On a scale of 1 to 10

“How are you doing?”

There is no question that makes me cringe more. I’d rather recall the details of my last gynecological exam than answer a question about my emotional disposition. In the span of less than 24 hours, I have avoided that question four times. Another variation of this question is, “How is your day?” Regardless of whether it’s a casual ask that is masquerading as a greeting or a genuine inquiry from a friend, I respond with a grunt and shoulder shrug. 

Years ago, I dated a woman with borderline personality disorder. She told me that one of the worse questions you can ask a person living with a mood disorder is, “How are you doing?” Because this question is like poking at an open wound. “How am I doing?” How am I doing? I don’t fucking know. She told me that she learned that rephrasing the question to reflect a scale of 1-10 is better because you can gauge the person’s….emotional shades. The variations of shitty. 

I know that friends ask because they care. Others ask because it’s a safe space in which to engage in small talk. I get that every, “How’s it going?” is not an invitation for me to talk about my suicide fantasies. But even mustering up some banal retort takes up what little energy I have. My mind has to do some serious contorting to arrive at a positive perspective.

Even the thought of thinking about how I’m doing (bear with me) is tough. It requires some degree of self-reflection. What depressed person wants to do that? Why does my medicated mind even care? It doesn’t right now. I don’t know how I’m doing, nor do I care to know how I’m doing.

I am about a 5 as I write this. Yes, back to the scale. So a 5 in my world is probably what constitutes a good day. I can’t recall in my entire life a day I was at a 10. Ever. I have tried and tried to remember a 10 day and I can’t. I have come close, but my emotional odometer has never got the needle to a ten. I suppose that’s OK because I haven’t determined that reaching a 10 is a life goal. 

What is the point in being happy? My brain can’t process what life would be like if I were a 7, 8 or dare I think it: even a 9. I have spent so many years in the grey, that any other colored lens is incomprehensible. Every time I say, “I’m doing alright”, two things could be true: I’m lying or alright means not wanting to kill myself that day. 

Being on the bipolar spectrum makes the question even more difficult. I’m swinging between states of outrageous irritability or soul-crushing sadness and apathy daily, weekly, monthly. When I am high I am usually irritable; there are no euphoric states. I don’t have the “pleasure” of having a bipolar condition that allows me to be super happy and creative and productive. How am I doing? I dunno. That’s open to interpretation on my part, I suppose. What day is it? Is the sky blue? Can I spin a wheel and buy a vowel?

There are those look on the bright side people. They try to look at every obstacle as a could have been worse. I tried that. I mean, I could be living in Syria or the Gaza Strip. My life could be in perpetual danger. Le sigh. If I were, I could care less. My desire for survival is nil. That sort of count your blessings thinking is moot for someone like me or those like me. Perhaps it’s something I should do as an exercise. A way to re-tool my thinking patterns. It could be worse: I could be unemployed or physically sick or homeless or….you name it. Then I’d have something to be sad about. That’s the guilt in that line of thinking. What do I have to be sad about? The guilt leads to shame. Makes me feel like I’m ungrateful or weak. 

That’s why I hate that question. 

Yosemite Sam or Eyeore. I could make little flash cards with their pictures on it. I could carry around numbered paddles and hold up a number. Anything but actually talking about it. It’s just too painful. 







One thought on “On a scale of 1 to 10

  1. I think anyone that claims to have had an entire day that’s a 9 or 10 is lying. Or maybe I just feel that way because I’m not capable of it. In the past six months I’ve had a few moments of 9s and 10s and went straight to therapy thinking something was wrong. My brain can’t process that kind of happiness or joy. I don’t trust it.

    Most people I answer that question with “fine” or some quip about being tired. But when I find myself conversing with someone who knows what it is like to live with a mood disorder–not random depression but an actual chemical imbalance–I usually let loose a little bit. It’s like chicken soup for the crazy person’s soul for me.

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