I’m Fine, Because I’m Not
‘I’m fine’: 1) the more polite way to say, ‘no, get lost.’ 2)The general response to any question asking how you are doing or feeling. – Urban Dictionary
The ability to lie is a liability. – Unknown
I have a horrible memory of eighth grade – I forget which class it was. We played a game that required making up a lie on the spot that the rest of the class would believe. (I know, seriously, what were they teaching us?!).
At my turn I started to sweat and looked at the ceiling. I felt myself flush as I sputtered through the worst improv ever.
A kid in the back row laughed his head off.
You’re not a good liar, are you?
I looked down at my hands and laughed too.
No, I guess I’m not.
Other than that day – and, of course, every time someone suggests we play Balderdash – I haven’t regretted this weakness. I even brag to others that I’m not known for hiding my feelings.
But last month I was caught by my own lie.
David caught me staring at my computer screen. My index finger hovered over the mouse. I can do this. Deep breath. Its just like every other time…
Lana? Have you, um… David interrupted.
Lost it? Forgotten how to use my mouse? Yes. Yes. Point and click. Point and click.
My husband – experienced with all of my, erhm, uniqueness – sat down next to me and sighed.
You’re scared to read it.
While I’ve been scribbling down the voices in my head since childhood, last week was the first time I’d submitted a piece of fiction for professional review. The project returned with my mentor’s feedback and perched at the top of my inbox.
My stomach churned. In my head this is going to be bad oscillated with I can do this.
Except I couldn’t. I couldn’t look at her response.
I don’t get it, I told David. I get writing feedback all the time.
It’s different when it’s fiction, he said. It’s more personal. It says more about you than non-fiction.
I looked up, startled.
Fiction reveals the way you see the world and the way you wish it were different. That’s personal.
Huh. I glanced back at my email and opened the document.
Men stumble over the truth from time to time, but most pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing happened. – Winston Churchill
Think of the biggest thing you’ve ever made up. For us crazy people obsessed with fictional characters, it might be a short story or novel. But for the rest of us, it’s a lie.
And as it’s more work to make something up than just tell it as it is, we only lie about things important enough to hide.
I’ve told lies to hide poor choices. I’ve told lies to hide strong feelings. I’ve told lies to avoid conflict. I’ve told lies to escape punishment.
But if I care enough about them to lie about it, what does that say about me?
Maybe it says that I hate people thinking I’m irresponsible. Or that I hate being embarrassed. Perhaps it means that I hate making other people angry. More than that, I hate the consequences of doing the wrong thing.
Our lies may reveal more about us than our confessions.
So what do we do with that great big lie we all tell each other? You know, the one where we say,
People we know pass us in the grocery store and say fancy meeting you here! They ask us how we’re doing.
What do we say?
I’m fine. I’m good. I’m great.
It’s easier than the loaded version, after all, and shorter. If we really want to sell it then we crack a smile and say
I couldn’t be better.
And we turn it back on them.
But how are you?
We continue this dance until one side judges the other to be trusted with a little bit more of the truth. And even then we use the caveat,
this is just between you and me.
Almost all relationships begin this way – though perhaps not in grocery stores. Some begin at playgrounds, or malls, while hiking mountains or eating dinner. Some are forged by going through something terrible together. But most interactions never get this far, because we’re so busy sticking to our massive, collective lie of I’m fine.
In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act. – George Orwell
I’m going to tell you the truth. The truth, truth.
I’m not fine.
I like to think I can handle things on my own. I like to tell other people, don’t worry about me, I’m okay. But that’s not always the truth. At least, it’s not always the whole truth.
Last week my husband traveled to Texas on business. This was his second trip in a month. The first one didn’t go so well. But since this was one of those things he just had to do, I told myself to suck it up. We can do this. I can do this. I can work and take care of kids while he’s gone.
I can do this.
I’ve been telling myself that for a year.
It’s a lie.
Last summer was probably the best summer of our lives. Our marriage was the happiest it had ever been. We had great relationships with family and friends. We had gotten Noelle into the school we wanted; we both worked at jobs we loved.
Then came September, and lab tests, anemia and the horrifying possibilities behind it; then came October and extra hours spent in hospitals and doctor’s offices.
I can do this.
2012 delivered a new level of catastrophe. January brought the biggest scare we’d had as parents. February urged the biggest decision we’ve made as a family.
And then came …March.
You can go back to my March archives to hear that story, but needless to say it’s fallout spilled into April and May. David’s work exploded with change. Relationships we never thought would break began to strain.
Instead of riding out each challenge and letting them go once they passed, I tried to control them all, collecting them in a pack of
I can do this.
Such a lie.
Monday David left for Dallas. Tuesday I worked one of the busiest shifts of my nursing career. Wednesday morning I woke with strep throat. Wednesday evening the fridge broke.
I… can… do… this.
I rearranged our budget to accommodate repair costs. My mom and I tried everything we could think of to repair the fridge on our own. Nothing worked. Mom saw me shaking and told me to take a nap. She brought me hot water and lemon and cleaned my fridge out for me while I slept.
I love my mom.
On Thursday David came home. He walked in the kitchen, touched the fridge, and it worked.
Apparently, I can’t do this. At least, I can’t do it alone.
The thing is, none of us can.
To borrow John’s phrasing, If we say we don’t need each other, then we’re kidding ourselves, and we fail to tell the truth.
Those of us who tell the truth know this.
But we often fail to live it.
I’m not sure I trust myself enough to let go, yet. But I’m learning that –
sometimes, the lie of I’m fine is far more risky than the truth of I’m not so fine,
and sometimes, just telling someone I’m not fine gives you smiles enough to say…
and still be telling the truth.
I did that this week. I put down that backpack of I can do this.
Turns out its not a one-person job to carry anyways.