" and yet sometimes, it is not that easy. People who have been divorced will readily know what I mean, especially if they did not want the divorce in the first place. So a year later, some people are still hurting, but their friends feel they should have gotten over it by then.

It can be the same way with chronic illness. people just sort of expect people to get medical attention, and get better in x amount of time, when a chronically ill person may need much longer to recover.

My heart goes out to you because I am at a real low point in my life...another winter, another round of cancer, so I do understand where you might be. (That is a question, not a declaration. I would not make assumptions of where you are in this).

For me, the loss is an ability to work, and as a workaholic...a full-time farmer...I have always just worked harder to provide for my family. I cannot do that now, so I am completely humilated by this. The truth is cancer is embarrassing to have...but not providing for my family is humiliating. The difference is staggering. That makes the situation very internalized, and I cannot rise above it because the only way for me to defeat humiliation, is to have self-confidence and start providing for my family again. I try, but I cannot work, so I fall back down again in this self-defeating hamster wheel that I am on.

Unfortunately few people understand this, and so for the chronically ill, we slip into despair because no one knows how we feel. It is brutal because while we are trying to battle for our health, living in humiliation is a life that is almost worse than death.

The best thing we can do is tell people how we REALLY do feel. We have to understand that they may not understand why we are not better, but we must try, and so your post is an excellent start in understanding how to convey extended poor health.
 
Tereza Okava
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One thing I do understand from having been in grief is that there is a difference between asking how someone is doing and being willing to listen to the answer. Like really listen. Thanks, Travis.
 
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Some seem to only want to hear "oh, I'm awesome!" and get disappointed with me if I tell them "not great" or that things aren't improving much, and some seem to want entertainment from the trainwreck of "I feel terrible", and pressure me to say how "I really feel" when I say it's been good lately.



I feel you here. For seven years now my father has been diagnosed with a degenerative brain disease. Degenerative meaning it gets worse over time. Despite explaining this to many people (including much of my close family) people get upset at me when they ask me “how’s your dad doing?” and hear it isn’t getting better and there’s no fix on the horizon. Most people’s brains aren’t wired to understand an illness that doesn’t have a curable path and their brains melt down when they hear that sometimes things just don’t get better. So like others have said already, I just lie to them and say he’s doing fine.

As to alternatives to how are you feeling? I think the best way is to re-focus the subject of what you’re saying back on to yourself. What are you prepared to do? Asking someone how they’re feeling puts all the onus on them. Something like I’m here to listen if you need to talk switches the subject around. Another thing I’ve noticed as I’ve gotten older is that vague, negative-leaning questions like “how are you feeling?” end up in boring conversations that neither person really enjoys. Questions like What are you most excited about right now? offer far better conversation paths.
 
Catie George
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As always - really thoughtful answers from everyone :)

Tereza - I think Travis is right, and intentions tend to come through. I have a few friends who really actively listen, and retain information between conversations, and follow up with what I have said (ie, if I say I have an appointment next week, the next time we talk they ask how my appointment went). I feel like those friends are the ones I am most comfortable talking with. I have a relative with cancer, and there's not much I can say, but I've been sending her cute memes and pictures way more frequently than usual. She has told my mother that she appreciates it, because she feels remembered. It takes maybe 2 min out of my day, or less?

Travis - I've seen some of your posts on your struggles recently, and you and your family are definitely in my thoughts. I have a lot of empathy for you, as a fellow recovering workaholic who will likely never be able to go back to what I used to do. I think the North American sense of self is really tied up with work ethic, and it's a challenge to separate your sense of self-worth from your employability.  I can't even imagine where you might be, because I am lucky that I don't have dependents that I am responsible for, and although my condition may worsen, it's unlikely to be fatal. I think some of the hardest to understand, but strongest grief (and it is grief) with long term illness comes from not just the illness, but from the way it forces you to abandon or change your long-term plans.  I think you've had to deal with that grief repeatedly, and I would find that pretty demoralizing. I am very glad to hear you have a pastor you can talk to, and family who care, and I hope you are able to remind yourself that they care about you not because you are a good worker, but because you are a good person.  

Kyle Neath wrote:I feel you here. For seven years now my father has been diagnosed with a degenerative brain disease. Degenerative meaning it gets worse over time. Despite explaining this to many people (including much of my close family) people get upset at me when they ask me “how’s your dad doing?” and hear it isn’t getting better and there’s no fix on the horizon. Most people’s brains aren’t wired to understand an illness that doesn’t have a curable path and their brains melt down when they hear that sometimes things just don’t get better. So like others have said already, I just lie to them and say he’s doing fine.

As to alternatives to how are you feeling? I think the best way is to re-focus the subject of what you’re saying back on to yourself. What are you prepared to do? Asking someone how they’re feeling puts all the onus on them. Something like I’m here to listen if you need to talk switches the subject around. Another thing I’ve noticed as I’ve gotten older is that vague, negative-leaning questions like “how are you feeling?” end up in boring conversations that neither person really enjoys. Questions like What are you most excited about right now? offer far better conversation paths.



Kyle - I think you hit on exactly why this question makes me uncomfortable. A) People don't understand that things don't ALWAYS improve, and B) focusing on "how are you feeling" may end up as a negative conversation, and puts the onus on the person to explain themselves. Sometimes negative topics are necessary/cathartic but that negativity really does need to be balanced with positive interactions too. And your right about the "I'm hear to listen" or other offers of help. They are really rare, but they are very valuable to hear.

So I guess my question has become - how can I express care for a person (who is ill, or who isn't ill), allow them to complain if they need to, and yet still leave the door open to just talk about happy things if the person wants to?

I think I am going to try "So, what's new with you?" , "Anything big happen since the last time we talked?" - and then, maybe specific questions if they reveal something. Hopefully that's more open-ended and gives the other person the opportunity to choose what to talk about. I may also try asking "any news from your doctors?" if it's someone who's condition is not static.
 
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I have read this thread (with interest) and have had several thoughts/suggestions, which I offer here in case they are helpful.

I agree that there's a difference between an acquaintance asking 'how are you feeling?' (almost in a thoughtless, kneejerk reactive way) and those close to you who the question is authentic and searching.
It's usually fairly easy to distinguish between the two....but the tone or the look in the eye is a giveaway too.

I realise that when undergoing a difficult time that it is hard and draining to try and search for a positive spin in reply too.  However, addressing those who don't really want to know how you truly feel, you might:-

- just shrug and offer a half smile (implying it's a somewhat dumb question!) i.e. you are not obliged to say anything

- if possible, make light of it and - to "how are you feeling?"  say "compared to what!?"  (courtesy of a Grouch Marx quip!)
 
- if something new has occurred, you could offer that.  At parties/socials, people often ask 'how are you' but I like to ask 'what's new?' (if I know them).

- if you can see they are well meaning, you might lightly touch their shoulder and offer something like "getting there" or "it takes time..." or sigh and say 'thanks for asking' with a half smile or a knowing look

Whilst I don't wish to analyze/judge the predicaments shared, I know (first hand) how easy it is for depression (brought on by external events or otherwise) to so easily slide into degrees of more intense depression that can be hard to come out of.  It might go without saying but it would be beneficial to be vigilant and to take action if need be....

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