People sometimes ask me, “How are you doing?” or “How are you feeling?” Sometimes, of course, it’s just blah blah small talk, like all of us engage in. But sometimes, people will ask me, “How are you doing?” and I know that they’re asking it regarding my mental health. They’re not just saying hello, they’re saying, “How are you feeling today? Are you depressed?” Sometimes I answer honestly, but not always. There are times when it just feels icky to hear that question, and ickier to answer it, because then that would be admitting that I’m feeling rather horrible that day.
I find myself asking other people the same thing, and it always sticks in my throat a little bit. But just this morning, I heard a new way to ask this question.
How is your brain today?
What a different thing. Sounds goofy at first, but the more I thought about it, the more I like it. It’s akin to asking someone with chronic back pain, “How is your back today?” That doesn’t sound weird. It sounds like you care about them, and know that their back often causes them discomfort or pain. This is a similar thing, but for folks with mental illness.
The big difference between asking “How is your brain today?” and “How are you feeling today?” is that it’s so easy to overthink the latter. “How am I feeling? Oh, I don’t know. What am I supposed to say? I guess I’m feeling lousy, but I don’t know if that’s because I’m giving into depression and not fighting it much or maybe it’s because I’m just lazy or maybe I don’t really want to get into this right now I mean I know I’m supposed to be trying harder than I am oh God why do I give in so easily I should be able to say that I’m doing well no matter how I’m feeling because I really shouldn’t be feeling like this anyway.” Or maybe it’s just me.
But “How is your brain today?” feels so much more open. There’s no self-judging about what I’m doing to manage my illness. It’s just a simple question, with a much simpler answer. “My brain’s cooperating today.” Or “My brain sucks today.” Or “The Dark Voice is really loud today.”
It’s also a nice reminder that I am not my illness. That I am not my brain. My brain is an organ that in my case has some problems. But it’s not my identity.
So I think I’m going to start using that question more.
(Many thanks to The Mental Illness Happy Hour, the podcast where I first heard this question today.)