Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Six Degrees of Salutation

It is only since I have been ill for a prolonged amount of time that I have realised just how many times a day we say the words 'how are you?'. Three harmless little words that are uttered countless times to each person we encounter. In typical British stiff upper lip fashion the usual response is 'fine thanks' even if your wife has left you, the dog has died and a plane has just ploughed into your house. The question is seen as a mere formality of politeness and woe betide you should actually burden the inquirer with how you are actually doing.

Which leaves me in a bit of a quandary as the people I meet generally know I am not fine. In some cases they are actively seeking an update on how I am and in some cases they wish to find out in the minutest and most tiresome detail. My life and my health has now been reduced to a serious of soundbites as I try to work out how much information to give - too little and it feels like I am holding back, too much and I am sure they begin to wish they had never asked. From the point of view of my own sanity I do get fed up recounting my progress umpteen times a day. I long to be able to just say 'fine thanks' again but that would just be plain lying.

A curious thing I have noticed is that there are different levels of 'how are you?' with different motives and expectations. In the spirit of that ad with Kevin Bacon doing the rounds at the mo, I have whittled these down to just six levels which I shall share with you now.

1. Oblivious Nicety
Or good old fashioned 'I don't really care, I'm just being polite'. From people who haven't heard I'm ill which gives me a lovely option of either the standard response of 'fine thanks' or dropping the ME bomb into the conversation (as per my last blog post).

2. Tentative Enquiry
This is usually people who have heard a few whispers on the grapevine but don't properly know the scenario or are possibly frightened I shall break down in tears and pound the floor with my fists at life's unfairness. Again, I don't mind this so much as humans are curious creatures.

3. Concerned Loveliness
My favourite 'how are you' as it comes from genuinely kind people who have no agenda other than wishing me good health and a speedy recovery. Usually peppered with optimistic responses and pleas for me to 'take it easy' and 'look after yourself'. Standard response from my GP and OH advisor.

4. Pessimistic Concern
Not quite so great. Again, no agenda with this one but tends to make me feel like jumping off a cliff as typical responses run along the lines of 'how awful', 'that must be horrible for you' etc, etc. As though they are writing my eulogy and digging me a grave as they listen.

5. Concerned Interrogation
This is usually from people with a vested interest in my recovery - close family members, my boss. I understand this concern and the reasons for it and know I am expected to recount every little quirk and quibble of my body as well as give word for word accounts of latest doctor/OH appointment. It's not so bad now as I generally get to do this in my own time however when I was first ill it was a nightmare. The very moment I got back from an appointment I was awash with numerous phone calls all requiring in-depth analysis. Although well meaning, one of the symptoms I suffer is an inability to hold conversations when fatigued so this bombardment was a mentally draining ordeal. It was horrible and especially bad as I knew the reason it happened was because they cared about me so I felt I couldn't complain.

6.Aggressive Interrogation
The worst and most annoying of them all. I have saved this beauty for last. Luckily I rarely encounter this, which is just as well as I tend to want to smack the perpetrator in the chops. I have one person in particular in mind for this one, someone I don't know particularly well yet whenever I see her, she expects a full run-down and keeps questioning me along the lines of 'so when do you think you'll be back at work?' If she were my boss, I might be able to understand it but she isn't. Perhaps she's just nosey. It is almost as if she thinks she has more right to my medical history than my own parents. I am sure really this is as well meaning as the rest but I find it incredibly rude and intrusive and sometimes I want to tell her to bog off. I suspect this may be good preparation for my upcoming ATOS assessment.

In fact, overall I tend to dread most of these as there are only so many ways you can say 'better than I was but not as good as I would like to be' in a witty and interesting manner. Sometimes I just feel like getting a t-shirt printed with 'Still not well so don't even ask' and just pointing to it with a wry smile. But mostly I carry on regardless. I field all enquiries with what I hope is good grace - even from my nemesis (who surely should think of a career in MI5) as I know deep down that it is ungrateful of me to have such a dislike of 'how are you?'. I know deep down that every person that asks is a person who cares, and the alternative is too depressing to even contemplate because it would mean that no-one cared and that would be the worst thing of all.

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