What I Mean When I Say I Don’t Know How I Am

“How are you?” is a question many of us are familiar with. It’s probably the question we get asked more often than any other. Many of us automatically respond with ‘fine thanks, you?’, because that’s the response we’ve learned to give. It’s the response we heard the adults around us trot out each time they were asked how they were; they probably learned it from the adults around them.

People are becoming increasingly aware of this. Various campaigns encourage us to ‘ask twice‘ or to ask ‘how are you, really?’.

The problem is, we don’t always have an answer. We don’t always know how we are.

What I Mean When I Say I Don't Know How I Am

Our Head Is Buzzy

Sometimes, our heads are buzzy and fuzzy. Almost like the static that occurs when a radio or TV doesn’t have enough signal.

Too much information has come in. Too many thoughts are whizzing around. We’re totally overloaded. Layers of thoughts, words, text, interactions and messages stack on top of one another, jumbling themselves up in the process.

We can’t think, because ‘it’ is too loud. We’re overwhelmed, overloaded, and before we can properly engage in any conversation, we need time to wind down.

We Can’t Catch Our Thoughts

There are times when we do have thoughts, but we can’t catch them to read them. We can see them in our mind. They’re there, on the very edge of our vision. Just out of reach.

We can’t catch them. We can’t pull them down, or bring them close enough to us that we’re able to read them. It’s so frustrating.

We know that our thoughts are there, and we know that if we could just grab them and read them, then we could communicate far more effectively, and tell you how we are. But no matter how hard we try, they stay out of reach.

Brain Fog Is Smothering Us

Brain fog can smother us. It clouds our head and can make our tongue thick and heavy. Our thoughts get smothered; buried under the thick, dense fog.

We can’t tell you how we are, because the fog smothers the answer. It’s so thick that it doesn’t allow anything in or out. Our thoughts have slowed right down.

Giving you a decent response would involve wading through this fog; digging down to uncover our thoughts and feelings. We don’t have the energy to do that. So we can’t tell you how we are.

We’re Disconnected From Ourselves

Sometimes we become disconnected from ourselves. This can happen in a physical and psychological sense.

Physically, we may not notice when we’re hungry, thirsty, in pain, too hot, or too cold. Sometimes it can be dangerous because we forget to see to our basic needs.

Psychologically, we stop connecting with our thoughts and feelings. Sometimes this is a trauma response; when we experience awful things, our brain can shut down to protect us. We ‘switch off’ to survive. Sometimes we squash and squish everything down because we’re not in a space where we feel able to work through it. The more we squash, squish and ignore, the more disconnected we become.

Disconnection can mean that we start to live a weird spacey existence. We have no idea how we are, physically or mentally, and feel slightly detached from ourselves at all times.

Things Have Been Very Mixed

Life is rarely smooth. If we stop to analyse how we feel, it can sometimes be difficult to narrow it down to one ‘thing’.

Every day, we go through many different emotions. So, coming up with a concise answer to the ‘how are you’ question can be tricky. We might have felt both great, and rubbish, so does that mean that we balance out as ‘fine’? Can we average our emotions? Not really. Being ‘okay’ doesn’t accurately explain how we are. It glosses over too many things.

Maybe we could give you a less concise answer? But then how much should we tell you? How much detail should we give? Figuring this out can cause our brain to jam. We get stuck. We don’t know what to say – so we default to ‘fine’ or ‘okay’, and the conversation moves on.

‘How Are You?’ Is A Very Open Question

Some of us struggle with open questions. When we try to answer them, we quickly spiral into overwhelm as we try to work out what it is we’re being asked.

Are we supposed to be talking about ‘how we are’ physically or mentally? Should we talk about ‘how we are’ at work, home, school or uni? Are we meant to discuss our relationship with our family? Should we be talking about our sleep routine? Do you want to know how well we’re eating? Are you asking whether we’re managing to leave the house regularly? What is it that you want to know?

All of these thoughts and questions can flood our mind as we try to put together an answer. It’s overwhelming and become distressing. We might not be able to answer because we can’t figure out the question we’re being asked. No answer seems ‘right’, so we don’t know what to tell you.

We Struggle With Emotional Literacy

Identifying feelings is really difficult. Sometimes we know that we feel something, but we don’t know what that something is. It doesn’t seem to fit any of the words that we hold in our internal word bank.

Some of us can give textbook definitions of specific feelings. We might be able to academically describe how a person might feel in certain situations. But when we try to apply this academic knowledge to our own circumstances and identify our own emotions, we might struggle.

We’ve Been So Busy That We Haven’t Stopped To Think About It

Life can get busy.

Sometimes, when we’re constantly running from one thing to another, we don’t have a chance to stop (or even pause) and check-in with ourselves. We don’t know how we feel because we don’t have the time or space to think about it. From the moment we wake up, to the minute we go to bed, our time is accounted for. Our brain is running a million miles an hour to try and stay on top of everything.

We don’t have the time, energy, or brain space to work out how we feel, nevermind communicate those feelings.

We’re Avoiding Thinking About It

Sometimes, the reason we’re so busy is so that we don’t have to think about how we feel. It might feel too difficult. We might not want to confront it or admit things to ourselves. So we busy-fy our lives on purpose, take on more and more commitments, volunteer for all sorts of things, and fill our downtime with TV, social media, books, and anything else that stops us from thinking.

We’ve Been Getting Mixed Messages

Sometimes, we rely on others to tell us how we feel; but different people can have different opinions. Some might tell us that they’re seriously worried about us. Others might comment that we’re doing really well. A friend might tell us that we look tired or low, while another might say it’s nice to see us being a bit more ‘us’.

It’s really confusing. All these different people have different opinions on our life, mood, feelings and general wellbeing. It can create conflict in our mind as we try to navigate the question of how we are, making it difficult to figure out an answer.

We’re Too Tired To Explain

Feeling low is tiring. It can also cause our sleep to go all wonky, making the tiredness even worse.

Turning our focus inward, figuring out our feelings and communicating them, is absolutely exhausting. It’s draining and can leave us feeling wrung out. We know that an honest response might result in follow-up questions, too, and that’s something that we definitely don’t have the energy for.

Often, it’s far easier (and a lot less effort) to say that we don’t know how we feel, and hope the conversation moves on.

We Don’t Want To Talk About It Right Now

Talking about how we are can be hard.

Some people are really open and will happily discuss their thoughts and feelings with anyone and everyone. Others are more private and have a small group of people who we chat to, instead.

Some of us process our thoughts and feelings by talking to others. Others like to figure it all out before having a conversation.

We’re all different, and it might be that we’re in a place where we simply don’t want to talk about how we are.

We’re Not Trying To Be Difficult Or Evasive

Sometimes people get annoyed or frustrated when we can’t answer the ‘how are you’ question. This annoyance and frustration can also kick in when we’re unable to communicate how we are in a way that they understand.

We’re not usually being intentionally manipulative, difficult or evasive. There are lots of reasons for not knowing how we are – ranging from genuinely not knowing, to not wanting to discuss it at that time.

Whether we can figure out our feelings or not, we’re not alone. We’re not the only person who’s felt the way we do.

Please help us to help others and share this post, you never know who might need it.