How are you?

Last week was a long, hard week. I pushed through pain, frustrations, difficulties, weariness, weakness, emotional stress, financial strain, the unexpected and loneliness. If I was to list everything I dealt with the list would actually take pages and pages of writing. This one teeny tiny collection of words is only a small speck into my world.

That’s why it’s so hard to answer someone when they approach me with the question we all hear…”How are you?”

How am I suppose to answer that question? Do I honestly dump all my insides out on the table allowing myself to be vulnerable, exposing all that I am for someone to pick through? Do I share only a small part of the first thing that comes to my mind in hopes I’m not judged for what I say? Do I choose to not share anything personal at all and simply fake a smile as I reply with the age old response “I’m fine?”

And then the questions I ask myself at that very moment: Do they really want to know? Are they asking just because it’s the polite and social thing to do? Do I have time to spend on explanations and justifications when they look at me puzzled due to a lack of understanding? Do I really feel like having to explain myself for the umpteenth time?

It’s amazing how many thoughts run through my mind in those few short seconds between “Hello” and “How are you?”

Many times I am able to quickly evaluate a person’s motives and concern for my wellbeing and I choose wisely. Other times I miss it by a mile. I have found the best response is always an honest one. Sometimes it requires carefully constructed words like…

It’s a dog eat dog world out there and I’m wearing Milkbone underwear.

OR

Well, I haven’t had my morning coffee yet and no one has gotten hurt, so I’d say pretty good at this point.

The most frustrating thing about living with a chronic illness is having to answer someone who asks “How are you?” when there is no easy answer to give. Unlike a broken bone, Multiple Sclerosis is always there. It’s not temporary, there is no known cure, and it changes from day to day and even moment to moment.

I have found that if someone truly wants to know about me and how I’m doing, they will take the time to stop, focus on the moment and actually listen. We need those kind of people in our life, and we need to be those kind of people to others.

Today, I’m fine to most of the world, but to those who really care and want to listen, I’m tired (or more like exhausted), stressed about decisions needing to be made, a financial mess, dealing with a lot of pain, and feeling sad mixed with a little bit of hope. How are you?

MS Gets on My NervesMS WarriorMS Superhero  


About the Author
About the Author
Penelope Conway

Penelope Conway
Penelope started Positive Living with MS as a way to help others with MS stay positive in the midst of a terrible disease. She believes that staying positive and holding onto hope is the key to waking up each morning with the strength to get through the day. Multiple Sclerosis may never go away, but neither will her determination and her drive to help others through the journey.

69 replies
  1. Peggy
    Peggy says:

    Jupst getting to these.. having rough time lately..HaHa
    As to my answer to this did before MS got bad- still do. When asked if can I smile sweetly and say “well I could complain but you can’t help so why bother!”

  2. Martina Reck says:

    I hate this question and never know what to answer because I can never do right. If I tell the truth and say ‘bad’ they usually laugh and turn around. If I say ‘ok’ they are also not pleased.

  3. LJ Joh says:

    Terry Whitman I to have an invisible illness. Its called PTSD, tho I don’t compare it to MS. I hear this article. There are days I’m barely hangin on and feel lost. Other days I feel I take on the world. Than there are days I’m drained and exhausted because it’s a daily recovery and work to combat the flashbacks, the triggers of people, places and smells, words or actions of society. It’s work. I don’t have a cure. Again I can’t begin to know the pain u endure. Or what u go thru with your illness. If u ever need an ear or a shoulder to cry on. I’m here for u. I can understand living with an invisible illness only. Today I’m feeling tired and a lil sad. How are u?

    • Meeya
      Meeya says:

      Dear unknown,
      Thank you for your comment & your trying to unterstand our Problems while fighting your own daily battles! It’s people like you who make a difference& this fight worthwhile! 🙂
      Hugs, and all best wishes ☺

    • Paulette Brown says:

      God be with you. I too have PTSD (as well as MS) was undiagnosed for 22 years, there is a light at the end of the PTSD tunnel. I had a great psychologist and that has made a difference for me. I wish you well.

    • LJ Joh says:

      Paulette Brown thank you for ur kind words. I too have a trauma counsellor and it’s is helping me grow in ways I can’t explain. I can say that I’m healing and it’s great in that way. Tho some days well you know 🙏🏽❤️

  4. Rodger Ashton-Smith
    Rodger Ashton-Smith says:

    Well I have been answering that question for a long time and through a lot of situations.
    My answer is “Taking all things into consideration, I ‘m not too bad”.
    That seems to work out and if they want more they will ask for it. It will work for anything and everything that comes your way.

  5. Keele Adams says:

    I can relate with this post. It leaves me with an odd feeling, deciding if this person is asking to be nice or because they really want to know, and then figuring out if I really want to be honest waste their time with it or be nice and tells them I’ve been good. I enjoy your posts, they always make me feel comfort despite the fact ive never met you.

  6. Nancy T
    Nancy T says:

    I am a pastor’s wife and my MS has gotten considerably worse over the last year. Although I love our church folk (and most are genuinely interested) there are days when I just want to slip in to the services late and leave before the benediction so I don’t have to answer that question. I like to answer that questions with good news like, “The good news is that I haven’t fallen down all week!” or “The good news is that today I am blessed to be vertical!” I can honestly smile and plug a new symptom into that response every week and teach them little by little about what I deal with every day without overwhelming them with all the symptoms at once.

  7. Linda Lott says:

    They ask,how are you doing? I say,I’m doing.. Lol I don’t explain things anymore. Because even if you tell them, they can’t really understand. One has to experience it to understand it..!

  8. Mickey Hechim says:

    News flash!!! “How are you?” is a standard societal greeting that everyone says to everyone . Don’t get sensitive about it. People don’t really want to know the details. That’s just a fact.

    • Shannon Powell says:

      She’s not being sensitive. She is stating how she feels. She speaks the truth. Most people asking “how are you” are privy to the fact we have MS and life can be a suck fest. Leave her alone.

  9. Della Smalley says:

    It is a hard question to ask us with MS,some time’s I’ll just say I’m doing okay when I actually feel like just being in bed all day.If I try to explain what I’m going through,they wouldn’t understand anyways.Penelope n all my MS friends have a good day and God Bless

  10. Erin P.
    Erin P. says:

    My oh my how your list sounds like my life these days…. All of our lists could very easily become a short story, one we would all be able to relate to. It is so hard for us to summarize how we “feel” for people who will never truly be able to grasp how deep our “feelings” go…there is no one perfect word or phrase to explain it! The pain that I feel or the fatigue that I experience on a daily basis I can only describe to the person asking me this question as “I am just really tired today”, in which they always respond, “well lay down, take a nap” ☹ If only it were that easy, fatigue to me hurts me to my very core, I feel like the walking dead, weak as water. Do all of them REALLY want to know how it feels? No, they would pity us for that short moment and I for one do not want anyone’s pity, not to sound ugly or ungrateful because I do appreciate when anyone really truly cares to know. I take it all a day at a time because no two days are ever the same. MS charts its path differently each and everyday, it’s a whirlwind and we never know what is coming our way.

  11. KT
    KT says:

    It’s like you can read my mind!! I love your sense of humor through all this…and I am doing ok, my legs are weak, my spine feels like someone took a sledgehammer to it (as it does every day), but I still managed to mow the yard, that’s a pretty good day for me and I am proud of that as rediculous as that might sound…and thank you for asking, I appreciate it. I am sorry you have had such a rough way to go to say the least, but I care how you are, thanks for sharing. I hope you are able to get through it with as much hilarity and grace as you have shown through all your blogs…big virtual hug to you:)

  12. Roland Clarke
    Roland Clarke says:

    After decades of ‘wellness’ and manners, I learnt the habit of saying, ‘okay’ or ‘good’. That didn’t change with MS as it had become a habit…the standard response. However, over time I forced myself to adjust my response to something nearer the truth, although not the gritty details. Now I tend to take a large leaf from you, Penelope, and use the word ‘positive’. But only in relation to the tough reality. So – ‘tired/hurting/in pain/depressed but staying positive’.

  13. Marsha Bell says:

    Mostly my response is, “How are you?” If they were sincerely interested, they’ll circle back. Usually they’ve moved on with their own life’s quest

  14. Crystal Love says:

    I try to use “I’m hanging in there”. Especially in church. You can’t say how bad you’re hurting or how your head is spinning or how sad you feel that you’re struggling just to survive and I DONT WANT TO LIE, especially in church, so nodding or I’m hanging in there or simple okay.

  15. Marian Fuller says:

    Two different answers, do I reply: I “LOOK” much better than I feel. These thoughts and words can change.
    I feel better than I look.
    2) I have my FIVE senses,
    Still. Any one of them could GO away, at any time. They are five gifts from God.
    Presents. HIS PRESENCE.

  16. Aileen Brown says:

    I am actually fine today lol but yes it’s the stock answer if it’s a good friend who actually wants to know I tell them but if it’s someone I don’t like I bore the pants off them – they don’t ask a second time lol

  17. Julie
    Julie says:

    My standard response “I am!”

    Faith is what keeps me from going crazier than I already am (!) so I don’t mean to be sacrilegious or disrespectful, just truthful (I am still here ~ that’s how I am doing).

  18. Lynn Beggs
    Lynn Beggs says:

    I’ve just had a meltdown with my husband, essentially blaming him for not fully understanding and constantly asking inane questions like “what’s wrong?, if he paid more attention to the symptoms I’m having he’d know what was wrong, surely?

  19. Evelyn DeSadier
    Evelyn DeSadier says:

    Hi Penelope!
    Thank you for the morning giggle! I’m somewhere between wearing Milkbone underwear and searching for my morning coffee… oh wait, I think I left the mug in the microwave again… yup, such is life these days. Sometimes I want to growl and bark like a dog because I’m sure that would get their attention since most of the time, I think the question is just a generic one from some folks who really don’t want to even wait for an answer or those who tell me they know how I feel. Really??? do you really know how I feel? yeah, I’d bet $5 you have NO clue.
    Anyway, thanks again for your spirit, your sense of humor and your willingness to share with others who actually DO know how you feel. Hang in there!

  20. Tracy Plows says:

    So over telling people I am fine so now I ask them if they really want to know? Great conversation starter or stopper . I am so over hiding MS after over 21 years of trying to hide it. Yes I have MS but I try not to let it rule me. I just do things differently to most people

  21. Jo Ann Maxwell
    Jo Ann Maxwell says:

    I took the assessment this morning for the hand controls. The driving specialist that gave me the test definitely said that I am qualified for hand controls. We tried a couple of them to find the right one that will work. I am going to pursue the availability of financial assistance. She thought that there would be a good chance. She will be sending paperwork to the DMV in Raleigh. I have to go to my doctor and get some of the paperwork completed by her as well. My next training dates will be October 23 the 24th and the 30th. On the 30th she will take me to the DMV to get my new license. I’ve been cranky lately because my family has been really pushing me for this. I think I will be going through a grieving process. I just praise God that I can still drive. This is just another thing MS has taken away for me. At least I feel that way today.

  22. Joan
    Joan says:

    To the general population who ask the question, I give my classic answer – “I’m in good shape for the shape I’m in!” That seems to pacify all of them and I don’t have to go into detail. I’ve gotten to know who my friends are who really want to know!

  23. Siobhan Rose says:

    Very hurtful when someone asks and as you’re talking you can tell they don’t actually want to listen. With a lot of people I’ve learned to just say, “there’s good and bad days”

  24. Meeya
    Meeya says:

    Dearest Penelope!
    Yep, we’ve all been there… 🙁 and my “standard” answer is that it could be worse (and it always could, unfortunately!), but that it could also be a lot better.
    And that I’m like really bad weed… hard to completely get rid off, clinging to life as hard as I can. Fighting every herbicide attack and flourishing in spite of all the weeding & ploughing 😂
    Never give up, my dear!
    Wishing you better days soon, and hugging you many times over!!

      • Meeya
        Meeya says:

        …and one funny thing sometimes happens following the “weed-comparison”: People answering that they wouldn’t want to get rid of this very special weed, as it grows the nicest flowers. 😁
        Keep growing!! 💮

      • Mandyrose
        Mandyrose says:

        Hi, Penelope. I enjoy your blog a lot. I don’t worry how I’ll answer, because most have stopped asking. I do the best I can. After twenty+ years and a painful divorce, I try to keep as positive as possible.

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