How am I? Please don’t ask.

I’m trying to cut down on my lying. When a co-worker asked me this morning, “How are you?” I replied, “I refuse to answer that question.”

This “How are you?” greeting is getting silly. People walking the opposite direction say, “How are you?” and I say, “I’m fine—how are you?” At that point, we either both have to stop walking or we have to shout to continue the exchange. Generally I do stop walking and make eye contact and wait for their answer, which forces them to decide whether or not to answer me. I don’t feel guilty about this—they started the conversation. Sometimes they seem flattered that I actually appear genuinely interested in how they are. Other times the situation is awkward because they weren’t really interested in my answer and they don’t expect me to care about their answer.

My counselor has an employee who calls a couple days before each appointment to make sure I am planning to come, and who greets me when I come in the door. She has a friendly habit of asking, “How are you?” and usually I tell her I’m fine. I wonder if everyone else lies to her as I do. I’m tempted, next time she asks, to say, “Well, I wouldn’t still be coming here if everything was OK, would I?”

“How am I?” A member of my family has been in the hospital since Wednesday night because of anxiety and depression and related problems. The rest of the family has watched this person struggle for several weeks. We are all glad that this person is finally getting some professional help, and we hope it will be beneficial. I’m willing to blog about the situation, but I’m not keen to mention it in casual conversation.

“How am I?” My knees ache when I climb the stairs. My ankle is throbbing because I stepped on the plug of another person’s GPS device which was, for some unknown reason was sitting in the middle of the floor and not in a car. My back is still sore because I wrenched it last week waking up from a dream.

Would you like to know about that dream? I had gotten on the flatbed car of a freight train while it was stopped at the station. That did not seem strange at the time, because other passengers were getting on and off the freight train. But as the train started moving to leave the station, I remembered that I had not told anyone where I was going. As the train approached a curve, I prepared to jump. I was determined to make a good solid jump off the train, as I did not want to risk losing an arm or a leg. I woke up when my body hit the floor.

This story about jumping out of bed because of a dream seems amusing at first. Thanks to the internet, I know that I can worry about this as a serious problem. It has a label, of course: RBD, which stands for REM behavior disorder. A healthy person’s body does not move while that person is dreaming, because the mind-body connection is aware of the difference between dreaming and reality, no matter how vivid the dream seems. When that awareness is lacking, something has caused the normal separation between dreaming and reality to be severed. The worst case scenarios involve a brain tumor or the onset of Parkinson’s disease. A more likely cause for my RBD is that I am trying to reduce my alcohol consumption. Either way, I’m not cheerful about a week of mild back pain due to an unusual sleep disorder which might or might not recur.

I’m worried about family finances. I’m concerned about people I’ve known for a long time and the problems they are facing. I’m concerned about people I’ve just gotten to know this summer and the problems they are facing. I’m not enjoying the summer weather. I’m sick of hearing my neighbor’s lawn mowers and trimmers and blowers. I’m taking medicine to control my anxiety and my depression. That’s how I am; thank you for asking. And, by the way, how are you?

J.

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