5 Things I Actually Mean When I Say "I'm Fine"
"Honey, what's wrong?"
"Nothing, I'm fine!"
"How are you feeling today? You look a little out of it."
"It's fine. I'll be okay."
"You're at the office late. Can I help you finish the presentation."
"No, it's fine. Go home, I've got this!"
Any of this sound familiar? We do it all the time. We use "I'm fine", "It's okay", and pepper in LOLs and smiling emojis when what we really mean is "help", "I'm not okay", "why don't you listen to me?" Women do it more too. And with more exclamations. Taught to be polite, to not rock the boat, and that we'll be called "dramatic" or "overreactive"if we do speak up, "I'm fine" has become the universal card you throw when you don't want anyone to help but you're far from okay.
I try as much as possible not to do this. But, occasionally the LOL or "It's okay" will come out of my mouth, magically making my tongue form the words when what my brain really meant to say was the exact opposite. So here is what I really am trying to say when I use that term:
1. We Are Not Close Enough For Me To Tell You Why I'm Not Fine
This one happens a lot at work where I'll be asked how I'm doing on a day my period is so heavy I've gone through four overnight pads and three super tampons before 9AM. Instead of saying something like, "I'd really preferred to be curled up on a black blanket that can catch my vagina's monsoon season and warm my uterus which feels like its taking its election anger out on me", I usually go with a "I'm fine!" while simultaneously checking I haven't left a trail of blood on my walk to their office.
2. I'm Frustrated With You, But I Don't Have The Energy to Get Into It
This is usually an "it's fine." You made a sexist comment and didn't realize it till after it came out of your mouth. You forgot I was here this weekend and didn't invite me to something all our friends are going to. You ate all the chips "accidentally" (problem in my home? No way :p). If I say I'm fine in this situation leave it alone!
3. I'm Scared If I Tell You, You'll Think I'm a Downer and Not Want To Be Around Me
Literally me all the time. If I say "I'm not okay", I'm worried that you will run away before I've even finished the phrase. This comes from experience of having people actually do this--and while I'm a good actress, acting like I am okay all the time is exhausting. You know what I've learned though? There are people who will wait for the answer.
4. I'm Not Sure How To Put Into Words How I'm Feeling/I'm Not Sure How To Put Into Words How I'm Feeling Without Screaming or Crying
I know this is a common one for depression, anxiety, and panic attacks. Sometimes, I say I'm fine because if I'm asked one more question I will cry and simply want to be alone. Often, it's indicative of me not totally processing how I'm feeling yet. I may be experiencing the initial stirring of inquietude, the dull unsettled feeling that will blossom like a foreboding rose sprouting thorns, the rainy day cloud that won't quite clear no matter how hard I shake it. I will tell you when I can figure it out myself or when I feel stable enough to tell you.
5. It's Not Fine or Okay or Funny-But I Can Totally Get Through It and Appreciate You Asking
Let's be honest-"I'm fine" rarely ever means you're okay. But, most often when I say it, it is as much a promise to myself as an acknowledgment of the problem. Everything is not wonderful-but I am strong and independent and can get through it. The fact that you asked means that you care, and I greatly appreciate it. But, I've got this and will reach out to you if I need help.