I often find it very hard to answer one simple question: “How are you?”. It’s not because I’m hard of hearing or do not grasp the meaning of those three words. It’s just that there is no easy way to answer that question, at least not for me. Convention dictates that one answers this with “I’m well, thank you” and reciprocates by asking the same question. And this type of convention works in most settings: at work, at social events, polite exchange with your neighbour etc. This is not the type of conventional question that throws me off – in these types of situations it is not expected that one be honest about one’s well-being; it is simply an exchange of pleasantries, a way to minimise awkwardness around people one does not know very well or a polite bridge on the way to getting on to the more salient issue, such as “Oh that’s great, so do you have some capacity to do some work for me today?” etc. What throws me off is being asked this question by a relative, a close friend, someone who genuinely cares about me and wishes me well.
The reason I find this question so difficult to answer is that most days the conventional response couldn’t be further from the truth: “I’m not really well, thank you. In fact, I feel positively dreadful. I’m so tired even answering this question and being nice to you exhaust me. I would rather be in my bed than face today. And how are you?” seems hardly like an appropriate response and not one that anyone would wish to receive. Even when the people who genuinely care about you ask you that question. So you slap on your most winning smile and stick to the convention. Because no matter how much you try, you cannot adequately explain what effect Hashimoto’s thyroiditis has on your well-being, on your life. Because answers like: “Today I feel better than yesterday, but not as well as someone my age should feel” may appear like a positive response to you, but would be at best baffling to others; at worst, they may think you are not quite what they would describe as “normal”. And that is probably the truth. When you have Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and you are symptomatic, you may look normal to others, but you do not feel normal. Normal takes on a new dimension: it is relative to your worst-ever point in your illness or to how you remember you used to feel like before the onset of the disease. How you are on any given day may range between those two points, such that on some days you feel like you’re on top of the world and you forget you have this disease. On other days you feel so bad you hardly find the will to carry on. Anything in-between becomes “good”, or “normal”.
It has become my new normal.