When you’re healthy – the question “how are you?” is thoughtful. But when you’re chronically ill – it’s a medical background check. Here are 100 ways to answer this question when you’re not in the mood to give out a personal health assessment.
What I’m about to tell you next, you just can’t make up…
On multiple occasions, I have been asked the question:
“So… Marina… ummm... how long do you have to live?”
What kind of question is that? I felt like responding by saying, “Longer than you, lady!” While I hit them over the head with my cane.
But I’ve never done that – as much as I have wanted to. In the past, I’ve just smiled and said, “I know my date of death as well as anyone else! As long as I’m here, I’ll keep fighting.”
Sick or not, the question "how are you?" is almost unavoidable. It’s how any conversation begins. And you’ll benefit from preparing your answer because it will help you keep the chat under control.
The last thing you want to do is finish speaking to someone, feeling exhausted, irritated, overwhelmed… and most likely offended too.
Control is the key word here. The more control you have over your actions in a conversation – the better the outcome will be. And the best way to get this right is by being prepared.
Next time you plan on seeing others or you want to go out of the house, here are three things you need to do first:
Assess your physical state
Put aside your mental health for a second and focus on your body. Ask yourself:
- How much pain am I in?
- How much energy do I have?
If you work on a scale from 1-10, then that’s perfect. Some people hate the pain scale and that’s also okay. Use smiley faces, colour wheels, emojis, emotions – whatever works for you.
The important thing is that you have a frame of reference to work from.
Something I would advise is that you ask yourself these two questions after you get up in the morning. Until you stretch your joints and move around a bit, you may not get a good sense for how your body really feels.
Consider your emotional state
Once you have a better idea of where you’re at with your pain and energy levels – it helps you get a clearer idea of where you’re at emotionally too.
If you’re exhausted and in a lot of pain. Then chances are that you don’t want to have a long and draining conversation about your health. In other words, you need to keep things short and sweet.
If you have a little more energy and you’re in a decent mood – you can consider being a little more open in conversation.
But take it slow. You don’t want a chat about your health to drain your happiness when it’s not necessary. Try and use your energy for more productive things.
Be okay with not knowing how you are all the time
This is an important point. If you’re not sure how you feel – which can be pretty often – it’s okay. Please don’t heighten your stress levels over this.
It’s normal to not know how you feel all the time.
It’s normal for your mood to change every five minutes when you have a chronic illness. And it’s normal for your energy levels to drop and your mood to suddenly drop with it.
Be kind to yourself in these moments. Your body is going through a lot and your mind needs time to adjust with it.
If you’re not sure how you’re feeling – then be honest with yourself about it. It’s not something you need to hide and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s just something that takes a little time to understand sometimes.
Evaluate Who You Are Speaking To
You don’t want to sit in an awkward conversation, you don’t want to waffle on, and you don’t want to waste your energy.
That’s why once you have a better idea about how you genuinely feel – take a few minutes to think about who you plan to see. This helps you build intent for the conversation.
Start by understanding the intent of the person asking the question
Everyone has a different motive behind asking you how you are – and that’s okay.
Knowing someone’s intentions helps you gauge how much of your own time and energy should be used in a conversation.
People usually have one of these five intentions behind asking you how you are:
- Just passing by and being polite, not really interested.
- Friendly but not interested in the details.
- Interested but pressed for time.
- Interested and wants to know more or show support.
- Intending to give you advice.
Evaluate how your response will affect you – not them
The more interested the person is in knowing how you are – the more time you can give them.
But this doesn’t change the fact that your well being is more important. If you’re not in the best headspace then it doesn’t matter who you speak to, do what’s best for you.
Draw clear boundaries
If you find a conversation is getting too heated, the subject is veering in a way you don’t want it to or you’re just feeling like the person isn’t respecting your limits – you have the right to draw a social boundary.
You are in charge of how much personal information you share. It’s not personal and it’s not nasty. It’s a form of self-care.
Cut unwanted advice off at the pass
I would recommend handling this situation with some diplomacy, especially when people are trying to be helpful. After a recommendation is made, one of the easiest things to say is:
“Thank you for your advice. I appreciate the thought. I have already tried this and unfortunately, it did not work for me.”
Otherwise, you can also just say:
“Thanks for the advice, but at this point, I have a balance of treatments and medication that’s working for me and I want to follow through on it.”
Remember it’s not their fault for not understanding
Sometimes, asking the question “how are you?” can sting. And it’s not really about those three exact words – it’s about the way they’re said.
If you’ve ever had an acquaintance approach you casually and say something like:
“Oh shame, how are your aches and pains and stuff?”
“How is your leg? Didn’t you hurt it or something?”
“Oh you’re not using a crutch – so, you’re doing better, right?”
Each oblivious comment feels like a dagger to the chest. But remember that someone who’s never heard of chronic pain will have a hard time processing your situation.
Most of the time these comments come from a place of love. So remember to do your “deep breathing” before answering them.
If you're looking to explain yourself better to your loved ones. Here's an awesome article you should pass on to them: 30 Things Chronic Pain Sufferers Want You to Know
Okay, now that the basics are out the way. Here are the actual responses you’ve been waiting for.
Respond with Charm
This is more about being diplomatic and sociable. You need to be in the mood to take this approach. But it definitely helps keep the topic of your health short and sweet.
(Responses 1 - 20):
- Trying to stay positive – I know it’s important.
- I’m taking it easy.
- Trying to stay zen.
- I’m keepin’ on, keepin’ on. Aren’t we all?
- I’m here. That’s all I need to take on the day.
- I have a few minutes on my hands. Wanna grab a coffee?
- On my way to yoga. Do you want to join?
- There’s a lot of bad things happening right now, but I have great support and couldn’t ask for more.
- Not entirely here – I’m imagining myself on a faraway beach right now.
- Learning a lot about life. But aren’t we all?
- Trying to keep my yoga instructors words in my head and “be patient”.
- In real need of a catch-up. Are you free?
- Rolling with the punches and trying to come out on top. Same as everyone else!
- Making my life work for me. It’s not easy, but I’m getting there.
- Getting stronger every day – sometimes it’s more mental work, and other times it’s more physical.
- Keeping busy – and I’m grateful for that.
- Ready to take on the day. And you?
- Finding new ways to tackle my days and come out on top.
- Getting a crash course in understanding why patience is a virtue.
- Knocked down 20 times and getting up for the 21st right now – you know?
Make it Lighthearted
Even if you’re not in the best space, laughing a little won’t make things worse. So if the conversation starts off lightly – then go with it!
(Responses 21 - 40):
- I’ll leave it up to your imagination.
- Ready for a bottle of red and a 4-hour nap!
- In need of a hug and that’s about all.
- Out of order. You can come back in 3-5 working days for a follow-up.
- Putting on my big girl panties and powering through.
- I could write a book on that topic.
- Ready to run a marathon. The only issue is that my body isn’t cooperating with me.
- That question deserves a payment of one coffee together before it can be answered.
- Being my own preppy life cheerleader.
- Can I answer that question with a facial expression?
- Not great – but if Britney could get through 2007, then I can get through this!
- If the phrase “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is true – I should be the freakin’ Hulk by now.
- I’ll get back to you on that.
- It’s a give no f*cks kinda day. Want to join?
- I made it out of bed. And my pants are on. It’s a damn good day if you ask me!
- I’m covering my exhaustion with this fantastic makeup job.
- Fine right now. Might scream into a pillow later. We’ll see how the day goes.
- I’d prefer to be in bed, without pants and a cup of tea – but this is okay too.
- I am me. Whatever that means.
- (Just a whole bunch of grunts and noises) psht… pfft, urghh… meh. You know?
Be Kind Back and Focus on the Other Person
When I’m all out of jokes and just want to keep things calm, being kind as a response is a winner. There’s nothing like focusing on others to get any negative attention off yourself.
(Responses 41 - 60):
- Wondering how you are doing?
- Trying to balance the good and the bad right now, d’you know what I mean?
- All the better now that I’ve seen you.
- I’ve been wondering how your (family/dog/new job) etc. is, actually?
- You’ve been on my mind and I wanted to know if you’re keen to grab lunch?
- I’ve been following your adventures on (Instagram / Facebook) and I’d love to hear more about them?
- So appreciative of all the love and support you’ve shown me. Thank you. It makes such a difference to know you’re there.
- Honestly, I couldn’t be more grateful for my friends and family right now. You guys are helping me so much.
- I’ve taken your advice and I’ve been working on my …
- So amazed by how well you are doing!
- All the better now that you’re here.
- Taking in all the love and support I can get right now, so thank you!
- I’ve been thinking about catching a movie, would you like to join?
- I really am okay. I was just thinking about you actually!
- Excited to catch with you.
- Doing as well as I can – your support makes such a difference.
You can also be friendly but truthful...
- Really trying to keep calm – and my health is making me very anxious. Let’s focus on you, okay?
- Not great and in need of a distraction. What are you up to?
- I’m rather tired of talking about myself. So why don’t you tell me what’s happening in your life?
- I really appreciate you asking and showing you care. But I’m not really in the mood for answering that today. How are you?
Show Love By Being Honest
When you’re around people you love and trust, being honest can be liberating. These are the moments where some of your best words of solace and support can come from.
(Responses 61 - 80):
- I feel like absolute crap – but I’m getting through it.
- Definitely don’t feel like I’m winning right now, but I know the race isn’t over.
- I have lots to complain about, but I’m not going to.
- I’ve definitely been better. But, I’ve also been worse.
- Improving every day. That’s not necessarily just physical – but mental too.
- I’m doing the best I can and giving it my all.
- Keeping distracted right now. I need to shift my focus on happy things.
- Learning about what perseverance really means – and trying to stick with it.
- Feeling good is a relative term. I’m feeling as good as I can, given the circumstances.
- My body isn't great right now. But I’m in a really good mental space. So I couldn’t ask for more to help me through this time.
- I’m alive. So, it’s a start.
- I’ll let you know once I figure it out for myself.
- I don’t know how I am. There’s a lot going on.
- I’ve been better.
- In need of a break from myself. Is that even possible?
- Not giving up. I won’t lie though, I’m struggling to keep my chin up today.
- I'm not great at all. But it’s my battle to fight.
- Not in the mood to be a fighter right now. Today’s a rest-and-recover day.
- Sh*t. I’ll let you know when things change, but for now it’s not a good time and I don’t have anything else to tell you.
- Not in the mood to talk about it right now. But I’d love to know more about how your holiday went?
Don’t Judge Yourself for Anything You Say
If you’re not in the mood to be charming or receptive to others – that’s okay. But if you’re going to be blunt, here are some ways you can do it without coming across rude. (That way you also don’t feel guilty later for snapping.)
(Responses 81 - 100):
- Not great, I just need to deal with that today. Tomorrow is another day to work on improving myself. Right now I need to be sad.
- Irritated, tired and sore. I’m afraid I won’t be the best conversationalist.
- It doesn’t really matter right now. What’s more important is that I’m working on self-acceptance.
- I’m actually not in the mood to answer that today. Mainly because I don’t know.
- You can’t win every day – today I didn’t win.
- I don’t mean to be rude but I’m really tired and really need to get home and be on my own for a bit.
- Ready for my meds and bed. Can we chat another time?
- Same as yesterday and the day before. Honestly it’s hard not sounding boring at the moment.
- I’m not doing well. But I also know this isn’t an easy situation to empathise with, so I don’t expect you to have a solution for me. Just your support is appreciated.
- Pretty sh*tty. And I don’t want to wallow on it please.
- It’s been a tough week and I want to let it all out. Would you be up to talking it all through with me?
- I need a lot of space at the moment. I’m working through my thoughts before I can talk about them.
- I know it’s tricky to see, but I’m fighting a big internal battle. Please respect that I’m doing the best I can and will reach out when I’m ready.
You can use a little humour if you want...
- How do you think I am? [Followed by a giggle and scanning hand gestures moving down your body.]
- In need of a stiff drink – and I’m not joking.
- Alive – and that’s good enough for me!
- Nothing has changed so let’s focus on something else.
- Not in the mood to answer that question to be frank. It’s not personal, I’m just very tired.
- At a low point and need to deal with it personally. I’ll let you know when I'm ready to talk about it.
- Meh… that’s about all I have to say. Sorry I can’t say more right now.
If you want to read through all these “how are you?” responses again, here’s a PDF version to download: 100 Ways to Answer the Question, "How Are You?"
Sometimes it’s not the question, “How are you?” that irritates you the most. It’s how people react to your answer that makes you cringe inside.
I've stopped entertaining these responses for one reason I mentioned earlier:
You need to evaluate how your response will affect you. Not them.
I don’t have the energy to start a fight with everyone that sparks a controversial topic. I have bigger issues to deal with that deserve my attention. And so do you.
Your energy is more important.
Your mental wellbeing is more important.
Remember that your physical health is affected by how you tackle any obstacle and you need to think before you pick a fight.
No one needs to know why you back down in some cases. At the end, it’s not about them. It’s about you.
So, on that note…
How are you… really?
Comment back with the least diplomatic and most profane rant that you want to. Here’s your chance to be real with me.