“I’m Fine. Just Tired.”

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Millennials are one of the most derided generations in recent memory. People have called us everything from lazy and entitled to overeager and idealistic. Certainly the phenomenon of older people criticizing “the youths” is nothing new. But something unique has caught on among our nebulous group. We always seem to be tired. No matter when or how we are asked, we have become very adept at conveying our fatigue.

How many times have you found yourself in the following situation? You’re talking to a friend, and they notice you seem a little down. Truth be told, it probably has not been the best day for you. Maybe you had to work overtime. Maybe your boss was more of a jerk today than usual. So your friend says, “Hey, are you okay?” What is your response?

Nothing truly abnormal happened. You might be in a rut, but you don’t want to seem like you’re complaining. You know your friend probably has her own stuff going on. You say, “I’m fine. Just tired.” Just like that, your friend moves on and goes about her day. That part of the conversation is closed off until your friend works up enough courage to try to get you to reveal what’s really bothering you.

In your defense, you might actually be tired. We are, after all, overworked and underpaid. But are you really using the word “tired” as a catch-all for a bunch of other emotions and experiences? For me, “tired” can mean: frustrated, depressed, purposeless, angry, love-struck, smitten, confused, or anything else I may be feeling in the moment. So, is it fair to combine all of these qualifiers into the admittedly ambiguous basket of “tired”?

The answer is: Probably not. The people we love ask us how we are doing out of more than a mere sense of obligation. In fact, that’s what makes them different than the guy in the elevator who grunts a halfhearted “How ya doin’?” between the first and fourth floors. But we also don’t call ourselves “tired” out of a desire to mislead the people we care about. Quite the contrary. We do it so that they don’t worry about us. We do it so that we can trick ourselves into thinking that everything would be perfect if we had just gotten that extra hour of sleep. In all fairness, maybe it would be.

Even though we wish we could be perfectly honest with everyone all the time, this has become something of a functional white lie. It’s the same thing as when people say “good” when you ask how they’re doing today. Chances are, more than a few of those people aren’t doing so well, but say “good” anyway. Why? They don’t want to make a big deal out of their own strife. Even though our own suffering is of the utmost importance to our own minds, most of us know that the trivial bumps and bruises that we all pick up on an average day ultimately don’t warrant an explanation to someone who has their own stuff to deal with.

At the end of it all, it helps to have this out in the open. Just know that “I’m fine. Just tired.” probably really means “I’m not thrilled with exactly how I feel right now, but I’m not in any sort of trouble and there’s really no reason for you to worry about me.” I, for one, know that I say I’m “just tired” all the time, and I’m trying my best to avoid it out of fear of evading deeper problems. But be aware that the person using that phrase is probably going through something that is lower than the threshold of the need to explain it. They might be coming down with something, or simply not feeling the best. In short: They’re fine. Just tired.

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