There’s a question that I hate way more than all the ones I used to hate, like ‘Why don’t you go on top for a bit?’ or ‘Wasn’t there a packet of chocolate fingers here earlier? (My colleagues say that to me a lot.)
That question is ‘How are you?’ and also its variant, ‘What’ve you been up to?’
It’s not that objectively I’m not fine, it’s not even that I haven’t been up to much, it’s just that, as soon as I say what I’ve been up to, I feel like it’ll be some how inferior to what you’ve been up to. I go out and do stuff I enjoy doing most nights, less so on a Friday and Saturday because the things that most people do on those nights seem to be the kinds of things I don’t enjoy, like dancing to really loud music in a hot room. But I’m a woman of nearly 30, and no matter what I’ve been doing, or how much I enjoyed it, part of me always feels like I should have been enjoying a meal with my steady boyfriend, or thinking about having a baby. When I started to want those things a little bit, a few years back, it gave me the fear that every time a friend asked me how I was, if I answered honestly and then asked her the same question, she’d say ‘I’m great! I’ve met THE ONE!’ and I’d have to pretend not to be jealous. Yes, I’m a selfish bitch.
The nagging sense of anxiety that this question seeds in me was exacerbated by being diagnosed with depression three years ago. For months, I wasn’t really doing anything, because going to work alone took up all my emotional resources – when I got home I’d sometimes cry so hard I had to cling on to the doorframe to make sure I stayed standing. It was pretty much like this, and this. Eventually, I booked an appointment with a therapist and, when I couldn’t even get through an hour with her without dissolving into floods of tears, I started taking antidepressants, too.
I was pretty honest with my friends about being sick, but it was hard on them nonetheless – I lashed out all the time. When people suggested I try a different treatment I accused them of only liking the person I was when I was well. I never, ever told my parents what I was experiencing and they were, and still are, the worst of all in that regard. I can have had the most exhausting week ever, but I can reel off a list of what I’ve done and my mum still says ‘And what else have you been up to?’ at the end.
When someone asks how you are, or what you’ve been up to, there’s no right or wrong answer. Do the things you love and don’t worry about what other people think. I know I need to realise this myself, but it’s harder than it looks. Until then, ask me anything but that.