How Are You?

“How are you, Robin?”

“I’m fine,” I say.

Translation: Feelings Inside Not Expressed

Each time my family moved (4 elementary schools, 1 junior high, 2 high schools), I knew my mom needed me (oldest of 3) to be fine.  And I was the good kid, the responsible kid, the one who was fine.  I perfected being fine.  And I’m still good at it.

I’m good at figuring out how to fit in.  I notice things like what kind of clothes a group wears (Saturday morning women’s group–jeans, yoga pants, ponytails, not much makeup) and how they act and talk to each other. My last high school was in Raleigh, NC.  Kids there grew up saying “yes, ma’am” and “no, sir.”  I did not.  The first time I answered a teacher with “yeah” I swear I heard gasps. I learned, once again.  Much, much later, I learned this noticing thing has a name–hypervigilance (here’s an explanation).  It’s not a symptom of mental health.

“How are you, Robin?”

“I’m ok,” I say.

Translation: I’m kind of surprised to be all right because some hard stuff has been happening in my life and I’ve been focused on doing what I can to be centered and in balance. I don’t realize I’m ok until you ask how I am. So thank you for asking!

“How are you, Robin?”

“I’m not ok,” I say.

Translation:  I really trust you.

My animal symbol is Turtle.  I don’t come out of my protective shell easily.  I learned early to hide myself emotionally. I needed to be fine.  I read this recently: “feeling was a luxury I didn’t think I could afford.” (Nancy Slonim Aronie) Yeah, me, too.  When I was 40 years old, a therapist gave me a list of “feeling words”  (here’s a long list) because I only knew a couple. I’ve been learning about my emotions and how to live in them ever since.

“How are you, Robin?”

“I’m good!” I say.

Translation: The exclamation point says it all.  In this moment, all is well and I am grateful.

(a quote from Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way)

In times of pain, when the future is too terrifying to contemplate and the past too painful to remember, I have learned to pay attention to right now.  The precise moment I was always in was the only safe place for me.


I’m fine” means I am not in the present moment and I do not want to be.

I’m ok” means I am on the edges of the present moment and, for the moment, choosing not to run away.

I’m not ok” means I am smack dab in the middle of the present moment and it’s painful and I’m choosing not to run away, but I wish the pain would go away. And I need a hug.

I’m good!” means I’m smack dab in the middle of the present moment and I’m feeling joy and gratitude and I want it to last forever, but I know it won’t and that’s ok.

And how are you, my friend?


Published in: on September 15, 2014 at 2:27 pm  Comments (6)  
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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Very well put in all regards. I got this hint from animals. They are geared to the moment. If they make a mistake in the past, they get pounced on, get hungry, freeze, and live through it, it becomes part of the present. They never look back to see where they are going.

    Wheww! Time for a nap!

  2. In this moment, I am well and good so, yeah, I am right in it. Perhaps more than any other teacher, Pema Chodron helped me sit with my dark and light wolves (emotions) no matter what. I mention this because I learned to feed them both as it is revealed in the Cherokee version of the which-wolf-to-feed story. Most of the time I find my response is, “I am good” without the ! That would mean my above statement of “well and good” is an ! kind of moment for me.

    Like you, I know that this, too, shall pass. Increasingly, I find myself grateful for impermanence no matter the moment, and every time that realization dawns, I am surprised a bit. It makes me smile.

    Simply marvelous post, Robin. Thank you!

    • And a simply marvelous comment, Karen. I so appreciate your careful reading of and reflection on my posts.

  3. As I read this post I thought, boy, I hope Karen has read this, and I see she has. What a great, true post. I’d like to add that although we are not always honest in our response, one motive might be that we are treating the question-asker kindly. We know that if we are troubled and we share it we will make them feel bad too. Yes, you and I were raised in the same way Robin.

    • I agree that sometimes it’s not cool to burden someone with my not-ok-ness. I’m more likely to share if I think it might help the other person in some way. That’s why I write posts like this one.

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