Not Fine

How do you reply when people ask how you are?

Sometimes, (especially in church circles), they pull out the Big Guns.  The sympathetic head-tilt, the pressed palm and ‘How Are You REALLY?’ Try wriggling out of that one Houdini.

The way I see it, this leaves me with three options: Lie. Cry  – or (my favourite) Fly.  As far away and fast as my little wings can take me. Away from meaningful conversations and open wounds and possible misinterpretations and awkward silences.  Away from having to process the stuff I’ve been avoiding.

There are different ways of fleeing: not all of ’em literal. (Tho sprouting wings and taking off is certainly one way of stopping a conversation). Here’s my favourite:

‘I’m Fine’.

‘Fine’ is the verbal equivalent of ‘look! A Lion!’ and then hoofing it before you have To Share.

At best, ‘fine’ is more filler than adjective.  At worst, it’s a straightforward lie. I’m sad.  Hopeless.  Angry.  Confused, lonely,  overwhelmed, faithless and fearful.  Not squished exactly – but certainly squashed. And definitely, definitely Not Fine.

Thing is, it’s hard to share.

For starters, do people really want to know?  What if I start to unburden and their eyes glaze over?  If they’re shocked, bored or just indifferent?

I don’t want to splatter the beige. I’ve spent a long time boxing up those feelings – and if I start to loosen the wrapping, they might explode. At the prayer gathering. In the shopping centre. During coffee.   And then what? People would Look.  And I’d shrink.  Or scream and scream and never stop.

Gotta admit though: it’s a tiny bit tempting.  Total Meltdown in A Public Space.  Take that, security man.  I’m CRYING.

If you seal yourself off from others with ‘fine’, those emotions don’t just dissolve.  You swallow them and they start to make you hiccup and feel sick. They seep out – in angry words or self-harm or comfort eating or shopping or whatever. Like cooking spaghetti.  Leave the lid off a little bit and the steam escapes safely. But if you seal it up, it bubbles over.

I’m Not Fine.  For different reasons, this last wee while’s been tough.  Last week I went for an ultrasound and there’s more fertility issues there we hadn’t expected.  In the pursuit of Health I’ve even gone up a dress size – but surprise, suprise, there are some things food can’t fix. (You’d think I’d learn eh – even if I am coming from a different angle from before) It’s good to be strong and get some curves, but it’s been hard. Test results have been hard. And tomorrow we’ve got another  appointment and to be honest, I’m not sure I can do it.  So if you’ve got any spares, wing your prayers this way.

That said, life is not ending.  There are many things I’m thankful for – my husband, the majority of my body that does work (and I take for granted), my friends, the encouragements you give me, the pleasure of writing, the rain (I am Irish), bellini cocktails, slippersocks and most of all, that Jesus can be trusted with my life and my longings.  When I was a skeleton, I didn’t want to move forward or believe I could, –  but here I am. And I am so thankful for that.

So – Not Fine.  But sort-of okay too.

Which leads on to the big question..

How Are YOU? …No, Really



39 thoughts on “Not Fine

  1. This was something I really struggled with in the US, where the standard greeting is ‘Hey, how are you?’ There were days when I didn’t dare go shopping because I couldn’t cope with a sales assistant asking how I was. I was very grateful to return to the blank stares that are more common in the UK.

  2. Dare to share, eh?
    During a discussion/debate in uni today, in the heat of things I (possibly made the mistake of…we’ll see) decided to share with the class the fact that I had a history of eating disorder. So now they know that their nice and shiny student rep isn’t actually very nice and shiny at all. The beige is splattered. The wrapping burst when the waterworks were loosened. And at coffee break, I made sure to pretend nothing had been revealed for fear of Total Meltdown in A Public Space. But “fine” is still going to work though, right??

    I’m sorry that you’re Not Fine. I’m sorry that this all sucks. But we’re held. And Thank God For That. xx

  3. long story but life tough at the mo and hit some big lows the past few weeks but everytime I am ready to give up your blog pops up on facebook wiith EXACTLY what I need to hear at that point, whether its reassurance that I’m not the only one feeling this way or a reminder of the hope we have in Jesus even when we as humans have given up! I have wondered at times if you are in my head :-) Thank you so much for being brave enough to share the difficult things and for reminding us that Jesus is in control particularly when we feel out of control! Love and prayers for your appt xx

  4. Emma, stop channelling me!

    Lovely lady, your blog has a real knack of putting words to some of the chaos in my head. Thank you so much.

    Lots and lots of prayers winging their way up for you.

    Emma, thanks for reminding me today it’s ok to not be fine – and to admit that.

  5. Hi Ros

    Yes, given the choice of relentless bonhomie and studied indifference, I’d opt for blank stares too. That said, I still talk to strangers on buses.

  6. Hi Emma. Thanks for your wonderfully honest post (as ever). I was reminded last week in a youth group talk on Job that God is sovereign. He made us and all he stuff around us. We don’t understand but He does. We can’t see purpose but He can. Thank you Jose from NYC/Portland Oregon for he great encouragement.

  7. Jill!

    Go girl : you’re an inspiration.

    No-one is nice and shiny – and your honesty and courage is what makes you a brilliant student rep (and friend).

    However, I think we may both blown the ‘I’m fine’ cover. x

  8. Has anyone else had the experience of intense irritation and annoyance at people who “how are you REALLY?” back at you every single darn time you say you’re fine as though actually being fine is just not possible and you must be lying???

    Sorry, off topic I know but a personal bugbear especially as I assume they’re only doing it to me because I have a disability which may just be my paranoia!

  9. Joey – sorry you’re also hitting some potholes: but I’m glad we’re doing it together. Thanks for your encouragements

  10. Hey Emma,

    I am not fine. On a scale of 1 to 10 i’m around minus 3.

    I wanted to write something helpful or useful for you but i don’t think i can, except to say thank you, you’re great.

  11. Ben – you’ve inspired me to reread Job- there’s a man who’s able to say ‘Not Fine’ : no matter how much his comforters pat him

  12. Good point Ailsa: it’s on a par with someone accusing you of being angry when you aren’t. (well, weren’t, until they made the accusation)

  13. S – I’m so sorry you’re going through it. But your honesty helps more than pages of well-meaning advice. Praying for you x

  14. Hi,
    The next time someone asks me how I am I would love to just quickly gasp – ‘Look, a lion!’
    That made me laugh.


  15. Love your soul you speak so many of those tired of going through the ‘I’m Fine’ game & told they ‘should’ share.
    I too am sorry that you’re Not Fine and that this sucks for you. Hold onto the One who holds us & prayers for tomorrow.

  16. Wrote more, but my phone internet is playing up. Is this my Houdini tactic? I have to say tho, whatever it is – this is by far the most amusing piece of writing of any sort I have read in a long time. (Since your last piece I commented on? heehee) And I mean Good ole bellylaughs and giggles. Thank you, my twin! Yours in purple script. P.s. And with a most genuine and gentle touch, tinged with tears, praying for tomorrow with all my heart xxx Might sound corny, but I’ve got that football song going round my head all of a sudden- (dear Emma and Glen, may you ) “Never Walk Alone.”

  17. Hey Emma!
    Sooo true!!!
    It struck me the other day that “Hi, how are you?” is just suuuch a social greeting – I walked past a car as a young chap with a Learning Difficulty (is this the current ‘PC’ term??) was getting out… he said “Hello” to which I replied “Hi”… he said “I’m fine thanks how are you?” … I, somewhat pleasantly surprised (as I hadn’t actually asked him how he was!), replied “I’m fine”
    Whilst the ‘I’m fine’ was an absolute lie, I didn’t feel that he really wanted to hear my troubles, and that actually his day appeared to be going okay, and why should I put a dampner on it!!

    As many comments above have already said… your blogs always seem to come through at just the right moment – maybe we’re all struggling a lot more than we think… so… for you… please be encouraged that you are not alone in your struggles… and please be encouraged that you so obviously encourage so many others… with your humble honesty, as much as your timing ;) !!

    Prayers heading your way xx

  18. I know the start to scream and never stop feeling! My now husband but at the time just odd boy from home group taught me to scream into a pillow. Random, but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it, it really is very effective! Praying for you and Glen x

  19. Big hugs and lots of love….
    Remember He said…”Underneath are the everlasting arms”.
    He Holds You safe & securely In Him….

  20. I struggle with this one! On the one hand, I feel uspet and alone when nobody ever seems to want to know. But are they really asking at all? Once, not so very long ago, I told somebody with quite an important leadership role in my church that I was afraid I might die (I actually was, in a quite cold-blooded rational way, as I was towards the end of a very complicated pregnancy where I had been in and out of hospital and was getting weaker and weaker). He stared at me in shock and didn’t know what to say. Thankfully, I was not emotional at the time, and in fact said this as a kind of ‘test’ (Is that awful?) but I wanted to see whether this person could actually handle real life, and the answer did seem to be ‘no’. I guess coffee in a busy environment at the end of a meeting is not the ideal time or place, and I like to hope that hints of things will be followed up later in the week, or that if a person really cared, they would chase you up! But we are all so busy these days…..

    It’s hard! I can’t win. On the one hand, so very lonely and feel misunderstood. But on the other hand, don’t really know what I can do to try and improve things, but am aware that I might not help myself!

    So, no clever answers, but thanks for sharing your true self here.

  21. Just wanted to say that I have just started to read your blog as my best buddy ran into yours after doing a little research on anorexia. I am currently an inpatient aiming for recovery and finding that such a pursuit leaves me with feelings of absolute gut-wrenching desperation.
    My friend suggested I looked you up as, whilst reading your posts, she became increasingly struck by the fact that we seemed so similar in so many ways. I haven’t read enough of your writing yet because I find it nigh on impossible to sit down long enough to read much… and my head is full of crazied thoughts during the ‘enforced rest’ time we do here after meals and snacks.
    Having just read your post, I wanted you to know that I have sent one up for you… and will continue to do so for as long as I remember.
    I’m so glad that you are so far into sustaining your recovery. It gives me some sense of hope to hear stories like yours.
    I battle to nurture frail hope which just seems to keep dissolving on the plate they put before me.

    I look forward to following your blog and hope that you can somehow draw on all those you love for support and strength at this time.

    Best wishes


  22. Oh Emma – I’ve just caught up on here…
    Way too many things that I’m thinking but don’t know how to say them without sounding trite or patronising.

    I am in a similar place emotionally, (though you sound a bit further down the track that i am on at the moment). I know the cry or fly thing – I’ve been doing a bit more of the cry thing at the moment – the tears keep leaking out sideways. (Most annoying.) If you wanna spill, or rant – without needing to be witty or theologically sound or erudite – count this ear as listening. I will be praying this weekend for distraction and fun for you both – praying for the little things as well as the big. Sending you a massive hug. xxx

  23. Kondwani, I can really relate to being lonely, yet putting up barriers too. I guess blogging is a way of letting people in, but without having to face those awkward silences!

  24. WonderingSoul – been praying for you: thanks so much for reading and for encouraging me, especially as you’re in the furnace yourself.

    Don’t give up. Please. It’s horrible and there are times when we feel desperate and alone and despairing. But there’s a future for us that is better than we can imagine. There’s life on the other side – and it’s more than just physical health. It’s a future we can’t quite see: but each day brings us a step closer and we are not alone.

  25. Thanks so much for your response. You’ve been praying for me? THANK YOU.
    It may well be what has enabled me to do what I’ve done today.

    Also wondered if you spent any time in Cotswold House? I haven’t read enough here yet to know the whole story.

    Thank you for your encouragement.
    I have a CPA on Tues so we shall see what happens…

    Sending warm wishes and will be thinking of you as you do the radio thing. If I have any thoughts, I will post them.


  26. Hi Emma. I’m not fine. There. I’ve said it. But I’m not going to say it to the well meaning, but not really a very good friend of mine, woman who keeps doing the ‘look deep into my eyes and know I’m REALLY asking’ thing. Seriously, is she just asking to make herself feel good?! I want to scream at my kids – even though I’m lucky to have them, even though one of them nearly died, even though my sister took AGES on the rollercoaster (a figurative one, of course) trying to get pregnant, so I appreciate the fact that they’re a gift. I know they’re so precious and yet… someone pass me that pillow to scream into, as I may need it the next time one of them wakes up. Hmm… I guess I won’t be telling that to the lady who looks me in the eye and asks me how I am each week! Look! A lion!

  27. I hear you Louise. And the lookingdeepintoeyesinmeaningfulway is stressful and exhausting..who breaks eye contact first?! And how?..

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