I have a list of favorite questions people ask me.
Concerning milder subjects, like motherhood, they’re phrases like, “What do you do all day?” Or, “What’s new?” Those have easy answers.
You wouldn’t think a more-stressful question for me would be, “How are you?” Unfortunately, the implied, casual ignorance of this classic greeting causes even more anxiety.
I know the questioner wants to hear, “Fine.” He or she wishes to hear that everything is peaches and rainbows -and even if they’re not, they will be very soon because surely I am a perky, happy, functional person.
The best of the best, though is, “What’s wrong?” I mean, do you have a few hours?
To a person living with mental illness, this is a ridiculous query. It is the equivalent of asking that question to a man who has just survived a car accident, and his naked bone is protruding from his mangled leg while he gasps for breath.
Sometimes I am even lying on the ground like an injured accident victim. I can’t always be seen, though, since the person asking is often on the other side of my closet door and can barely be heard over my sobbing.
When I can be seen, I feel every bit the obvious wreck.
I have spent most days of the past few years walking around like a zombie. In social situations, I stared blankly and moaned. Then, I went for their brains and enjoyed the tasty feast of synapses and tissue.
Thing is, people seem more trained for responses to car accidents or zombie apocalypses. They are not as observant regarding internal cues.
When I laughed nervously and hugged the corners at parties, I was socially anxious. That time I didn’t show up to a neighborhood lunch, I knew no one really wanted to see me. And when I literally posted a social media message saying I contemplated suicide and felt no one would actually care if I left, I was severely depressed.
That is not the time for internet hugs, people.
The internal signs are not as subtle, but they are still there. Outsiders may feel impotent, overwhelmed, or just plain lazy about helping. If you are an outsider and have a phone and fingers, you can help.
What’s wrong may be that your friend or relative needs professional help. And, when they’re bleeding in the ruins of life, professional help makes much more sense than a casual greeting.