I used to use this reply all the time when people would casually ask me how I was.
Short, sweet and to the point, but what does ‘I’m fine’ even mean?
The dictionary would have you believe that I was feeling ‘in a satisfactory or pleasing manner or very well.’ as you will see below that was not always the case.
But why couldn’t I be honest? Why do I still have to work on this? And, what was I scared of?
(These examples are all taken from real life. A snapshot into our families’ life)
I’m fine. I dislocated my knee this morning and sat on the floor for half an hour wondering how to get up and get all the kids breakfast before school, or if I would manage to drive to get them there, (big sigh). That means that I’ll miss coffee with the girls 🙁 So commonplace are scenes like this that one of my children didn’t move until the adverts of his favourite TV show to wander out to the kitchen to see if I needed anything.
I’m fine. My wrist gave way as I lifted a pizza out of the oven for lunch, this made me catch the tray on the counter which in turn made me bounce the tray down my other arm leaving three lovely zebra striped burn marks.
I’m fine. A cover teacher forced my son to participate in PE even though he communicated his pain, she didn’t believe him and joked unkindly that he should see a doctor (he’s seeing many). This teacher will never regain his trust.
I’m fine. I can’t seem to take a breath today, it is shallow and fast as my autonomic system is struggling to balance itself. I feel like I’m wading through mud.
I’m fine. I stepped on a stone at the end of a really nice walk, literally 10 yards from the front door. I sprained my ankle and went over like what only can be described as a see-saw; ankle, knee, hip, elbow, shoulder in perfect succession, finally stopping as my face skimmed the floor. Managing to cut open my leg through denim.
I’m fine. My daughter is screaming uncontrollably in a combination of pain, exhaustion and helplessness. After pain relief, a massage and a warm bath I can do no more to help her but to gently hold her and re-assure her that she’ll be OK.
I’m fine. I fell twice out for a walk while pushing my daughter in her wheelchair. Today (well most days actually) walking without looking at my feet seems to render me incapable of staying upright at all. Two scabby knees and a cut on the top of one foot and I’m beginning to regret wearing shorts.
I’m fine. We’ve spent the last 12 hours being sent across London from one hospital to another for emergency brain scans on our son after they found pressure behind his eyes and his peripheral vision affected, thankfully they rule out a mass. The longest… 12… hours… of… my… life.
I’m fine. I get barely any sleep and when I finally get up I realise that a bone has subluxated somewhere in my foot. Weight bearing is agony, actually, sitting is agony. But the kids have an early orthotics appointment at the hospital, church services, school, so I brace my foot as best I can. I manage to get a physio appointment 5 days later to manipulate it back into place.
I’m fine. I learn that my child’s class teacher has decided (all by herself) not to apply her shoulder brace for the last six months in school, the very thing to keep her shoulder safe from a dislocation during play times and PE.
I’m fine. As I stood up in the middle of my Pilates class to change position from lying to standing the sudden pooling of blood in my legs and the inability of my heart to pump enough blood to my brain makes me come over hot and clammy. As if in slow motion the room started to spin as I began to pass out.
I’m fine. My son comes home tired, really tired to the point he can barely string a sentence together. I learn that his new teacher is refusing his requests for water in the afternoons even though the importance of hydration is clearly written into his care plan.
I’m fine. Sometimes talking to my friends I feel like I live in a parallel universe as their lives, worries and hopes can feel a million miles away from mine.
I’m fine. I had a wonderful day out with my family yesterday. Walking, laughing, picnicking, hey, we even managed a little dancing. Today, I am paying for my fun. Breathless, Potsy, my heart does not know what it is doing and I struggle to even sit awake on the sofa.
I’m fine. I don’t know if I’m coming or going this week. School meetings to plan provision and care plans, more meetings to educate staff, reviews in physio, telephone calls to sort OT, I must call the EWO. Then on Thursday and Friday autonomic testing at the National Hospital that I’ve waited 18 months for (that I know will flare my POTS). Could I cancel? Should I??
I’m fine. My daughter yelps every time that she moves in bed as her hip partially dislocates and I read her to sleep to distract her from the pain.
I’m fine. I fell spectacularly into the Thames as I save my daughter from stumbling along a narrow bank. Spraining my ankle and doing something to my right arm that leaves me unable to hold a cup of tea, and we all know a cuppa fixes everything.
I’m fine. It’s my second migraine in three days and this one has really floored me. My arms are heavy my face is numb and I feel like a brass band are playing in my head.
I’m fine. Today I practiced true calmness under pressure as my son went into shock after a bad break of his wrist BMXing. I kissed him as he closed his eyes in theatre to manipulate the joint back into alignment and my heart broke a little.
I’m fine. I’m on my way to Brunel University with the head of the Child Development Centre to present to a full lecture theatre of physiotherapists for an hour or so. Everything that I need them to know as practitioners before they work in paediatrics, with children like mine. The last time I stood up in front of so many people they were all four and it was my Nursery Class.
I’m fine. My rib is out, subluxated. As I drive to school to collect the kids I still can’t get it to relocate and as I stand in the playground making small talk it really hurts to breathe.
I’m really NOT fine.
The three reasons that we say ‘I’m fine’ when we don’t mean it
I think I’ve worked some of it out… which is not to say that I have got it all sussed now, just that I’ve done my inner work and when I say ‘I’m fine’ now, quite often I actually mean it.
So what three things does it boil down to under the surface.
How we are raised
As kids ‘I’m fine’ is programmed into us as a way of saying your are OK, there is nothing wrong. If you fell over your parents would often say,
‘Oh dear, up you get, you’re fine’.
When in fact you probably didn’t feel fine at all, you were probably hurt, if not physically then emotionally. But by saying you were fine you were being taught to dismiss how you were feeling in that moment.
So as adults why would we do anything else?
We may also just want to be low maintenance and easy going, if we are difficult then that may lead to conflict so ‘I’m fine’ works a treat.
We may believe people won’t like us or easily get bored or fed up if we ask for too much or have complicated needs or feelings.
It feels safer to pretend we’re fine and be a dependable, cheerful, easy-going person who never complains or needs anything.
Pretending that we don’t have any problems or difficult emotions can also be a form of denial. We want the outside world to think that we have it all worked out and together because we are afraid of judgement from others if they knew the truth. We may also deny our problems if our feelings may be overwhelming, because then we would have to deal with them right?!
The first thing is working out what ‘I’m fine’ really means to you, ask yourself these questions…
- Is it true?
- What does it mean?
- What is it telling you about your experience with chronic illness and how you deal with it?
Moving past denial, being honest with yourself and getting to grips with the messy stuff – what you really feel about your experiences and the truth about what your experiences actually are… will mean that next time that you say ‘I’m fine’ it may not be a lie.
I’d love to know what you think in the comments 🙂
Join Our Facebook Community
Chronically Empowered Women is a community of people that are affected by chronic illness in some way… parents + carers as well as those with a health condition.
You may feel like no-one understands what its like living with your chronic illness or worrying everyday about your kids. That you are hanging on by a thread or the future may feel a little uncertain. We get that.
You value life and want to be the best version of you. To manage your symptoms effectively so that you can live your best life.
In the community we will be having real, open conversations about how you can do this. With my experience of living with multiple chronic illness’ and raising kids with CMT, EDS, PoTS and ME. I know that the struggle is real. I will be sharing guidance, challenges, my personal tips and real life stories to remind you of how this can become a reality now!