#1252: Small Talk Strategies When You’re Depressed And Forgetful

Hi there,

I’m hoping to find some scripts/strategies to employ when I run into someone I’m happy to chat with, like a friend or one of the super friendly baristas at a coffee shop I’m always in, and they ask “so what’s new with you?” or “what have you been up to this week?” when the honest answer is often something like “I managed to leave the house every day” or “Well my house is still messy but I did write 70 thousand words of erotic fanfiction in the past few months” or “I’m sorry but my depression seems to be leaning hard on my memory lately and I have no idea what I did yesterday, let alone last week.”

Sometimes I even have done something I could talk about; there might be a knitting or art project I picked up, I try to take small trips to see friends when I can, and of course plenty of my friends would be happy to talk about the weird fanfic I’ve been writing. But in the moment I rarely remember any of this.

I don’t know if you’ve ever been at a bar and forgotten the name of every cocktail you have ever enjoyed or even heard of the moment you get the bartender’s attention, but that’s what this feels like. I’m a deer in the headlights and can’t think of something that’s even vaguely interesting and not some form of “I’m super depressed so I can’t remember, sorry.” That’s fine to say sometimes, I know, but I don’t want that to be my response every time someone talks to me in person.

I am getting as much mental health support as I can; I have a good therapist and meds that seem to work as well as anything else could (I tried some new ones last year and it was a disaster), but I’m still struggling a bit; I don’t mind being honest about that, in many circumstances, but I feel so dull and boring when these questions come up and at times it impacts my confidence around other people. I’m trying hard right now to get out more and connect with people because I know that’s good for me but I keep hitting this awkward roadblock. Any thoughts?

I Promise I’m Not This Boring, For Real (he/him)

Hello, you’re not boring, you are ill, and frankly you are kicking ass at trying to manage this illness. Look at everything you are doing: therapy, meds, making time for friends, knitting, writing, and generally Making An Effort. That is so much! It would be okay if you couldn’t do those things, and it would be okay if you were boring, as long as you are kind, but I don’t think you are boring. You wrote a fuckton of erotica, that’s pretty interesting! You are traveling to see people, that’s pretty cool! What’s the best thing you’ve knitted? What kind of art do you make?

You are not boring, but maybe you are bored. You’re bored with being depressed. You’re bored with being you, while depressed. If you’re a place where winter is happening, you’re probably very bored with gray skies and being too cold (and then too hot as you move from inside to outside and your glasses fog up) and then too cold again. Possibly you’re bored with scrolling through the infinite possibilities of things you could be reading, watching, learning, and eating if you could make yourself be in the mood for any of them, and equally bored with scrolling through the news and its daily dose of despair and violence and selfishness, knowing that until you shake off the depression you have limited capacity to do anything about any of it. When you venture out in public where friends and nice baristas live, you’re bored by the angry, mean sounds of your inner critic yammering away inside your head telling you that you’re unfairly sucking up everyone’s time and friendly chit-chat attention. Depression lies. And we can work with bored.

You don’t have to dazzle people with interestingness every time they ask you what’s new with you. You don’t have to be interesting. Kindness >>>>>> Interestingness. Pleasant and boring? Good enough!

If you hate small talk (or do not have energy or interest in more deeply engaging either the speaker or the statement), the fastest way through it is almost always to give the most expected call-and-response. “Hello, how are you today?” “Fine, and you?” 

Fine is a lie, so if you are not fine, substitute “Okay” or “Still breathing!” or “Hanging in” or “It is certainly a Tuesday” until you find something brief that comes out of your mouth naturally. People denounce small talk as insincere/ meaningless/trite/a total waste of energy, but a few recurring expected scripts are knowable and repeatable and the early chapters of any foreign language textbooks will get a person through most of the building blocks of “Hello” and “Please” and “Thank you” and “I have two bicycles.” The beauty of a template is that you don’t have to think too much about what to say, if you just fill in the blanks you can be fairly confident you did it correctly. Consider also that most “Hey how are ya?” and “Medium weather we are considering almost having!” passing chitchat means some version of “Hey human, we are both here. I acknowledge you, do you acknowledge me?” “I sure do!” Boring is a-ok here. “What’s new with you?” “Same old, same old” “How’s it going?” “Oh, it’s going.” (“Comment ça va?”/”Oui, ça va” from second-day-of-French-Class)

If we were dogs who did not object to one another’s presence, we’d wag tails and sniff each other’s buttholes. Elephants trumpet and do trunk-face touching stuff. We are humans, so we get variations on The local sports team, were they not unusually valiant in their latest endeavors?” 

My dear Letter Writer, perhaps a better question than how do you be more interesting or remember the interesting stuff you are actually doing is: Do you want to be interesting during these conversations, or do you want to be seen? Because “I’m depressed, actually, but pretty proud I left the house today” or “Can I go with ‘forgetting anything interesting I have to say the second people ask me that’? Because that’s been happening a lot” or “Do you want to hear ‘Pretty okay, and you?’ or do you want to hear about the 70,000 words of fan-fiction I wrote?” check the boxes of both “honest” and “not mean.” What’s the worst thing that happens if you answer honestly with how you really are and what you’ve really been up to, even if it is “I have no idea” or “Everything sucks right now, where do I start?”

Say the “worst” thing happens and you accidentally go from “possibly boring the nice baristas with how boring you are” to “slightly weirding out the nice baristas with how sad you are.” I promise, you will not be the weirdest or saddest customer these people encounter in their day. Baristas are on the front lines of every fucked-up feeling that every single fucked-up person in the world has about capitalism and culture and public spaces and breakfast and standing in line and the correct way to hold money and what does and doesn’t need a bag and what constitutes music and every single human act that can possibly happen in a public restroom. Give me a barista who has been even one week on the job, and I will give you a grizzled, jaded, veteran observer of the human condition, ergo, the worst case scenario (as imagined below) seems pretty survivable to me.

Barista:Up to anything interesting lately?”

You: “I’m super depressed so I can’t remember, sorry” 

Barista: “Oh no, I’m so sorry to hear that.”/”Tell me about it.”/”Seems to be the theme this morning.” 

Barista: :hands you beverage you ordered:

You: :put tip in jar:

Barista: “Hey, thanks man! I hope you feel better!” 

Likely Barista thoughts about you (if they have time to remember you at all): “That guy is nice. I’m sorry he’s sad. He always tips at least a dollar. I’m going to give him an extra shot next time.” 

With friends, what’s the worst thing that happens if you forget what you were going to say during the “how are you?” ritual but remember later? “Can you ask me that again in half an hour? My mind keeps going blank even though I am actually doing lots of stuff.” “I’m super-depressed and probably not the most sparkling company lately, but tell me what you’re up to!” If you can’t be interesting, try for interested.

With friends, this won’t be the one and only time you talk to them, yes? You could theoretically text them the next day and say,. “Hey, I totally spaced out when you asked me what’s up lately, but I wrote this juicy thing, so ask me about it next time.” 

The worst thing that happens is that your interactions are…basically fine? The best thing that happens is your vulnerability and honesty makes the people around you feel less alone and less like they have to perform and put on a happy face and sparkle and dazzle you. The middle is what will happen most of the time and the middle is okay.

I promise you, I am not bright-siding you. After I first moved here in 2000, I tried to take an improv class during a bad spout of depression in the hope that it would help me make friends and force me to do fun things, and every single moment of class was like the feeling you describe of being thirsty and in a bar and not remembering what beverages even are. My nice teacher and scene partners would do a thing and then it would be my turn to “Yes, and?” them and add my own thing, and I would just fucken stand there silently like I was Amelie, minus the fun smirk or any trace of whimsy.

I couldn’t even do the warmups: Zip-Zap-Existential Dread. “Big booty, big booty, aw yeahhhh Big Booty! Big One Booty Number One!” “Number One Big Booty!!” “Big Booty Number Two!” Sorry, Big Booty Number Two will have to get back to you, she has analysis paralysis.

People would laugh at first because extremely deadpan non-reactions are funny, “Bartleby the Improviser” is a pretty good bit. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a bit, it was me, a person who is literally made of words, not being able to think of any words and make them leave my mouth no matter how long my teacher made encouraging faces and gestures, and no matter how many helpful suggestions my classmates shouted, no matter who patted me on the back and told me I’d get it in time with more practice.

I would love to tell you I stuck with it, I showed up, I just let it happen, and eventually I got it, but I didn’t. During the second or third class I broke down crying and then cried harder because everyone was so nice to me and then I ran out of the building and never went back or saw those people again. I’m not sure I’ve ever been back to that block of the city, such was the smoking crater of shame I’d left behind. (I did eventually answer one email from the teacher to say that I was ok but was quitting class so they wouldn’t think I died).

The thing is? If I had gone back? They would have welcomed me with open arms. If I’d ever managed to squeak out a sentence in a scene, ever? They possibly would have carried me around on their shoulders like a triumphant general or champion sports team. They didn’t think I was an asshole or that I was boring and had nothing to say, they knew that I was freaking out and they wanted to hang out with me and help me freak out slightly less. I was ashamed, but that was shame I brought with me into the room because my brain is an jerklord and I carry a spare shame battery everywhere. But I wasn’t letting them down by dramatically sucking at improv or having human feelings. “She’s kind of weird and intense sometimes and she freezes in improv scenes” wasn’t a life sentence of me being a terminally unlikeable person, no more than your periodic moments of self-doubt and cognitive overload make you an inherently boring one. Depression lies. It’s not that you’re a conversational superstar right now, maybe you truly aren’t, but also, you don’t have to be one. Your baristas are glad you showed up, every customer they serve who isn’t an asshole dilutes the daily asshole pool. Your friends are glad you showed up, they want you to be okay and happy and specifically yourself way more than they need you to be your worst enemy’s* idea of what “interesting” might be.

(*You. You are your own nemesis right now, welcome to Depression.)

The problem is actually incredibly boring, when you think about it: We have mean brains, and it turns out that being mean all the time is really boring. And the fixes are also boring, because there are no shortcuts to “Keep showing up when you can, give it time, actually feel your feelings, and try to be nice to yourself.” 

You are doing your goddamn best, and so far I like you very much. If I had an extra shot of espresso you could have it. I hope you can be a little bit nice to yourself today. If you can’t, that’s okay. Let’s turn up the music and be quiet and sad and watch the Somebodys go by.






153 thoughts on “#1252: Small Talk Strategies When You’re Depressed And Forgetful

  1. I run into this problem too, and one of the strategies I use is actually planning out unplanned interactions. When I’m leaving the house, I will consciously think about it – how am I going to answer “What’ve you been up to lately/How’re you/What’s new?” For some reason, it’s easier to remember “I already decided to say ‘I finished a new project!’ or ‘Ugh, the cold weather is getting me down'” than to instantly scan the last several days (which I might not remember anyway) and pluck out the perfect anecdote on the spot. So I “cheat”. It might work for you (it does occasionally leave me telling the same person the same thing twice, but all strategies have weaknesses.)

    Side note, this is also a great strategy when your coworkers ask you how vacation went and you were actually at an Adult Convention or your ex’s house or whatever your Not For Coworkers Trip is, and you don’t want to talk about it. “The hotel was packed, it was great.” “Saw some old friends, caught up, you know how it is.”

    1. I went to a Nerd Convention in another country recently, and my story at work was absolutely “Oh, I met up with some friends in [name of well-known city]! We went shopping and ate in some fun restaurants.” Which was absolutely true, and just skipped over the fact that when we weren’t shopping and eating, we were on the convention floor at Nerd Central. 😛

    2. I do this (planning unplanned interactions) and cannot remember not doing it. I either have a rehearsed thing I’m going to say or I default to the formula (“good how are you”… some factual statement about the weather).

      When I am at a loss for words but have the ability to remember, I remember to ask the other person the exact same question they asked me. Because sometimes people ask because it’s on their mind and they want to share. They seem to like that.

    3. I really truly thought everyone always does this. I’ve been doing this as long as I can remember, which in February isn’t very long, but still!

      I have some really fucked up mood disorder stuff and ADD so the short term memories and depersonalization make small talk either very difficult or very easy, with absolutely no in between. Today at work my words came out as jumbles of syllables. Whoops.

      But I had answers for small talk, and on really bad days, I even write them somewhere discreet like a note on my phone so I can read them to people.

      It works and it makes life a lot easier.

  2. Longtime reader, first time commenter!

    Lw, I regularly completely forget every activity I have ever done when asked what I’ve been up to or what I did over the weekend. If it’s a barista or whatnot I say that I chilled or some other noncommittal pleasantry. If it’s a friend asking I stand there for several seconds waiting for my brain to cooperate, hoping that something will pop into my head. What’s helped me is remembering that my friends mostly want to make noises at me and for me to make noises back, and if I can’t make any noises they will probably only care insofar as worrying that I’m unwell.
    Literally any noises will work. Including saying that you can’t think of anything or that you have no idea what you did this weekend or that it’s been rough going lately.

    Good luck, LW.

    1. If I said, “Hey, what’s up?”
      And someone replied, “Oh nothing. The usual. Just bumming out. You know. Depressed. Writing erotic fanfic. Knitting. Trying to get out of the damn house and succeeding once in a while…”
      I’d want to be your friend. I’d at least want to buy your coffee.

  3. If it helps, I’m sure 90% of the time when the barista asks how are you it’s simply her being a fellow human acknowledging you, another fellow human, in a friendly manner. Perhaps 10% of the time, it’s because she knows you’re a regular and is being polite as a way to keep a regular customer happy and coming back. Store clerks generally aren’t expecting a long-winded update on how you’re *actually* doing or what’s *actually* new. So a “great, how are you” or “I’m looking forward to the weekend already” or some other short and sweet and vague response is fine. They won’t judge you negatively for it – they have to get on to the next customer, after all…

    I also find, with many of my friends, when they ask what’s up with me….most of the time they are actually chomping at the bit to tell me what’s up with THEM. So, if you’re not feeling particularly peppy or your brain is in a fog, turn it back on them with, “doing as well as can be. and you?” and I bet they take over the conversation from there.

    In the meantime, perhaps your therapist can work with you on some memory tricks to help you call up some ideas for when you need them for conversations with friends or to help you remember your favorite drinks?

    1. My husband just recently explained to me that when coworkers ask me about my weekend, they are actually hoping that I will ask them about THEIR weekend, and it 1. blew my mind 2. took a huge weight off my shoulders because I am a happily boring hermit who had no idea what to do with that particular conversational ball twice a week.

  4. I always say “Not too bad!” when people ask me how I am (because I can always imagine how my life could be worse) and “Well, I’m here!” (when I’m too exhausted to imagine how it could be worse) and smile and make a comment about the weather (I cycle everywhere, so I mentally imagine people giving me a pass to be preoccupied with the weather). The Captain is right — for me this is just a coded way of saying, Hey, human! I see you! We’re here together! Let’s try not to be assholes to each other! People react to your tone of voice and body language, and if you communicate with those “hey, I’m happy to see you!” often. . . it perhaps doesn’t so much matter what you say, I have found?

    I always feel guilty and ashamed when I think I’m being boring, because I don’t particularly like myself and don’t particularly expect other people to like me, and one of my coping stories for dealing with that starts “WELL AT LEAST I’M INTERESTING. . . ” That coping skill served me in the past, when I was just trying to get over the hump of “but I am 10,000% terrible tho???” And now it doesn’t serve me so well. People get to just be . . . averae, boring, kind of middle-of-the-road people out in the world, even if they’re not actively serving the interests of anyone around them. Just like I don’t have to be beautiful or super smart to merit being safe and comfortable, I also do not have to witty and insightful and entertaining every moment of every day to merit kindness.

    Jedi fist bumps and cups of tea, LW. You are doing fine.

    1. I think that second paragraph is me in a nutshell (help help I’m in a nutshell) and like others above I rehearse things to say — but I’m also at the point in my life where when someone asks me how I am or how it’s going I will answer “Well, another day above ground. You know.”

      But yes. You’re doing fine, LW.

  5. Friend! If you ever wanted proof that it is OK for small talk and the initial verbal handshakes of conversations to be extremely rote and boring, think about the fact that people regularly screw up the sequence of the phrases they are using, without EITHER PARTY noticing or commenting. These have both happened in my presence over the course of the last month:

    Jack: Hey, Jill, what’s up?
    Jill: Good!!!

    Bill: Hey, Bob, how are you?
    Bob: Oh, nothing much.

    Not to mention which, it’s not unusual for one person to open the conversation by ritualistically saying they are “good” and then going on to talk in-depth about the particular flavor of rough time they have been enduring of late. No one jumps in to say, “HEY, WAIT, YOU TOLD ME TEN MINUTES AGO THAT YOU WERE GOOD, LIAR LIAR PANTS ON FIRE.” If someone did, THEY would be the person upsetting the apple cart, and they would not come off well at all.

    I know depression and overthinking it are a bad, sad combination, but no one will take you to Feelings Court if you say you are fine when you’re not or if your ritualized responses are a little out of sync. I think that in a way, this ritualized small talk can be a blessing if you’re in a bad place because it means that you can lean on some memorized stuff to say that will just come right on out of your mouth, low stakes stuff that no one will hold you to or criticize you for being a little wobbly.

    We’re rooting for you!

    1. For some reason my standard “How are you” reply is to stammer out “Oh, you know.” And they don’t know, and sometimes there’s a little moment of hesitation where they realize I said something slightly confusing, but it fits well enough that they always just skip past that and continue the interaction.

      I have also responded to “How are you?” with just a return “How are you?” and no other response at all, and the person rarely notices I didn’t actually answer.

      Basically if it has the general cadence of a “How are you?”/”Fine, and you?” interaction, people tend to accept it regardless of what the actual words were.

      1. Now I’m imagining a conversation —

        “How are you?”
        “Oh, you know.”
        “Uh– cool, cool”
        “Since you know, please for the love of Bob TELL ME, I have no idea how I’m actually doing”
        “…” (backs away slowly)”

        …and snortgiggling to myself.

    2. This is not true and doesn’t need to be true for everyone but is true for me: When I’m asked how I am, I almost always answer some version of good, fine, etc. even if things are rough. It doesn’t feel false for me – when it would feel false, I don’t do it – but in some way the “Hey, I’m a human, and I recognize that you’re a human, and I care at least a little bit about this interaction going well” does in fact make me feel a little bit more good/fine. If I’m also having a rough time and we have a longer conversation, that might come out too, but it doesn’t negate the yay-human-interaction good or the I’m-alive-and-there’s-a-world good; they can all coexist.

    3. I heard my boss start a call on speakerphone the other day that went thusly:

      Boss: Hi client, it’s Boss.
      Client: Oh, hi Boss!
      Boss: Good, thanks, how are you?
      Client: I was going to call you actually, because…

      It helped me to reflect that we all bumble around and say things less than optimally, and most people aren’t as acutely aware of it as I seem to be, and certainly aren’t judging as much as I worry they are.

    4. I regularly hear and engage in the following exchange in hallways or sidewalks:
      A: hey! how are you!
      B: oh hi! How are you?
      A: have a good day!
      (people have passed beyond chatting distance)

  6. I’ve found that I remember stuff better when I write it down. Not even for reference or anything. Just the act of writing something down helps it stick in my memory. (I think there have been studies about this – it forces your brain to acknowledge the piece of information more times which gives it a higher probability of moving to your memory).

    I would suggest keeping a diary. Nothing elaborate – aim for one sentence a day. Just something like “Finished ___ knitting project!” or “Wrote [x] words for ___ fic” or “Watched a few episodes of [tv show] I really liked/didn’t like it”. It should make it easier to recall those things when someone asks what you’ve been up to.

    1. Seconding the journaling! Even if it doesn’t help you remember what you did when the small talk prompt happens, it’s really useful to be able to reconstruct last week. I write down rough sketches of the day, and even if some of them are ‘work, lunch was the empenada place, home, and then youtube for 3 hours’ it’s really helpful to know that the reason I don’t remember what I did 2 days ago is because I didn’t really do much worth remembering that day. And if it becomes a habit, it becomes easier to jot down the things you want to remember or are happy to document.

    2. I keep a diary at roughly this level of detail, and I do find it helps me answer this sort of question! I also think it helps me feel less bored/boring/miserable — right now I am dealing with some physical health stuff, which is having some bonus mental health impacts, and a lot of the time I feel like ALL I HAVE EVER DONE is deal with [health thing] and ALL I WILL EVER DO is deal with [health thing] and all my time and energy are dedicated to dealing with [health thing] all the time and– like, all of that is true in a way, it does occupy a huge amount of my mental energy, but it helps to be able to look at my diary and remind myself that I do also sometimes enjoy things, do productive work, and see people I like.

    3. In the vein of writing things down to not forget them in the moment- I do not like making phone calls. If there is an option to use a chat service I will every single time. If I have to make a phone call though I actually get a piece of paper out, write my own phone number at the top and then the subject/question I’m calling about. I am absolutely terrible at remembering details on the spot and then if I pause and have to think about something as simple as a phone number my jerkbrain cannot get past that they must think I am either a) lying about who I am or b) really dumb.

      I like this idea of just a tiny note written about what you’ve done! I frequently forget what I did but writing things down does help me remember them. I think I might have to give this a try! Thanks 😀

    4. My jerk brain loves to remember the time I bled through my jeans in the seventh grade, and often forgets whether I did anything positive any time in the last seven days. Couple years ago, I bought a little page a day calendar and started listing things I (1) accomplished (washed a pan, drove my kid to school) or (2) enjoyed (sat on the deck and saw some birds). I’d list stuff as it happened, or at the end of the day or the next morning, if I forgot. I never write anything I plan to do, only the things I actually did. I never write anything about which I feel ashamed or yucky — it’s either radio silence or write it as an accomplishment. If I skip a day once in a while, I just go “whelp, missed that one”, and move on. It has brought me a lot of happiness, or at least some perspective. Your knitting and your fanfic are real, and your brain may need constant reminders of their existence.

      But, truly, in conversation, good answers include: “I’m surviving!” or “Well, I’m here!”, or even, if it’s not too dark, “Still on the right side of the grass.” (as my Midwestern father likes to say about his aged self). The kinda people you’d even care to connect with just wanna connect. They don’t need any performance of interestingness.

      1. My go-to phrase is: “Vertical! and Out of the house! Which is a win for me this week!” (with a big [fake] grin) “And you?” And my interlocuter is ALWAYS, always, happy to share my joy at this tiny win.

        1. I once asked a total stranger “how’s it going?” (because we had just silently interacted to an unusual degree due to the particular confluence of doors/hallways/our walking paths) and they just said “it’s a work in progress,” which is so far my favorite answer to such a question.

    5. I have been keeping a small diary, one of those five-year deals, for almost four years now, and I do think it helps some, although I think not as much as I’d like it to. But that’s a thought, to maybe more intentionally record some of those specific details. I

    6. Also boosting this recommendation. One of the best things I’ve done recently (in the last 5 years) for myself is to start writing out my “accomplishments”. I know that sounds all fancy, but really it was just making a list once a month (now I do it once a quarter and that’s fine) of all the things I did at work, at home, etc. It got me out of the rut of overfocusing on the things I messed up or didn’t quite get done and refocused on all the great stuff I had done. So now when people ask me what I’ve been up to, I can usually remember something cool from that list and tell them about it. I highly recommend this even if all it does is help boost your confidence in yourself like it did for me, but it may also help with I forgot all the things I want to talk about! moments too.

    7. Just chiming in here to recommend this as well! One of the best suggestions a former therapist ever gave me was to write down the things that had made me happy or that I was proud of every day. When I’m in a hardcore depression spiral all I can think about is how I can’t do anything right and have no friends, but I found that writing down little accomplishments and interactions helped break out of those thought patterns. And I’m talking really minor stuff sometimes, like “met a classmate’s cat!” and “RSVP-ed to fun event that I’m going to try really hard not to skip out on this time” and “looked up how to cancel that credit card I signed up for because I didn’t know how to say no to the Macy’s lady.” I also found that doing this sort of mini-journaling on a google doc worked really well for me, since I could pull it up and jot something down anytime (although the act of physically writing things down is also very satisfying).

  7. Oh I know this feeling! Way too well! I think some of your response will be based on how emotionally close you are with people. Being more open (not in a word vomit kind of way) with other people about how I really am has helped me get past some of the lies my depression brain tells me. Because a lot of what depression whispers to me is that I need to hide, because no one will want me the way I really am. And it’s SUCH A LIE. Such a lie. Most people want to be compassionate and help the people they care about. Captain is correct that a lot of these interactions are just about completing the social rituals. But for people that you are more involved with, being a little honest can be a relief. Sometimes a kindly word from the baristas I see every morning was enough to let me face my work day. And some days the answer is ‘same old same old’ with a wry smile because I don’t have the energy to go twenty rounds of ‘what’s wrong’. As for remembering: depression is also very good at erasing accomplishments and things that make you happy/proud. So I started a list in onenote that I can glance at whenever I forget of things I actually did. This may not help you in a conversation, but it helps me see the true story of what’s going on in my life instead of the depression’s story. I try to really look at the list when I update it to remind myself. It helps to have something tangible and solid instead of the ephemeral certainty of how everything is awful that the depression serves up. The more often I read the list and try to actually REMEMBER doing those things, the less the depression lies seem like the only truth. *jedi hugs* if you want them.

  8. This is very timely, thank you.
    ADD/ASD jerkbrain is difficult enough as you know, but this week came with an extra fun double scoop of Anniversary of Parent Death (which I knew was coming and was semi-prepared for), and Death of *Their* Parent (aka my grandparent, the day before, which I wasn’t), with Semi-Estrangement Of That Side Of The Family sprinkles on top. So I now get a lovely melted milkshake of Impending Drama and Feels to sip on for a while, and I’d rather not spill it on my coworkers. (So word vomiting it on an anonymous internet forum it is!)
    I did absolutely none of the chores, or even fun things, I planned on doing this past weekend. It was an accomplishment that I even showered.

    I’ve had the best luck, as others have suggested, with redirecting, to get folks to talk about themselves. If they’re doing that, they aren’t paying as much attention to you, and you can let them lead the dialog when you’re not feeling up to it yourself.
    Scripts are useful to me especially, it’s how I have to frame basically any social interaction anyway. I got enough of them and learned them well enough that they’re muscle memory at this point, so jerkbrain doesn’t have to come up with one for me.

    “You are not boring, but maybe you are bored. You’re bored with being depressed. You’re bored with being you, while depressed.”
    That hit a freaking power chord. I need to think on that for a while.

    1. @Mikachu: So sorry for your losses. Jedi hugs if you want them or imagine I have served up your favorite beverage.

  9. Yeah, I sometimes do a version of “Hey, I’m here!” Or “better, now that I am at this coffeeshop!” — with a smile if possible.

    If a friend / ongoing acquaintance asks what I’ve been up to, they may be eager to share what *they* have been up to, so “Not much, how about you?” gives them that opening.

  10. OP, I feel you. In fact, I am in almost the same place as you. Every day that I make it to my measly four hours of work instead of calling in sick is a huge win, although my place is still messy.

    As the good Captain already so eloquently stated, you are most likely bored, not boring. You have managed to write 70k words. You clearly have something to say and are able to write it down. That’s pretty damn impressive.

  11. Wait, that’s a symptom of depression?

    Why do all depression screenings start with “have you felt happy in the past 2 weeks?” I’m usually like “look if I had my calendar and like half an hour I could maaaaybe remember everything that happened in that time but I’d have 0% confidence in my answer.”

    1. “Forgetfulness” and “vagueness about time and details” can be a symptom of lots of brain stuff, so, yeah, raise the issue when you are doing intake or checking in.

    2. Yeah, “nothing is interesting” is at least as common a depression symptom as “everything is sad.”
      I think the screenings would be so much more accurately diagnostic if they continued asking “have you felt happy in the past 2 weeks?” but added “I can’t remember” as a response choice in addition to the typical “usually/ sometimes/ rarely/ never” and count it the same as a “rarely/never” answer.

      I have spent some quality time in the the Nothing Is Interesting Or Worth The Effort And What Was the Question Again flavor of depression, and LW, I can attest that people accept a wiiiide variety of responses to “how are you/ whatcha been up to?” — basically anything as long as it’s not immediately alarming or unkind.

    3. My issues with that depression checklist, let me show them to you. When I take it cold, I score around 9-12 out of 30. When I keep track of how I feel for two weeks by writing it down? 20+. And this is the medicated, better version of me. It’s just a really bad system for diagnosing depression because it requires the patient to a) know what’s baseline, and b) remember a linear timeline longer than “after I woke up today.”

      I made a take-it-over-two-weeks version for myself with everything quantified and space for meds, notes, a mini-calendar, and tally marks and oh man it is WAY more accurate.

      1. Not to mention the idea about what sometimes/often/never mean to different people. Such a subjective question with so many possible answers and some of them highly inaccurate in helping give a diagnosis.

      2. @fallowsthorn That sounds brilliant. I would love a picture/description of that if you’re willing to share. If not, I just want to express how impressed I am at you developing that tool.

      3. I could never remember how I felt before the present moment (and was also very bad at identifying my emotions – I’d describe my mental state at the time as “there is a scream in my brain that never stops” or “vague grey semi-bad”) and whenever I had to fill these out I just kind of guessed at what I felt was an average? With a little extra wiggle room for not wanting to be hospitalized against my will? Besides that, yeah, my baseline was very negative, so an “average” day was like, oh I only hyperventilated twice and the nonstop suicidal ideation was low-key and didn’t demand my attention. Rarely! 3/5!

        Needless to say the results were extremely average and not at all useful. “I don’t remember” as a real option might have helped! When I said that out loud they’re like, “just take your best guess.” Okay, but my best guess is not a good guess!

  12. Once I was at a friend’s wedding and was chatting with another wedding guest who I knew a little bit, but hadn’t seen in a while. When she asked what was new since we’d seen each other last, I kind of blanked and went, “Hm, not much, really?” and she hit me with something I haven’t stopped thinking about since when she said something to the effect of “Yeah, it’s funny how just ‘being a successful adult’ isn’t really an exciting story to tell.” I wasn’t depressed, and my life wasn’t actually terribly dull (I have a rich inner life even if I’m not Doing Things, ok!), but even coming from a place of generally decent mental health, it was really heartening to me to have my nonresponse validated and re-framed as “yep, your lack of Big Life News can actually be seen as a success.”

    All of this to say, I think sometimes when you’re in the throes of something like depression (and I have been there), it’s easy to hyper-focus on yourself and all the ways you’re performing incorrectly in public, but I hope it helps you to hear that ALL of us have been on the side of “What’s new?” “Um. Literally nothing.” It’s ok if you feel bad about it because the reason you can’t come up with an answer is “because I’m depressed,” but I hope it’s comforting to know that the people you’re interacting with probably won’t even skip a beat.

    1. When I was going through my Year of Hell (divorce, death of a grandparent, inlaws almost died in a car accident…and that was just January…), my response to “how are you?” was usually a word vomit of *every single thing* that was happening at that particular moment. It was A Lot.

      Some people were asking because they were close enough to know I had a lot going on, and they genuinely did want to hear about it and help me out. But lots of people were just enacting the polite social ritual of asking another person how they are. And let me tell you, most baristas are lovely people, but they’re not usually *that* interested in the details!

      I remember saying at the time, that i was really looking forward to “boring.” Boring would mean the divorce was settled, nobody had died or almost died, and life was continuing in its ordinary routine way. I couldn’t wait for the time when somebody would ask me what was going on, and I could truthfully say “not much, what about you?” So don’t discount the value of “boring” when it comes to social interactions – boring can be good!

      1. That’s why “May you live in interesting times” is a curse, not a blessing.

        I hope your life has returned to acceptably boring.

      2. I once saw a Garfield greeting card that said “My life could grow moss” — and I have to admit I’ve had years where I’d prefer to be growing moss. I will confess to mis-quoting it from time to time when I needed to deflect : “Let’s just say my life don’t grow moss lately.”

  13. I work at an urgent care clinic so I get to make small talk a minimum of 40 times a day with strangers the vast majority of which are feeling some kind of poorly. My standard answer to “How are you?” is “It’s another day vertical and the sun is shining (somewhere)!” with a bright smile and a bright tone of voice. If questioned, I explain that one of my goals this year is to appreciate the little things and it’s serving me pretty well. Most folks smile and tell me some sort of “That’s great. I need to remember that.” or “Wow, you have such a great attitude!” I tend not to ask folks how they are because, again, I work at an urgent care clinic and most folks aren’t doing great or they wouldn’t be there. So I ask them about the weather, or about whatever is on their T-shirt, or where they got the nice watch/fitbit band, or something else innocuous. If you told your regular barista on a day you were feeling brave that you struggle with depression, they would certainly say something along the lines of “I hope you feel better” but also probably tell you that they like you/think you’re great/ whatever. I wonder if they might also find a different question to ask you next time you come in. They would also likely consider you to be interesting simply because you are a honest human.
    I 100% support the suggestion of planning in advance what you will say to that (and other) question(s) before you get to your destination. That’s how I came up with my standard answer above. Write it on your hand if you have to.

  14. #1 – Depression lies.
    LW, you are not boring. You are an awesome human being who is knitting and writing and getting out of the house while depression is lying to you and about you and trying to drain all color from the universe. Depression tries to make the universe so bland, colorless, tasteless, feelingless – BORING – that you just disengage from everything and because you cannot properly experience outside of your own head, depression cons you into thinking that it’s life that is boring, that you are boring. Depression is a fucking liar and you are a freaking rock star just walking up to the barista while that jackweasel is lying to you and about you.

    #2 – it’s okay for you* to lie if that’s what it takes to get through an interaction. If “fine” is a lie but it’s what you can say to keep upright, say “fine.” “Nothing new, what’s with you” is a perfectly acceptable not-lie. “Same ol’, same ol'” “oh man!” with an eyeroll also works. As the Captain said, it’s the human interaction that really matters here, not the exchange of substantive information. You are a human having a human moment with another human. *not for depression to lie, because it’s a lying jack-weasel.

    When my brain just stops like you describe, I say “sorry, my brain just stopped.” I have found most people can relate and will allow me to harness my thoughts. And if after blinking blankly for a while all I can come up with is, “sorry, I got nothing,” people understand that too. Other go-to responses for me are “I’m vertical,” “it’s [day of the week],” “I haven’t the vaguest idea.”

    Hang in there LW. You got this. The barista is human too.

    1. Yeah, I’ve done some version of “I don’t know; my mind just went blank” quite a few times. Generally they either laugh and say something to indicate that they relate to that feeling, or they shrug and keep going through the Small Talk script while I nod and smile vaguely.

      1. I’d bet money or cupcakes or something that if LW answered with the truth about how it’s hard to remember those answers when you need them, a substantial percentage of the askers would relate enough to have pleasant small talk about that exact thing. I also think that a certain level of weird and forthright self-support around that can make even “boring” answers more interesting.

        Barista: What have you been up to?
        Customer: Uh. Hmm. Wow, I’m having a hard time remembering. One sec.
        [Customer pats pockets, finds crumpled note to self, reads it]
        Customer: Oh, yeah. That’s right! I fell into a Wikipedia hole and spent an hour reading about municipal parks in Duluth.

        At this point, there are so many good, easy ways to finish up the conversation. Maybe they ask about the note and you laugh together about how easy it is to randomly forget everything. Maybe you bond briefly over falling down random Wikipedia holes. Maybe they actually care about parks or Duluth and think that’s interesting? Worst case, they’ll just move ahead with the interaction script in a neutral way, mission of Making Mouth Sounds Together accomplished.

        1. Yes! There’s almost no downside since in all probability the worst that will happen is they will respond according to script.
          I think those weird little moments of honesty are appreciated more than a “normal” answer because it’s genuinely human, not rote “small talk,” and there’s an implicit trust in showing someone else your “flaws.”
          “My brain stopped” isn’t trusting them with a deep dark secret, but it’s telling them you trust them enough that you don’t need to wear a “public” self.

    2. I’ve done “…sorry, my brain just bluescreened,” rather a lot lately… though BSOD isn’t really a common referent any more.

      Also “My brain spontaneously rebooted, what did you just ask?”.

      1. LOL! I wish I’d thought of saying “bluescreened”!

        When it’s really bad, I say it flat-lined. That’s when I need to hang up, log off, go home, and give myself time to reboot.

  15. I have learned to let the other person talk and say, “Tell me more!” and “How fascinating!” while smiling and leaning forward to encourage them to keep talking. I have found this helps curb my tendency to say horribly inappropriate things and better pass for neurotypical.

  16. Because I have a tendency to tell people that I am “awake” or “here” when they ask me how I am… (especially my Beloved Baristas) – I like to jump in there first; “Hey! How are you?” which is often sufficiently out of the norm that they forget to ask me back; “I’m great, thanks for asking! What can I get you?”

    Thus I avoid the need to remember how I am, or what I’ve been doing or that “here” isn’t really a way a person can be.

    For friends; I totally second the If You’re Not Up To Being Interesting Be Interested recommendation! My friends all cope with a lot of “Totally fucking miserable, but broadly coping. HOW ARE YOOOU??? TELL ME ABOUT (your Tuesday, *thing that I am desperately scrolling through our previous chats to remind myself you were doing*, *thing that I wrote down in my notebook so that I would remember to ask about it next time* etc…)” in response to their innocent asking of how I am.

    But also – just putting it out there with everyone else, that you’re totally not alone! I’m in awe of your prolific fanfiction production! And, you got this. 🙂

    1. “Here” is absolutely a way a person can be. I worked at a Very Difficult place for some years that did not allow anything but Positive Faces! and eventually I realized if I responded to “How are you?” with a big fake smile and a sing-songy “Here I am!” I was A) not lying B) not punished and C) actually describing the state most of my colleagues were also in, which they both recognized and appreciated.

      You can really say anything as long as you mimic the intonation of “Acceptable social response! You?” and most people will either find it funny/recognizable or just not notice that you went off script.

  17. I used to go utterly blank when I met new people. Eventually, I realized that it was a mild manifetsation of social anixiety. I made myself learn some pleasant-sounding noises that I make when I meet new people. Now I do those noises and it gives me the 5 seconds I need to recover and start engaging for real. I usually recover and usally people aren’t aware of what’s going in my brain. If you have room in your life to read a short, well-written book, “How to Be Yourself” is helpful for breaking down strategies like this.

  18. if you are meeting up with a friend, and you think of something that you want to tell them about (they would love to talk about fanfic! they too knit awesome projects!) then immediately send a text that says “Don’t let me forget! I wanted to tell you about my fanfic/knit projects. I’m excited to see you :)” You now have a written record of the thing, and they might also get excited that you are thinking about the plans and are looking forward to spending time with them.

    1. That is super helpful, actually! When I do have something to share I often forget in the moment and remember later on that I wanted to bring it up. A pre-reminder is a good idea, thanks.

  19. Instead of trying to remember what you’ve done in the past (even the recent past), would it help to focus on the present? When the barista asks, “What’s new with you?” you can reply, “Not much, but wow you’re busy here tonight/I’m so happy it’s finally stopped raining/I’ve been thinking about this coffee all day.” You could also say what you’re going to do — “I’m catching up with friends tonight” or “I’m here to enjoy some quiet time with my book.” No need to think about how you’re feeling, which can be complicated, or what you’ve accomplished, which can be fraught.

    I’m a regular at my local coffee shop, and I don’t feel obliged to have anything more than a cordial relationship with the baristas. We smile, exchange “How are yous,” I give decent tips, they wave me away when I say I paid for a small but got a medium. The foundation of our interactions, on both sides, is “You seem like a nice person and I rely you on some way to get by in life.” It’s superficial, but it’s enough.

    Friendships are more complicated, but I hope this helps ease any pressure you feel about interactions with your barista.

    1. I like this strategy because it gets you out of having to do any thinking at all. I use this at coffee shops and networking events a decent amount — just pick the first noteworthy object in my range of vision and comment on it. It doesn’t even have to be a clever comment. “That is a very large pillar” works, or “That coffee machine is shiny,” people really need just the barest observation to spin off a decent low-stakes conversation, at least for a moment or two.

      1. I used to work in a museum, and I’d say more than half my interactions with people were “say what you see”. “That’s a lot of sweets.” “What an old rocking horse.” “My gran had a dress like that.” “At least it isn’t raining in here.” And that’s enough to prompt a “sure is/mine too/you haven’t see the leaks!” response, which is really all most people are looking for (strongly required skill for museum staff: the ability to tell the difference between people who want you to tell them about the thing and people who want to tell you about the thing).

    2. That makes a lot of sense! I have definitely said “not awake yet, but I’m here so things are looking up” when someone’s asked me how I’m doing when I’m getting coffee. I do at least feel like I have a decent sense of how to be a “good regular customer” and I can realize, after a brain-freeze moment is over, that no one there cares if I have an actual response to a question or just say “uh…fine!” when I’m polite and giving them tips and complimenting the soundtrack in the coffee shop.

      1. LW, “not awake yet, but I’m here, so things are looking up” is the perfect response, and you can say it every single time. At best it will become an inside-jokey thing between you and the baristas; at worst, they will think you’re repetitive and a bit corny — but does that matter? As long as you keep interactions brief and pleasant and tip well, you are on their list of gold-star customers.

  20. First of all, as someone who’s worked in retail/food service in the past, I totally agree that just giving a vague non-answer and being generally polite will automatically put you in the category of pleasant customers whom the barista will be glad to see any time. “Not an asshole” ought to be a low bar, but it’s one that the coffee-buying public often fail to clear.

    Second, as a person who often struggles with answering the “what have you been up to” question–sometimes because I actually haven’t been doing anything in particular for depression-related or other reasons, sometimes because the answer is something like “reading everything I can find about historic rail disasters” and I know that sort of thing usually lands like a brick–I usually go with “Oh I’ve been looking for a new show to get into; do you have any Netflix/Hulu recommendations?” Then they talk about whatever they’re watching right now and that fills the conversational void for a good long time. (Bonus: if there are other people nearby, they’ll jump in with their own recs and help to carry some of the conversation for you.)

    1. Oh wow, “reading everything I can about historic rail disasters” actually sounds like a great conversation starter! So may follow up questions available, like what got you interested in that? What are you learning? Have you found out anything that’s relevant to how we handle safety and regulation today? How do you feel about what you’re reading? I’m sorry it lands like a brick in your circles. (Hi, I’m an all-purpose digest-all-information geek)

  21. In addition to all the great suggestions above, you can translate “How ya doing today?” as “What would you like to talk about for the 30 seconds it takes to get your coffee/the five minutes we’re about to spend on the elevator/the length of this bus trip?”

    So, like, “How ya doing?” “Started thinking about getting a dog, actually — is this a good town for dogs?” OK, now it’s dog chat time.

    “How ya doing?” “Grateful not to be in Minnesota — my sister told me it was 10 below this morning.” OK, now it’s weather chat time.

    “How ya doing?” “Wishing I had some Thin Mints.” OK, now it’s let-me-introduce-you-to-my-niece-the-Girl-Scout time.

    “How ya doing?” “Feeling like seeing movies but I have no idea what I want to see.” OK, now it’s movie recommendation time.

  22. Hey friend, I have memory loss from a medical misadventure, so coming from a different source than you, but sometimes find myself talking to people who know me but I don’t know them, or people I know who make reference to something I can’t remember. At first I tried to hide this because I was ashamed–I felt broken. But now I’ve told many of the people I interact with regularly that I have memory problems, and when we get to the blank spots in a conversation, I just say something like “Remind me again what we did?” And everybody, 100%, is so completely lovely about it. It feels great not to feel like “if I can’t fake remembering what we did last weekend, this conversation will end and maybe our friendship too.” Nah. They just tell me things, and sometimes it jogs my memory and sometimes it doesn’t, and then things are really quite fine. I hope (and predict) the people in your life will be just as kind and supportive to you if you tell them memory is kinda funky these days.

    Sending you all the good vibes…

  23. *waves at fellow depressed smutty weird fanfiction-writing knitter* (there’s more of us than you’d think…)

    I subscribe to this method of conversation:

    ‘I made a thing’
    *shows picture on phone of thing*
    *tells them what the thing is, if not immediately obvious*
    *waits expectantly for them to be impressed*

    In my book, creativity is *always* interesting. Making stuff: one of the best uses of your time. So weird fanfiction: excellent. Knitting: excellent. Even if it’s literally only one or two rows of knitting in a day, it’s still creation. Keep doing your thing as and when you can, and most worthwhile people will like it. ❤

    1. Forgot to say, having photos on your phone of things you’ve made/done: a good memory prompt. I forget what I’ve been doing all the time, but other people/tech usually remember for me!

    2. so…. anyone wanna link to their fanfic? 🙂 I just finished rereading several of my favourites (waaah Connie Swap is almost over!) and am on the hunt for new things. Mainly PG things, but erotica is good too 🙂

  24. Re: the depression aspect of your question, I’ve had great luck with being honest during depression, in a way that is transparent but not asking for much (for me personally, saying “fine” when dramatically unfine feels painful, like it’s shrinking the space around me that is already unbearably tight). It has surprised me by creating multiple short moments of connection and humanity, in situations I would not otherwise expect them (e.g. supermarket checkout), in small doses I could take in and be nourished by while allergic to people.

    Being honest and brief, and immediately returning the question, makes me feel present and visible, while also clear that I’m not asking the other person for pity/caretaking. And it normalizes unhappiness in a way I feel passionate about, and that often seems to bring relief/permission to others as well.

    “How’s it going today”? “Not so great, actually, you?” Or “Today sucks! How’s yours going?” is simple and honest, and 8 times out of 10 will quickly drop a rote social interaction into a shared moment of human connection and a sort of weird delight – people feel permission to see you and be themselves for a sec (not that there’s anything wrong with rote social wheel-greasing when that’s what works best, it just makes me personally feel worse when I’m feeling worse). It’s actually sweet and creates some breathing space for me, and feels very quietly radical, in a way that brings me something like joy when there’s not a lot of joy around.

    1. I struggle a lot to be honest about how I’m doing, I suppose due to some shitty stuff around mental health disclosure that happened when I was a kid, but it is something I’m working on, so this is a good thought. Especially with friends I want to be able to be more open about where I’m at.

  25. I worked as a barista for a couple of years and I can totally confirm the above. Also, a funny thing about being a barista is how we’d mostly remember the regulars by their drink, but almost never their name and seldom anything they said.

    1. A good friend managed the Starbucks at the corner of Clark & Belmont in Chicago for a while about 15 years go and THE ENTIRE CIRCLE OF LIFE happened in that place pretty much every day.

  26. In the same vein as texting your friends when you do something interesting so you can be reminded about it later, it’s totally okay to get ready for a hangout by jotting down some notes about the things you’ve been doing, what you want to ask your friends about, etc. It might feel awkward, but if it’s going to be awkward anyway because you forgot everything, you might as well bring the notes and make a little joke like, “Since my brain is on the fritz, I came prepared!”

  27. “My nice teacher and scene partners would do a thing and then it would be my turn to “Yes, and?” them and add my own thing, and I would just fucken stand there silently like I was Amelie, minus the fun smirk or any trace of whimsy.”

    Yet more pure gold 😘👌 from the Captain.

    All the support and Jedi hugs to the LW. ❤️ (Captain is totally right by the way, in retail/food service anyone who is polite and not an asshole automatically counts as a win.)

  28. What have you been up to?
    Oh, this and that. How about you?
    Doing laundry, saving the world. What have you been doing?
    Not much. You?
    Same old, same old. What about you?

    Non answers followed by an inquiry about the other person.

    1. Yes! And it doesn’t even have to be literally true. There’s always laundry to do, right? So you can always say “not much, just catching up on laundry and things.”

      You can also pick one or two Netflix shows that most people will be familiar with, but which aren’t current or super exciting. Try something like The Office, or Planet Earth. Most people can easily agree that Michael Scott is ridiculous, or that they love David Attenborough, and there you go – small talk achieved! Again, you don’t have to actually be watching these shows – the goals is to have something familiar and easy that you can pull out of your hat when you need to make conversation.

      (Of course, if you want to talk about how depression is preventing you from doing laundry, you can absolutely do that instead – this technique is for when you want to engage but not too much.)

  29. I tend to store up all my social anxiety during my workday and then unleash it when I can get away from the office, which means the cashiers and baristas around here generally only see me when I’m a stammering, brain-fried mess who can’t make sense of the menu. And to a person they are all SO NICE ABOUT IT. At worst, they stare at me blankly while I say “um” a dozen times. At best, they say polite but reassuring things like, “Don’t worry; that’s the last question I have for you” or “It’s so hard to decide sometimes, isn’t it?” And then when I finally get through my order they just…move along like normal.

    So yeah, as far as I can tell, retail workers interact with so much weirdness that an otherwise nice-seeming person who appears disproportionately terrified of deciding whether she wants sweetener or not just doesn’t even register for them.

  30. This also happens to me all the time, my default answer is “oh, nothing too special. What’s new with you?”

    And then if I remember later in the conversation, I can bring it up then. Nothing wrong with redirecting the attention.

  31. WOOF well I think one can tell when advice was helpful and needed when it causes a little bit of crying. (good tears, though!) It’s hard to read some of this without thinking “actually you should probably be harder on me??? why so nice??” but that is SO clearly a Depression Brain thing it’s a little comical in this context, honestly.
    Also the best thing I ever knitted was used in a dear friend’s wedding and I am still so proud of myself for that project, which I had to learn a few new techniques for but I still pulled it off beautifully.
    Thanks for the comments, y’all, they are all appreciated. ❤

    1. That’s so cool! I like knitting and I think it’s impressive you learnt a few techniques just for a new project, I’m sure your friend loved it 🙂

  32. Like others have said, details are often not required. If we stripped away the niceties and explicitly said what is going on, it would be something like this:

    Q: It looks like you’re well enough to conduct a brief ritual exchange of greetings?

    A: Yes I am, thank you, and I’m glad to hear that you are too.

  33. With people you have an ongoing relationship with (so not the barista, unless you see them every day) you can try this:

    “How are you doing?”

    “Do you want the socially acceptable answer or the honest answer?”

    They will probably either say “the honest answer” or make general sympathetic noises or depending on your relationship try to lighten the mood with a joke or something. But it’s a decent conversions transition from “hello fellow human, I am acknowledging your humanity and my desire to converse with you” to “let me tell you about my Actual Feelings.”

    Don’t do this if you have no wish to talk about your Actual Feelings at all, but the Honest Answer can be like “I’m really depressed, I’m proud of myself for taking multiple showers this week, and I would rather talk about something light to distract me. How’s your cat/hobby/school/etc?” It doesn’t have to dwell on the Real Feelings but it does sort of imply that you’re going to acknowledge them.

    1. I might actually be a bit careful with that phrase, especially if depression is affecting your tone of voice; it could come across as accusing someone of being insincere, or as having cranky ideas about society rejecting everything honest. Even if it doesn’t, it puts pressure on people to say ‘The honest answer’ even if they’re just looking for a light chat.

      If you want to give them a choice, you need to offer them an actual choice, rather than two ‘options’ where one is obviously what you want them to say and the other makes them sound like kind of a jerk. Otherwise, you’re pushing a script on them, or they may feel you are: it’s easy to forget when you’re depressed that other people also struggle to be assertive.

      If you want to give the honest answer ‘Depressed, but would rather talk about pleasant things,’ I’d just say that. If it’s to a friend, it’s already socially acceptable, and it doesn’t put them on the spot.

    2. I think my earlier comment got eaten by the system, so forgive me if I’m repeating something that later pops up … but I’d actually be a bit careful with that question.

      The thing is, who’s going to feel comfortable NOT saying ‘The honest answer’? ‘Why, the socially acceptable answer, of course; the Upper Lip regionals are fast approaching and if I see any real emotion from you, I’ll fear I’ll get Contact Droop. Why, Lady Agatha’s already dismissed two maids for smiling when they bid her good morning, Lady Agatha thrashed the stableboy with her own hands after he flinched when the horse bit him on the backside, and Lord Arthur’s strapped down his dog’s tail so he doesn’t have to watch it wag. Don’t you realise what stiff competition I’m up against?!’* When ‘socially acceptable’ is posed as an opposite to ‘honest’, it becomes socially unacceptable to ask for it.

      If you’re going to offer people a choice of two different answers, it needs to be phrased to make it a genuine choice where each option is about equally allowable. Otherwise people are likely to feel pressured, and may be less happy to listen to an honest answer than they would have been if you’d just said, ‘Well, the honest answer is that depression’s getting to me, but I’d rather take my mind off it and talk about something light.’ Which is a perfectly reasonable answer.

      Basically – if you have an answer you’d like to give, I’d just give it rather than trying to script people into giving you advance permission. There’s nothing wrong with the honest answer; if you give it to a friend, it wasn’t socially unacceptable in the first place, and if you give it to a stranger, it probably wasn’t.

      *Apologies if this comes across as making fun of DropsTable-DropsMic; I really don’t assume you’re a Lip Contestant or anything like that. I’m just using a clown example, mostly because it sounds like the LW could do with a bit of silliness to lighten the worry-load. x

      1. I found answering “how are you doing” with the phrase “could be better” a good way of side stepping the “do you want a social acceptable answer or an honest answer? ” It’s short enough to complete the social circut for people just wanting to do that (after all, nearly everyone could find something in their life they would like better) but leaves open the door for them to ask more in detail if they are up for a discussion of feelings

        1. If the LW’s good at reading social signals, that would work well.

          A bit of signal-reading would be needed, though. Thing is, almost everyone will feel they have to respond to that by making some kind of concerned noise, so LW would have to be confident he can distinguish between ‘Are you ok? As in, please tell me more?’ and ‘Are you ok? As in, please confirm you’re aware that I wish you well and that you’re able to handle your problems without me, so we can move on.’

          If he is, that’s a good tactic, as it feels out their willingness. If he’s not sure he can distinguish, I’d skip that step and go straight to the honest answer.

  34. In addition to what everyone else has said, in the specific situation of ordering coffee, if your mind ever goes blank or anything weird ever comes out of your mouth for whatever reason, you can say excuse it or handwave it with “Sorry, I haven’t had my coffee yet.”

    1. I’m not depressed any more (yay!) but I’m autistic, adhd and have a chronic illness that causes brain fog, so the whole “having a normal verbal exchange sometimes feels like walking a tightrope while juggling” thing is very familiar to me. But the great thing about being in a coffee shop is that coffee is absolutely a thing that humans interact about. So something like, “in desperate need of coffee!” or “better now that I have coffee!” is a very safe and reliable answer if your brain shorts out.

  35. Oh man, that cocktail thing happens to me on the reg. I’m glad I’m not the only one that is like “I’d like some kind of booze. With a mixer. But not one with caffeine or sugar. And no olives. And I don’t like beer. OK that has eliminated every cocktail on the planet, just give me some floor cleaner please.” I believe that is something that happens to us all no matter our mental state.

    1. Sounds like you’re in the mood for a nice Bloody Mary 😉
      To me, it happens with karaoke songs. I write them down because I unfailingly forget them when I’m in the actual karaoke.

  36. Hi LW, I’m sorry your going through this. Congrats on even getting out of the house to have these social interactions. A go to response to “How are you?” that I use is “Eh it’s been a day/one of those days, you know?” It’s more draining for me to feel like I need to lie about how I’m doing (even knowing it’s totally socially acceptable) and this reply shows that it hasn’t been a good day in a way that’s less revealing and invites less follow up than “I’m depressed” or even a simple “not good”. With the “what have you been up to?” questions, a quick “not much, how about you?” can be a good way to turn to question back around on them.

  37. With a barista, I agree that a civil phrase like ‘Same old same old’ or ‘Hanging in’, followed by ‘And you?’ is the way to go.

    With a friend, there’s really no reason not to say, ‘Managing some depression stuff. Can I give you a heads-up that my memory’s kind of affected right now, so if I lose track of stuff, it’s not because I’m not interested in you, you just need to give me a bit of a reminder?’

    The thing is, that’s a true answer, it gets the conversation started, it helps them know what you need, it reassures them that if you zone out it’s not personal, and it shows you’re trying to be considerate. Just tell them! It’s not shameful, so why exhaust yourself trying to hide it? 🙂

  38. LW I have been there! I am sorry you are depressed and I’m glad you are doing so many good things to treat your depression. I have generalized anxiety disorder/depression which medication and therapy helped tremendously. Eventually I “got used to” managing my disease. I’ve had it for thirty years now so I am VERY accustomed to managing it.

    But thirty years ago it was still new. And because science tells us that our brains and/or psyches have a negative bias (we tend to focus on the negative), when people asked me “what’s new?” the thing most on my mind was my mental health. And because I, too, figured no one wanted to hear about my mental health, I felt stuck. I didn’t feel I had anything interesting to talk about.

    As a consequence I got very good at turning the tables and asking people about their own lives. “What’s new? Nothing much, and how about you?” This helped me also by having the focus not on me but outside myself, which yes, I was bored thinking about!

    But here’s the thing. I manage my disease quite well now and mostly don’t think about it. But i STILL don’t know what to say when people ask me, “what’s new?” My brain just goes blank. And so I employ a strategy a young (awkward) boyfriend talk me years ago. Before a social event I go over in my mind things I might want to talk about. Sometimes I write them down. Actually I do this before going to see a certain friend who has ADD, because she goes off on tangents so much that I need t a list to remind me what I wanted to talk about with her.

    I promise, LW, your situation will get better with time and practice and good self care. Keep writing! Wishing you all the best. 😊

  39. I’m a big fan of ‘Jury’s still out’ or ‘Not quite awake yet’ or ‘I’ll let you know’ – anything that indicates a state of mind up for discussion. That’s often because people take me unawares with the question, and I never have a fully resolved answer to give them. Alternatively ‘Just about hanging on, thanks’ or even ‘Fair to middling’ would be suitably neutral. I don’t really see this as a conversation so much as ‘an exchange of pleasantries’ like saying ‘Excuse me’ when you push past someone or ‘is this seat taken?’ on the bus. It’s verbal wallpaper, nice but not wholly necessary. Certainly not something to get stressed about, if you can possibly avoid it.

    1. “Jury’s still out” is great! “Ask me again after the coffee” and I have also used “Fair to middling” before!

    2. This comment, for some reason, reminds me of George Carlin talking about how he dislikes ‘fine’ as a descriptor and the phrases he’s used instead of ‘fine’ when answering “how are you?” Including “Moderately neato” which I have periodically adopted for my own.

  40. Thanks Capt and thanks LW for writing. This is incredibly relevant to why I allowed myself to lose touch with my friends and why I haven’t made new ones. I really appreciate this so much.

  41. I’m not sure that this is what you are asking, LW, (cause you’re great already and we can talk about knitting).
    I have found that “nice to see you” is a great replacement for “how are you”. It helps when I’m talking to someone whose answer I maybe don’t want to hear (your replies are fine! I would just as soon not hear about your bowel movements, though, which is something that happens in health care).
    It’s also a pretty good answer to how are you okay, nice to see you. It makes me think of the line in the song “friends shaking hands, saying how do you do, they’re really saying I love you”. I really like that image, and sometimes think about strangers just wanting to be seen. One of the most memorable flying experiences I even had was having a canceled flight rebooked by someone who literally did not speak to me or make any eye contact at all (it was actually pretty amazing!) for the entire transaction. All of those barista moments, I just try to communicate “I see you”.

  42. “Same old, same old.” Which can mean anything, doesn’t sound catastrophic, but also doesn’t sound interesting enough to invite further questions.

    The thing is, you don’t actually owe people the unvarnished truth. You don’t have to lie, exactly, but it’s OK to omit 99% of it when including it would mean revealing too much. The truth is, right now I’m doing a lot better than I have been in a long time, but even saying that would make them wonder about how I was doing before, and “doing better” is a bunch of stuff that’s super mundane–getting over my anxiety about public transport; making a routine doctor’s appointment–to everyone else. Not that my friends are judgmental but I don’t really want to air that that’s an improved level of functionality for me. So I tell them about something at work or whatever and suggest we set up a time to meet if I want to talk more.

  43. The whole “Depression Lies” statement is one to take to heart. It was probably the most difficult aspect for me, in getting my Depression under control. Depressive Scrappy was certain that she was worthless and boring and everyone disliked her on site, because that’s what my brain would tell me during those episodes. Remember that Depression always lies, and try to give yourself a break. I tend to handle social interactions during depressive episodes most effectively if I pretend that I am an actress, playing the role of Non-Depressive Scrappy. It may take me a heartbeat longer to respond in a typical way – I have to think “what would Non-Depressive Scrappy say in this situation?” – but then I say it, and try to inject it all of my typical gestures and inflection. And when the person walks away, I tell myself I’m going to win an Oscar for my exceptional performance of myself. (Important note: I have a therapist and support group of friends with whom I can seriously discuss all the horrid aspects of my Depression. The acting is reserved for social/work situations where the goal is to be friendly and then move on with my day without hating myself. I am not advocating that you just pretend to be okay 24/7.) Good luck, LW, and keep doing all the fantastic things you are doing to manage your Depression.

  44. One strategy I’ve found for small talk is to switch the topic to the other person. (People LOVE talking about themselves and it takes the pressure off of you.)

    So asking something like, “How is your job going?”/”How is your family/are your friends doing?”/”How is your hobby going?” are always great ways to get things started and then you can keep asking questions. (e.g. “How is your quilt going?” “What made you decide to do that?” “What do you enjoy about it?” “What’s the favorite quilt you’ve ever made?” “People must LOVE receiving your gorgeous quilts. What’s the best reaction you ever got?”)

    You have to listen sincerely, but it can easily take a conversation beyond the dreaded small talk.

  45. Thank You CA! Thank You! I was a gifted theater minor in college who almost failed out of the minor because college level classes want us to be “authentic!” “in the moment!” and know how you feel….I had no idea…a lifetime of low-level depression and training to not know how I felt meant the silly “fun” exercises asking me to be present and vulnerable instead left me near catatonic. Your description of the improv class experience was so spot on with my own.

    I have used various scripts depending on the time and place and people such as “frankly terrible and you!?” in a never-the-less cheerful voice so they could choose to engage with the words or my face, “Living the dream!” said with varying levels of sincerity/sarcasm, “I’ve been better” “Could be worse” “I really have no idea” and for a short stretch I said, “everything is terrible forever,” with absolute transparency in a really small sad wistful way. I’ve also thrown in fascinating gestures that imply “meh” and “everything all at once” incl fun and tired and stressed and frazzled when no words could do justice and honestly that has gotten perhaps more shared bonding moments from others than anything else. “D. All of the above” can be a pretty potent ubiquitous answer.

  46. … Man, this was all way too relatable right now. It’s a little tender-making to even read the Captain’s advice, but I’m bookmarking this to go back to. Not boring, not the dullest greyest saddest person on earth or an embarrassment to my usual vibrantly colourful self, just… bored and sad. Bored we can work with.

  47. I like the phrase “I’m doing good!” in response to the inevitable “How are you?” because it can be grammatically accurate even if it is not emotionally accurate. “I am doing good. The good that I am doing is getting myself out of my door and to the grocery store / coffee shop / meeting / whatever.” It is a good thing that I am doing, getting myself to do that, and therefore I am doing good. The subtlety of the statement amuses me (because I am a huge nerd), and that usually lets me sound cheerful about it.

    The Captain’s right, most of the time you just need a little quick response to get you across the small-talk stumbling block.

    How are you?
    I’m doing good. In fact, I am a *superhero*. I am going to buy the milk, because *that’s what heroes do*.

    Go forth and do good, even if you aren’t doing well.

  48. Having been depressed, and being in possession of the world’s worst memory that is still good enough to be considered “functioning normally”, I’ve learned that what works for me is to have a pat answer that never really changes, so I don’t have to rifle through my poorly organized memory files of “things I’ve done lately”. I just have to remember the phrase, the way I remember “Hi, how’s it going?”


    Acquaintance I haven’t seen in awhile: “Hey, what have you been up to lately?”

    Me: “Oh, just juggling and fire breathing – the usual.”

    Or whatever you tend to do with some regularity.

  49. LW, I don’t know if this will help you but it’s helpful to me. Small talk is good for you.

    I was astounded when I found out a few years ago that it’s actually good for you AND for the person you’re chatting with. Small, superficial interaction with strangers or acquaintances elevates everyone’s mood and has an effect that last all day.

    Now, I was raised by a southern Belle and had chipper small talk drilled into me from childhood. But on those days when it’s hard, to can usually manage the Cap’s rote exchanges by reminding myself that it’s good for me (hoorah, easier than exercise!) And it’s a societal good which makes me feel better about me.

    If being able to mentally tick a box of ‘did self care’ is helpful to you, then it might be useful to mentally reframe it from ‘oh God, small talk that I’m screwing up’ to ‘did the small talk thing! Gold star for me!’

    The Nagoski sisters talk about on this episode of the Feminist Survival Project, which I heartily recommend. https://www.feministsurvivalproject.com/episodes/episode-02-complete-the-stress-response-cycle

    1. Yeah, in general I am a fan of and pretty good at small talk! I’m no longer in a customer service job but I worked one for years and was expected to do a lot of friendly chatting with customers and it’s a skill I honed pretty well at that job. I think that’s part of why it’s so frustrating that I feel so bad at it lately, like…I am capable of being charming, I swear. Just not so much lately, although the reminders in this answer/thread that no one is judging me on a performance have been helpful.

    2. Seconding this recommendation! Feminist Survival Project is wonderful and amazing for everyone, but especially anyone living with any sort of mental health stuff.

  50. If you’re actually in a coffee shop or holding Cayenne at the time someone asks how you are, a standard reply I like is, “not as caffeinated as I will be in a few minutes, when I’ll probably be able to answer that with a lot more detail.” It’s not really about the caffeine 95% of the time (I have ADHD so it doesn’t effect me the same way) but once I’ve been in a conversation with someone for a few minutes, my brain kind of “warms up” and I can be more interesting. Feel free to steal and adapt as necessary.

    Other favorite responses:
    -I have gotten through the last week without murdering anyone, yay! (Not actually a change from the usual but always something to celebrate!)
    -Well this gigantic cookie I’m buying will probably help.
    -I keep hoping, but my letter from Hogwarts hasn’t shown up yet.
    -Well I’m certainly still going to vote in the upcoming election, but if these damn ads don’t slow down soon I’m considering writing some of the candidates an increasingly weird series of emails.

  51. For what it is worth, I think it’s brave and cool that you have made and maintained friends in real life who you can talk about your erotic fanfiction with!

    Also, as a fellow high volume erotic fanfiction writer and sometimes fellow bored person, I wanted to share my experience in case it resonates with you: I find this specific type of writing to be very cathartic, and the act of it really builds me up in positive ways to the point that sometimes I neglect other parts of my life (i.e., messy house, procrastinating on work tasks, etc). But then when I have written my fanfic and posted it to the internet, that is when the bored/mean part of my brain really gets going, because I am angsting so incredibly hard about hoping to get positive feedback about my work. Plus I just worked really hard on a creative endeavor so now my brain is kinda spacey and tapped out for a bit. I have been trying to be kinder to myself during these periods.

    No idea whether this situation applies to letter writer, just wanted to say that what you shared kinda made me think of this and that I appreciate you writing in, because I liked CA’s advice and didn’t know I needed some of it until I read it. Thank you!

    1. I *did* just finish writing and posting the huge fic that made up the bulk of my wordcount since late September and I think I’m feeling a little creatively adrift right now, after being facedown in/constantly thinking about one narrative for a while, so this is helpful for sure, thanks!

  52. I have also taken an improv class while mentally ill. I thought I’d like it because I love improvisational roleplay during tabletop games, where you just make up a character, become the character, and do whatever they would do for a couple hours.

    This improv class was not like that. It was about being fully present in the moment and trusting that your impulses would lead you right. And at the same time, you had to keep it upbeat and family-friendly, because you didn’t want to make people uncomfortable.

    I am very functional in a wide variety of social situations, but following those two directives at the same time is impossible for me. When I open myself up to how I feel, it’s usually, like, Picasso’s Guernica and screaming. So I had to open myself up to my impressions and impulses, try to make something family-friendly out of what I found there, realize it wasn’t working, immediately stop paying attention to my impulses, and try to think of something funny. It felt terrible.

    But I survived it. My friends came to the show and laughed. We went home. I didn’t go back next quarter. I have some new information about what triggers me.

  53. I have a pretty nasty Jerk Brain and a lot of experience with the ways depression lies.

    My best strategy for being nice to myself is to try to treat myself like my own feral cat. See, I’ve adopted a lot of cats with traumatic history, and I’m never mean to them about their totally natural and understandable responses– I’m always super nice. My dear darling M (missed dearly, deeply loved) clearly had been through a lot before he came to me, and sometimes he had to hide under the bed. I would talk to him when he did, and it was always affirming, loving things like– “Oh you have to hide under the bed right now, that’s okay, we all have to hide under the bed sometimes, when you come out I’ll be really happy to see you but you take as long as you need, it happens to the best of us.”

    So, a thing for you to tell yourself might be, “Oh that barista asking that question was scary, that’s okay, we all get scared sometimes, it’s ok to hide under the bed for awhile, it’s very understandable for a kitty to need to hide who grew up in a house of rocking chairs to be scared of loud noises, it’s safe under the bed and when it’s time to come out my people will be very happy…”

    It’s basically a little trick to try to treat myself with the compassion and gentle understanding I would give a sweet traumatized kitty. Cause scaredy kitties deserve love too! Sometimes the ex-feral kitty is the best kitty, capable of soooo much passionate love! I am rooting for them to come out from under the bed! But I’m never mad if they can’t deal with me right now. My job is just to wait until the fear or depression passes, and be patient and kind in the meantime.

    Give it a shot, see if it helps.

    1. @Alec: Mew! Your comment made my screen blurry. I’m going to go hug my cat and take your advice.

    2. Mind blown.
      I identify with feral cats. It has never occurred to me to treat myself the same way I do a feral cat.

  54. My go to response is, “omg, it’s Monday somewhere!” even if it’s like Thursday at 2 pm. It’s something easy to identify with and gets me out of talking more 100 percent of the time. (Unless, of course, topic is horses. LOL)

  55. I read somewhere that answering “How’s it going?” with “Living the dream!” is white people speak for “dying inside!” and tbh as a white person I find solace in the truth of this. Sorry if off topic.

    1. LOL “living the dream” is one of my older brother’s catchphrases and a whole lot just fell into place. Thank you!

    2. That’s my go-to. It’s vaguely positive but I also am not specifying what kind of dream (a nightmare) or whose (not mine!).

    3. HAH! omg too true. I (a fellow white person) occasionally follow it up with “not sure whose dream, but…”

    4. I’ve also seen similar said about replying “it’s going” and the tweet had enough engagement on it I’d say that these kinds of understandings about phrases like that are common enough that really anything that answers “I am alive and I am here” is enough to satisfy the script, and I do think that’s helpful for the LW to know

    5. My place of employment went through a period where it was a real shithole to work at (bad boss) so my response to my co-workers was “another day in paradise!” and most responded with “Living the dream!”

      I had no idea it was white-speak, but it sure meant that we were in hell.
      Bad boss is gone, so paradise no more.

  56. “Same old, same old” is an excellent all-purpose phrase for times like these (sorry if anyone above has used it).

    With regard to the barista conversations; I’ve probably been reading too much ‘Not Always Right’, but I feel like they’re just going to be glad to have a customer who isn’t shouting at them for not telepathically figuring out the details of their order.

    Good luck, LW. Depression sucks and you will get through this.

  57. I have this same problem. It really sucks when my brain decides to be a huge jerk to me. I am awkward and kinda weird on my best day, even when I have the energy and focus to carry on a conversation with another human. On days when my brain decides to mutiny, I can hardly string two words together. I always was the quiet, shy one. Which is funny, because when you catch me on the right day or in the right situation, I will not shut up. So, on days when my memory for words is crushed by depression and awkwardness, I will carry a prop. Preferably one that has something to do with one of the hobbies that I can monologue about on my better days. I will carry my knitting, and work on it while standing in line for my coffee or whatever. People will ask what I am making, and I will tell them (socks. It is always socks.) Knitting looks complicated and unusual to many people, and I can keep one smaller project just for taking with me when I go out. I will keep knitting, and they won’t mind if I am a little distracted because I am knitting a sock, and that is enough to make the whole I interaction work. I seem more interesting, while saying very little. Knitting is my favorite prop, but others work well too. Crocheting, origami, beadwork, drawing, whatever is an activity you enjoy that can be portable.

    OP, I hope you feel better soon. Jedi hugs!

  58. You are dead on about baristas being a-ok with anyone who is not an asshole. Furthermore, the entirety of the hospitality crew as a species is dead inside and has a dark and ascetic approach to life. If you were to be like, yo I’ve been staring into the abyss and I thought it winked back but no, I just blinked, or maybe, ennui or entropy, which is more me? We’d be like bro, yup, it’s definitely tuesday amirite?
    I’ve never seen it put more perfectly that description of every nice person dilutes the asshole pool. Yes. Ce la vie.

  59. When someone says what’s up or how’s it going and I don’t want to or can’t figure out how to answer, I have two stock responses. I either immediately turn it back on them with “fine/not much, how about you?”, or I respond as though they just said hello. Because it’s not really a question, it’s a greeting, it doesn’t actually require a detailed reply most of the time. It took me a long time to understand and accept that.

  60. I once answered the question “what are your hobbies?” with “…is this a multiple choice question?” so I feel a LOT of solidarity for you, LW.

  61. I have answered “How are you?” with “Eh… enhhhh…” and some vague arm-waving followed by a shrug, and the person who asked me replied “Yeah, it gets like that,” and patted my shoulder. Sometimes you don’t even need to use words at people.

  62. When asked “how are you doing” or “what have you been up to?”, my go-to is usually “walking and talking!” If the other person follows up on their question, I usually respond with “It’s a start!”, and then ask them how they’re doing.
    Unless I’m talking to a close friend, I wouldn’t go into details. People, frankly, aren’t really that interested, and if they were, I can’t really talk about most of what I do at work, and no one wants to hear “well, I just worked a 26 hour shift for $3 an hour and watched two people die in front of me, so I’m going to go home and sleep for a couple of hours before going back and doing the same thing again tomorrow”. It’s awkward.
    It’s really important to have people who you can debrief your life with occasionally, preferably people who have a baseline understanding of what your life is like, but I like to do that on a more scheduled basis, when we can take our time to hash things out.

    It’s perfectly okay to respond to these kinds of inquiries with a bland canned response. There was a time when I worked with an organization that started every meeting with a “check-in” on how everyone was doing. I found that when I was candid about the fact that I was doing poorly, I was avoided rather than supported, so I spent a year making a comment on the weather instead. No one called me on it. As long as you engage with these kinds of questions by being vague and pleasant, no one will notice.

  63. Honestly, as a depressed barista, who is not necessary socially anxious, but who works in customer service and had constant random reasons to be anxious, please just lie about your feelings. Be honest with friends, even random acquaintances, but unless you have a rapport “fine, how are you?” is all you need for baristas. They’re just asking cause it’s their job.

    1. IIRC I’ve said “Thirsty” to a barista’s “how are you” when I couldn’t make a complete sentence before coffee.

  64. When I was in deep grief and couldn’t remember basic things or think on my feet, a shitty new boyfriend insisted I have my first experience of D&D-style games with him and all his very experienced friends. (I explained exactly what I worried would happen and I was right.)

    It was excruciating and I’m still mad about it. Thank you so much, Jennifer, for the improv story.

  65. This was interesting to read. I live In a Nordic country where small talk is almost non-existant between strangers. In a Cafe you would definately be left alone and nobody would ask you how are you doing etc. Actually I was also under the assumption that in the US people dont generally want that many details about your day and how you are doing. But definately all introverts or people who like to be left in peace should visit Scandinavia! 🙂

    1. I haven’t spent time in Scandinavia but I guarantee there is a grunt or eyebrow signal or set of the face or way of drawing breath that signals “hello nearby human”/”hello back” in lieu of words and if you grow up in Scandinavia you mostly know what these signals are. Even “quietly leaving each other alone” is an agreed-upon signal. 🙂

  66. Hi. As a fellow often sad person, first of all thank you tons for this post. I have been trying to explain to friends and therapists what is so hard about how are you for ages. I blank a bit but I also often find that there is nothing beyond medical updates to share, and I fear the judgement. For me interested is definitely a way to go. The human connection is built but I don’t have to share a bunch. Topics I find generally get a good enjoyable but not too intense convo going: the escapades of people’s pets (You don’t need a pet for this. Follow a trainer or breeder online and share the cute stories.), trips people are dreaming about, grandma or grandpa’s recipes, kid stories, what someone’s hometown is like and the best place in a particular city to get [insert food]. Also if you manage to slip the name of a barista’s pet or grandparent into your phone and then ask about them the next week you will instantly be the best client. I applaud anyone with a chronic illness who puts themselves out there. It’s not easy.

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