A few years ago, when I was working in a Drug and Alcohol Counselling Agency, a client gave me a curious look when she asked how I was doing and I responded “Fine.” She told me in her recovery group she’d learned that fine stood for F***ed Inside, Nice Exterior. Since that day I’ve tried to take that word out of my feelings vocabulary, and hear it a little differently when someone tells me they’re doing “Fine.”
Alexithymia, which literally translates to “without words for feelings,” is a psychological term that’s garnered a fair bit of interest. While there are people – mostly male people according to the research – who may be diagnosable alexithymics, most of us are fewlexithymics. Don’t bother googling, I just made it up; it means using the same narrow range of words to describe our feeling states. So when someone asks us how we’re feeling, we don’t say “effervescent” or “melancholy,” we say “fine” (or “crappy,” as the case may be).
And what’s wrong with that? Well some may argue that putting words to a feeling is an integral part of fully experiencing that feeling (hence the interest in studying alexithymia). And even if there’s nothing lost in not being able to colourfully describe our feeling states, surely there’s something to be gained in finding the word or phrase that aptly captures both the quality and the intensity of what it is we’re experiencing. After all, expressing our feelings is an exercise in connection, first connecting with ourselves (so that we even know what the answer to ‘how am I feeling?’ is) and secondly connecting to another by giving them a glimpse of our internal landscape in that moment. “Fine” gives a broad and unfocused view while “anguished” or “thankful and inspired” or “uncertain and confused” offer a richer and more precise picture.