“How are you?” This is a simple question. One I struggle to know how to answer. I want to invite people into my life, I really do. And I want people in my corner, cheering me on or helping me back up when I’m down. Also I want to be listened to, cared for, even pitied. Yes, for some reason, pity sounds good. Perhaps it’s because I feel so pitiful myself and I’m worried it doesn’t show.
I’m worried no one sees through my fake smiles and insincere small talk.
You see, lately for me, a genuine smile on my face is like… saying hello to an old friend who I love and miss. There is a warmth from that kind of smile that comes from the inside. It softly bubbles up inside my chest. In this singular moment I feel so safe. Comforted, even, like everything will be okay.
The mysterious, lovely warmth starts to gently wrap itself around me. She holds me and soothes me. I don’t want to let her go. I don’t want this light to fade. And then it does. The warmth retreats back to wherever it came from. Some where deep inside this shell of a human. That’s the thing about smiles these days. They always fade away. And I am left feeling empty. I know I’m missing something but I can’t quite pin point what it is.
Those smiles are not the ones I used last night at church.
Or earlier this week at home group.
The smiles those folks saw were the fake ones.
And I tell you, I feel like a fraud every time.
To be honest, it might feel easier if nobody asked, “How are your?” at all.
This other kind of smile, the one I wear most often is, well, I am not sure I quite know. It’s a hard smile that seems insincere, hypocritical even. This new smile is a facade. My own permanent mask. Since I don’t need to wear a real one anymore. I wish I could go back to hiding behind my brown mask with the little pink and yellow flowers covering it. I felt safer behind that small rectangle of fabric. No one could really see me. Happy smiles were easy to fake. And they still are, don’t get me wrong. It was easier for me to pretend behind the physical mask everyone else saw.
Now my mask is invisible with this new smile taking its place. An empty smile. A sad smile. A smile nobody can quite believe and they don’t know why. This new smile is everything opposite of who I think I actually am. I just… Can’t get her to stick around.
If I could actually be honest, genuine, I would not smile.
In fact, I would not even say hi or make eye contact. I would be perfectly content sitting in my bubble while the world moves around me. Like I’m not there. I am, I know I am, and some may even notice me. But no one would talk to me.
If I were to answer the question “How are you?” with all the honesty and sincerity I can, I would say: I’m sad. I’m scared. And I feel like God is punishing me every day. I would say I think I’m losing hope, and I’m losing in my faith in the idea that God loves me. Because, well, my parents don’t love me. I have never been of much worth to them. If you were to ask me how I’m doing, I would say things are going really, really shitty. And then I would make a joke like, “Aren’t you glad you asked.” And then I would cry.
See, there is no way I can actually answer the question, “How are you?” At least not outside my therapists office.
Yet I continue to do my best. I wear my “happy face” in public. When I make eye contact I quickly look away so I use humor to cover my discomfort. If I ask you how you are, too, it’s because it’s common courtesy. But I can’t always hear what you say. I am either insanely jealous of your good fortunes or raging mad at your stupid problems that are so much less than mine.
This isn’t fair. I know. I wish I knew how to balance all these hard things.
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