"How are you?" is a question we are all asked on a daily basis. It seems to immediately follow the word "Hello" as though it is a plus one to the greeting and not an actual question requiring an actual answer. I know when I'm asked how I am I often feel I have to rush the answer with a quick "I am fine" or "Okay thanks." For some odd reason it doesn't feel socially acceptable to answer the question truthfully, I do not feel like the other person actually wants to know how I am. The question doesn't seem to be given the space or time by the other person to actually be listened to. I will hold my hands up and admit that when I say "Hello, how are you?" it just slips out my mouth as a greeting, I do not think about what I am saying.
Sometimes when someone asks how I am I feel on the verge of tears and I want to tell them, "I've got this monster in my head and it's destroying me and confusing me and I don't know which thoughts are mine anymore and my body aches, the pain in my jaw is too much today" and yet I'll smile and tell them that I'm fine, it's not even a forced smile because I'm so used to smiling instead of crying that I feel like I've almost confused my body and taught my muscles to smile when I am sad.
Every week my psychologist says to me, "Hello, how are you?" and still I answer, "I'm okay thank you" when we both know I'm not. I've been offered hospital admission several times over the past couple of weeks and I've hurt myself pretty badly and still I sat there with him knowing all of that and told him that "I am fine." It has become a habit. The question has become meaningless and so has the answer. That's heart-breaking, society has become so fast-paced that we don't always stop to ask how another living soul is. We are all living in our own little bubbles, rushing around and fighting our battles alone. We are social beings. Talking helps.
It's important to talk about mental health but not just in 'mental health conversations', if we are to maintain good mental health then we need to be talking about mental health on a daily basis. Read carefully here, I said mental health not mental illness. We all have mental health and if we are to maintain good mental health then it is so important that we share how we really are. Someone without a mental illness still has emotions and troubles.
It isn't just mental illness that we hide in our 'I am fines' it is also our physical illness, our money worries, family problems, loss and loneliness-the list is endless. The majority of us bottle it up in this fast-paced society.
I am going to turn the greeting "How are you?" back into a question for Mental Health Awareness Week this year. Send your 200 words (or under) answers to the question "How are you?" to firstname.lastname@example.org by the 13th May. "How are you? Honestly!" will then be published during Mental Health Awareness Week.