SHORT ANSWER: Cue the sifting through possible responses to match the moment: “Doing good, thanks!” – ugh.
LONG ANSWER: There are the polite answers, the few socially acceptable ones, the truthful ones – the ones we tell our friends (maybe), and the ones that just need to hit the air – or the ones that require a deeper dive with a lending ear. The asker of the question needs to be prepared to listen and empathize, but not fix or sympathize – people hate that.
We could look at the stats, but let’s not bother. Your friends are struggling, and so are you. I don’t know to what degree, but if you are alive in 2023, you’re struggling. If I am wrong, challenge accepted. The “good news” is that the struggle is not necessarily the crisis. Struggle is part of life, and growth of course. But holding the struggle in (i.e. not answering the question or worse yet, feeling like you can’t based on some sort of fucked up conditioning we are living under) makes sense in a way. Expressing such human emotions out loud (anger, rage, sadness, depression, anxiety) creates worry in the listener, or at least we think it does. And we are so damn considerate, we wouldn’t want anyone to worry about us now. Holding it in is “easier,” but the consequences of that have truly revealed themselves over the past few years. This is the crisis, and it doesn’t take a genius to see it.
You survived a pandemic – maybe barely. Someone you know or loved did not. You are aging every day making mortality harder and harder to deny. Murder is on the rise, as is moving on from it. “Wait, what just happened?!” God forbid we take pause, mental health breaks, or…V A C A T I O N T I M E (HORRORS!). You may have increased your alcohol or drug use – understandable. You may have ceased these practices altogether – understandable. Your body and mind are changing, you are debating major life changes while longing for the instruction manual. You have no time to read manuals. Maybe you are a parent or taking care of yours or grieving the loss of loved ones. Maybe you’re sick. Maybe you watch the news (uh oh). You are living in a world that is denying it’s a different one than it was yesterday, and the fake smile on that world is eerie. Things are broken – systems, people, etc., and everyone knows it. Example: have you ever tried to “Call your doctor!” for something?
I actually don’t know how to answer this question. “Doing good, thanks!” works after I sift through my privileges and lack of clinical diagnoses, acknowledge my gratitude, know how loved I am, and “compare my life” to “other people.” Ugh, this phrase isn’t helping anyone anymore. So, today I will practice. I am sad about our mental health crisis, I am depressed about my parents being gone. I am happy about the love in my family. My mind feels busy and when I ignore this, I feel it in my body. When I calm this, I feel that too. I choose the latter, but December is a grief beast with darkness and time commitments piling up as our daylight hours dwindle. My mind is also filled with love and light and hope. My gratitude is for knowing the difference between being alive and truly living and getting the chance to enjoy that difference while making a difference. As for my mental health, I am most grateful for my beloved mental health tool, cold-water dipping. And I do hope that cold-water dipping makes it into your tool box this season. But above all, I hope that we practice asking and answering infrequently asked questions such as this one. I hope.