No, really, ‘how are you?’
How are you today? I mean, really, “How are you … today?”
That’s the question the journalist Melissa Kirsch started asking herself early in the first wave of the pandemic. She reports putting it forth at the end of each day during her two-minute toothbrushing “mediation.” Her own answers ranged from “I am hopeful” to “I am nervous … numb.”
Then she started asking others the same question using her “At Home and Away” newsletter as the vehicle for obtaining responses (www.nytimes.com/newsletters). The answers she received exposed individual vulnerability as well as collective resilience.
A woman from Alabama responded, “How am I? I am really not sure. Some days I’m depressed, some days I’m not. I’m never unmasked and I am fully vaccinated. I felt comfortable in my COVID-19 routine, but I don’t with delta. I don’t want to be a breakthrough case. I don’t trust folks, and I am fearing for my grandchildren.”
A woman from Connecticut said, “I’m OK in this moment, but beyond that, who knows ? I’ve let go of assumptions but hold on to hope.”
With the intention of holding on to hope, I too have begun asking myself the “How am I?” question each morning, sometimes at night too. The variance in my response in any given day underscores the undulating emotions present for me — for all of us, I suspect in these unsettled times.
Today I am “expectant.” The sunrise this morning was glorious. My husband is a data-watcher, and a quick look at his public health summary suggests newly diagnosed COVID/delta cases seem to be down ever so slightly in some areas. I am feeling … expectant.
On the practical side, Amazon just shipped me a new Cuisinart blender, and I have live-culture yogurt, an over- ripe banana, and lots of frozen blueberries, which I plan to turn into a marvelous smoothie. How am I feeling? Expectant … and hungry.
I like this “How am I?” approach. It’s a form of self-talk, which has long been viewed as a factor in achieving and sustaining optimal mental health.
Self-talk is a psychological term for “all the things that a person tells themselves about themselves in their own head.” For example if you are constantly saying, “I am nervous … numb,” you are using negative self-talk. And you are reinforcing a dreary, gray self-image.
If you more often opt toward saying , “I am expectant … hopeful,” it’s positive self-talk and more affirming. It might also be contagious. Isn’t it time we project less virus and viral diatribe toward self and others and spew some affirming karma into the atmosphere
In posing this “How are you today?” question originally, the newsletter’s author was “looking for solid things that would give the day definition.” I get that. As one of her readers suggested, “the COVID world is confusing.” So. Very. Confusing.
Defining more days with your own words gives you more control, perhaps a better perspective on what’s next. It offers self-understanding. After all, getting better acquainted with ourselves may be one benefit of the pandemic that cannot be disputed.
Sharon Johnson is a retired health educator. Reach her at email@example.com.