“Hi! How are you?”
Almost without fail when meeting someone, our first exchange is “Hi! How are you?” By far the most common, and indeed the most socially acceptable response is “I’m fine, thanks. And you?” In fact, I would argue that this is the only socially acceptable response in this context.
Herein lies my dilemma. To be perfectly honest, “I’m fine, thanks” is never going to be anywhere near the truth for anyone living with Parkinson’s. With an ever present, increasingly complex range of symptoms, answering this question with any degree of truth, whilst maintaining a social etiquette becomes nearly impossible.
I’m aware I’m sounding melodramatic. ‘I’m fine, thanks”, surely says nothing more than I’m maintaining a degree of emotional intelligence and following a social etiquette. I may be reading a lot into a question that was never intended to ask me to explain my health in any detail but a simple “I’m fine, thanks”, leaves me feeling like I’m betraying the extent of the challenges faced by those of us living with Parkinson’s. Perhaps a slightly more honest, “I’m as fine as I can be thanks while living with a progressive, degenerative, neurological disease,” but this is rarely going to be a socially acceptable response.
If I took “How are you?” to mean tell me about your symptoms, I’d need more hours in the day. It is never going to be possible, desirable or acceptable to list them all. Perhaps a summary of the current top three? “I’m fine thanks other than, I haven’t slept through a night for over five years, I can’t quite remember what day of the week it is and if I don’t take my medication every two hours, I can’t think or move properly.” A more honest portrayal perhaps but also a significant breech of social etiquette and most likely, a conversation stopper.
I’m inclined to think that honesty is not always the best policy and that there is a time and place to answer the question truthfully. So for me, as we meet up, “Hi, How are you?” is not a genuine enquiry after my health or an invitation to tell it as it is. It is simply an invitation to say, in true British ‘stiff upper lip’ style, “I’m fine, thanks. And you?”
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