I broke my wrist recently and, a week later, I had to have surgery to wire the bones into place. What with a general anaesthetic and a lot of morphine, I’ve been spinning like a top. So I am, to say, the least, incapacitated, although I have to say there is something hilarious about having a shower wearing a pink recycling bag over my arm because I am not allowed to get the plaster cast wet. As for trying to shampoo my hair with one hand, I end up looking like a demented chicken with one side all lovely and glossy and the other a tangled mess.
I live on my own so there’s nobody around to laugh, thank goodness, although that, of course, has its own disadvantages when you’ve only got one working arm. My friends have been amazing but it means that I have to ask them for help, which I am really not good at. That’s an understatement; I’m fiercely independent and self-sufficient so I think I can do everything on my own.
Which I know, in my rational mind, is daft. We all need help, whether we admit it or not, and the help that most of us need is emotional. That’s where it gets tricky. If it’s a physical problem, however proud we are, it doesn’t feel shameful to accept a helping hand (literally, in my case) but for most of us, asking for emotional help seems like an embarrassing weakness. And we are, after all, British with a stiff upper lip stuck firmly in place. So what do we do? We say we’re “fine”.
Except that perhaps, I’m not fine, you’re not fine and we’re not fine, which seems to me an awfully lonely way to live. I’d much rather somebody said, “Lousy day, my husband left me,” so I would be able to offer some words of comfort rather than seeing her mouth tense with misery as she says she is “fine”. There is no more unhappy a sight than an artificial smile.
As a particular therapist was fond of saying, often to my discomfort (it’s awfully hard not to use the word – try it) fine is an acronym for, F***ed up, Insecure, Neurotic and Emotional. So there we are, we’re all FINE.
I don’t mean we should all go round dumping our misery on other people but there’s nothing wrong with a bit of honest communication or, at least, some middle ground. “Fine” is the lid we use to bottle up our most toxic emotions. Keep them too tightly in place and eventually they will sour.
Fine was my word all my life or, at least, until I had a breakdown and was admitted to a psychiatric unit. I’m not suggesting we do anything quite so spectacular to eradicate it from our vocabulary but in the months that followed, I learnt that my friends had been seriously worried about me, in part because I had refused all offers of help by using, guess what, that little word. It was obvious there was something terribly wrong (and there I was thinking that fine and an artificial smile was all it took to pass as happy or, at least, okay) and it had upset them because they felt shut out. It was as if, one of them said later, that I didn’t trust them.
When I thought about it, I realised that they were right. We may intend the opposite effect, which is one of reassurance, but we shut out those we love if we push them away with words. They worry more, not less, about us so these days I pay my friends the compliment of weeping all over them or, at least, actually telling them how I feel.
And it really is a compliment to be trusted with somebody’s vulnerability, their honesty and their courage and to be permitted to comfort and protect. I see it as an honour and, as every piece of research about happiness proves, helping others comes top of the list and is the most important thing we can do to improve emotional well-being.
In truth, I’m not fine, you’re not fine, we’re not fine, so let’s all be in this together. It’s part of being human and, honestly, there is nothing I love more than an authentic human being, worries and all.