I didn’t know how to answer. I wasn’t sure what to say. It was an old question but with new meaning. It should’ve been simple, but it was complicated. My standard one-word answer became something impossible to articulate. It was a question I have never thought much about and I found myself wondering why? I love that she asked it…I even loved how she asked it…but, I hated that I didn’t know how to answer. Even now I still don’t know how to answer.
We were sitting at a restaurant with two other women. The four of us had been brought together by the bond of our children. Our children adore each other, so my afternoons, weekends and evenings had become filled with the laughter and company of the three women sitting in front of me and their children. After many months of play dates we all decided that we should probably get to know each other without the kids. We wanted to connect on an adult level where we would not be interrupted by requests for more juice and cries over whose turn it was for the best toy.
As I sat and perused the wine list I thought nothing of it when my new friend leaned over and asked me the most common of questions, “So, how are you?” Without looking up I said, “Things are good. Same old, same old.” I meant to ask her how she was doing too, but I got lost in thought as I debated between white and red. “How are you?” She asked again. I looked up confused. I had just answered her question. I wondered if maybe she didn’t hear me. Sensing my confusion she said, “I mean with everything going on with the boys?” I smiled as I realized she was trying to ask how everything was going with their new dystonia treatments. “Well, so far so good,” I began, “They are in a lot less pain and both have experienced dramatic improvements in their gait. But they are still not sleep….” She put her hand on my arm interrupting me, “I know how the boys are doing. That is not what I’m asking. I want to hear about you. Your life. How you are feeling about everything. I want to know how YOU are. So, how are you?”
I looked down and started blankly at my menu. I had no idea why this question made me feel awkward, but it did. “Yeah. I’m good,” I responded. “It’s been stressful but we are managing. Mostly I’m just really tired.” It was a copout answer and she knew it. The truth was I didn’t know how I was. I had never thought about it. No one had ever really asked. Sitting there I realized I was many things. Conflicting things. Confusing things. She sat quietly and stared at me as she waited for me to elaborate. “I’m good and I’m not,” I tried to explain, “I’m happy and sad. I feel relief that they will be okay and I feel terrified at the same time. I’m grateful and devastated. But mostly I’m so tired it hurts. I think the pure exhaustion is starting to get to me. I’m really, really tired.” I paused and swallowed as I tried not to burst into tears. I was caught off-guard that saying the word “tired” made me emotional. I wondered if it was because I was so tired.
She smiled and I think she felt bad about making me want to cry. “Listen,” she said, “I just really need you to know that I care about the boys, but I don’t need to worry about them. They have you for that. I am your friend, so while everyone is worried about supporting the boys, I am worried about supporting you. If you ever need to talk, vent, cry or complain, you call me.” Her words warmed my heart and left me lost for words. Silently, I leaned over and hugged her. She squeezed me back and smiled kindly at me. “Can I take your order?” The waiter asked, interrupting the silence. We ordered a bottle of red and four glasses. When he walked away I turned to my friend and said, “Thanks. That means a lot.” She nodded in a way that naturally allowed me to end the conversation. I didn’t have to say anymore…unless I wanted to.
As I ate dinner and drank my wine I couldn’t help but feel relief. It was nice to know that someone was there for me. Worried about me. I was glad that someone was aware my children were not the only ones impacted by their dystonia. It felt good to know that I had such an overt offer of support. So often we assume our friends will be there for us when we need them. But truthfully, you never know who your true friends are until you actually need them. It has proven to be a nerve wracking and painful experience to wonder which friends are feeling genuinely engaged and which friends appear to be, but are secretly sick of hearing about your kids’ disorder. It’s awful to learn that you have friends who find your situation overwhelming, unrelatable and unavoidable in conversation. Dystonia has taught me that “how are you” is usually not a genuine inquiry, but rather a common social courtesy. It’s small talk. It’s a greeting. So that night when my friend asked me how I was doing, I automatically assumed she was just using it as a conversation starter. But I was wrong. She was really asking. In doing so my new friend gave me the incredible gift of not ever having to wonder if she really cared or was someone I could rely on in a time of need. In one simple, common question she gave me support and demonstrated her genuine friendship.
So to you my friend, thank you. I’m sure to you this was a normal question. But to me it meant so much more. I appreciate your compassion, patience and kindness. I love that I have never once felt judged by you, even when I am exhausted and at my worst. You exemplify what it means to be a friend and how to support someone who is struggling. It is truly beautiful to watch your boys emulate you as they grow into empathetic and kind people. I am grateful for you. I am grateful for your friendship. Thank you for making a positive impact on my life and on my journey with dystonia. But mostly thank you for your support and for not being afraid to ask the simple question so few actually do.