Keep it happy! Hi… How are you?
“Sometimes when I say “I’m ok!”, I want someone to look me in the eyes, hug me tight, and say “I know you are not!” Anon. Written by trainee Ollie Coach, Deborah Stephenson
Hi.... How are you?
Ok. Let’s try that again.
Take a moment, genuinely… How are you?
How often and how casually do we answer “Fine thanks!” to that question despite feeling tired or unhappy. How often and how casually do we ask that question, receive the usual “Fine thanks!” and move on, despite noticing that the person seemed anything but.
Socially it’s tricky; a “… but you look awful!” comment is likely to offend even the closest friend; we aren’t supposed to pry into other people’s lives; and what if, heaven forbid, someone got emotional ?!
Sometimes we don’t answer truthfully because it’s easier not to, we don’t want to go there (wherever “there" is), or to explain or face our feelings. Sometimes we aren’t ready to share, and sometimes we don’t answer truthfully because at that moment, we simply don’t know.
A few weeks ago, at the start of all this craziness, when we were still allowed to gather, I went to watch a the annual show at my son’s school. In the dusk outside the auditorium my attention was drawn to two women, among the small huddles of people waiting to go in. I noticed that the older woman was quietly distressed.
“Are you ok?” Asked the younger woman looking puzzled.
“I don’t know…” I heard the older one say tearfully, “I just … I don’t want to go in there… I just… don’t feel right.” Her voice tailed off and the younger woman, patted her hand uncertainly.
I don’t know what the issue was of course, but I did see her in the interval clutching a small glass of wine so she must have gone in eventually. I was glad because the show was very good but I wondered if she was still trying to work out what it was that wasn’t right.
With the uncertainty we are all facing at this time it’s not surprising that many of us are experiencing a muddle of feelings from one moment to the next, and things don’t feel “quite right”. Everything has shifted and everything has changed, so in these unusual and challenging times “How are you?” has surely become one of the most important questions we can ask, and as I can’t think of anyone who would be “fine” in the middle of a lockdown in a global pandemic, that answer isn’t good enough anymore either.
There’s quite a difference between asking, and actually finding out, so I carry on asking, really asking, and I listen with new hearing. In doing so, I discover that like me, my friends and family are not “just fine”.
“How are you?” I asked one of my best friends last week.
“Ok!” she answered straight away.
“Really?” I nudged gently.
“Well… kind of. Well … not really… I’m a bit scared,” she admitted with a nervous laugh.
“Yes,” I heard myself replying, “me too. It is scary isn’t it!”
There it was. We weren’t fine. We were two forty-something-year-old Mum’s acknowledging what we really felt and being a bit scared together.
It helped us both to talk and honour those feelings, but that’s only part of it… I’m not just scared. Part of me is scared, yes, but part of me is nervous about helping the kids with their schoolwork, part of me is a bit excited about helping them with their school work, part of me is sad not to see my parents as usual, part of me is enjoying the sunshine and part of me is reminding another part of me to get the sausages out of the freezer for tea.
In Ollie coaching we understand that we all have every emotion inside us all the time but sometimes one or two get so big that we can’t see the others. Even so, we are not just angry, just sad, or just scared - those may be the big feelings out front, but look behind them and you’ll find all your other emotions are still there (which is a relief on this current merry go round of up, down, and anywhere-in-between feelings!).
And there’s something else too…
Don’t just ask other people how they are - take a moment… ask yourself.
You may not know (like the lady at the theatre) but in asking the question, your subconscious won’t be able to resist just popping along to find out, and later, probably when you least expect it, it will get you to notice whatever it is you are feeling, and right now, noticing how we feel matters. Honour those feelings because they are part of you, they all have a place and purpose, but remember they are not the whole of you.
If you don’t trust your subconscious to do that, then try to answer truthfully when someone next asks. Then listen to your answer… you may be surprised at what you do know about how you feel (and next time trust your subconscious because it will have provided much of that answer for you!).
So let’s keep asking each other and ourselves how we are, and equally as important, let’s listen purposefully to the answer.
Deborah Stephenson, trainee Ollie Coach
I’m not a scientist or a doctor, I can’t make a vaccine or heal the sick, but I was a BBC radio journalist for more than 20 years with a huge interest in mental wellbeing and how our minds work. I’m also a Mum of two, and I’m currently in training with the pioneering Ollie School specialising in child coaching and wellbeing, so maybe there is something I can do…
To get in contact with Deborah, email email@example.com