When asked “how are you?”, how often do you tell the truth?
Yep, thought so. Don’t worry, I fib too. All the time.
Now, how often, when someone says to you “I’m fine”, do you follow up if you’re think they’re not? Yep, me too.
I’m very fortunate that I have a fiancée, some family members and a handful of mates who seem to sense when my mental health is dipping and know to ask me twice (or more!) if they hear “yeah, fine, you?”.
Now, asking twice doesn’t mean literally saying the same thing again. That would be annoying.
“How are you?”
“Yeah, fine, you?”
“How are you?”
To me, asking twice means different things. Here’s a few ways people have shown they’re there if I need them, when perhaps I don’t seem myself.
“Are you sure?”
Short, simple, but very effective. “Are you sure?” allows me to take the bait if I want to and open up a bit, or reply with a “yeah, I’m alright, thank you”, safe in the knowledge that the person who’s asked me how I am actually wants to know how I am, rather than chucking a clichéd greeting at me.
“Cool, you know where I am if you need me.”
I love this one. It lets me know they’ve clocked that I’m down, without confronting me to reveal the truth (which is very useful on days I’m not ready to talk), all the while bluntly reminding me that I can go to them if I need them. A very valuable thing to know when a mental health problem makes you feel alone.
Granted, this is a boring question. And small talk can be infuriating. But a “how was the weekend?”, “you’re on holiday soon, right?”, or anything of that ilk just shows a bit of interest in your mate’s/colleague’s/family member’s life without prying too much. If you land on an area that they want to vent, great. If not, they know you care.
“Did you watch the game last night?”
Whether it’s the game, a reality TV show or the latest moody drama, sometimes changing the subject to something you mutually enjoy is a nice way to stop prodding them. By chatting about everyday things when I’m down, my mates rid any feeling I have that I’m “not normal” or bringing them down.
“Nice one, having a tough day myself, if I’m honest.”
When a mate expresses something that’s on their mind, it never fails to remind me that it’s OK to talk to other people about my worries. I really value it when a friend is honest to me, so being open yourself can show you’re the kind of person who’s prepared to share and listen. (Only do this if you have something to say though, don’t go making up problems to trick me in to telling you mine, that’s naughty!)
Essentially, there’s no right or wrong answer here. No single phrase will resonate with everyone.
But if you ask twice with interest, listen and take what your friend has to say seriously, it can really show you’re open to hear more when they’re ready to talk. I for one can say that people asking me twice when I’ve been depressed has played a huge part in saving my life.