How was my weekend? Dreadful, you?
April 27, 2020 3:50 AM   Subscribe

I have depression and anxiety and sometimes I struggle with it. How do I respond in a friendly and professional way with work colleagues when people ask me about my weekend, but I had a bad time?

I don't want to hide who I am or lie to people, but sometimes it is not the right time to discuss my mental health. Any tips or strategies for what I might say in these circumstances would be welcome.
posted by mnfn to Human Relations (35 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
" I just hung out at home. How was yours?" Not dishonest, but not giving a lot of information either.
posted by christinetheslp at 4:03 AM on April 27, 2020 [17 favorites]

I just say 'fine thanks, how about yours?'

If 'fine' is too much like lying then 'oh pretty quiet, how was yours?'

Ultimately it's just standard small talk and the other person will be happy to talk about theirs or they'd have avoided the topic altogether. So say something that lets them.
posted by kitten magic at 4:16 AM on April 27, 2020 [12 favorites]

When I was at my most depressed, I had coworkers who'd ask this sort of thing constantly. I just started saying something like "It could've been better" or "I didn't really do much" or such. It wasn't really the truth, but it was close enough to it without inviting too many questions. And that was the main thing for me -- avoiding too many questions. (I did not like this job or these coworkers and that, in fact, contributed greatly to my depression. Your relationship with your coworkers and job may be different.)
posted by darksong at 4:49 AM on April 27, 2020

Best answer: I just say one true but innocuous thing "oh, well, it rained a lot, so, ya know" or "lots of laundry over here!" I do put on the chipper voice for colleagues, so it sounds like all that laundry was the highlight of my whole month. I also had to consciously learn not to piss in anyone's cheerios, as someone once said to me. I don't remember what it was about, but I was just snarky or something when I was deeply depressed and I learned that my feelings don't have to control whether I'm nice to other people. Therapy has helped, and one of the skills for emotion stuff in DBT is "acting opposite." I also use the interpersonal skills before some conversations to think through what is important about the interaction.

Small talk is a lot like instagram, very very few people are showing you their ugly/sensitive bits in those moments. Small talk is different from instagram in that small talk is about building and demonstrating trust:

person 1 Hey, thanks for taking the time to meet with me. (Is professional and polite, I know our time is valuable so I don't want to waste it)

person 2 Hey, good to see you, did you have a good weekend? (Knows there is a social script for situations with work folks, maybe we will do some light chat before we dive into businessy stuff)

person 1 Oh, I took the dog for a long walk on Saturday. (I am socially aware and also not going to share many details, once everyone is here, we can talk about business stuff. Maybe someone will ask what kind of dog or where we went walking. Whew, those questions would not be about me and my pit of despair.)

person 2 Alright, so looks like Jim has signed on, Hey Jim, how's it going? (Does Jim know the script? We want Jim to feel welcome but not give us a whole lecture on whatever he usually spends a lot of time expounding on)

Jim Says something to demonstrate he is also a safe person who knows the script.
posted by bilabial at 5:01 AM on April 27, 2020 [48 favorites]

You don't have to answer. Just shrug and say how was yours.
posted by phunniemee at 5:27 AM on April 27, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: How do I respond in a friendly and professional way with work colleagues when people ask me about my weekend, but I had a bad time?

You are under zero obligation to be transparent with work colleagues about your personal life. You are under 100% obligation to be professional with professional colleagues. Just lie and say it was fine, and find support and sharing about your struggles in a different setting.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:31 AM on April 27, 2020 [28 favorites]

I just say that I had a quiet weekend. People can choose to interpret that as peaceful/pleasant and don't need to know it's because I couldn't get out of bed or whatever.
posted by TwoStride at 5:51 AM on April 27, 2020 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers so far everyone, they are helpful.

I don't want to thread-sit but feel it's important to say that one of the things I find difficult is that I really like my coworkers. It would definitely feel easier to give some of the shorter answers if that was not the case.
posted by mnfn at 6:12 AM on April 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

I'd say something like "I didn't do much, how about you", "Just occupied with X task/chore, how about you" or "Busy doing X-innocuous-dead-end-for-chat task, how about you". And swiftly and firmly shift the focus of conversation on them or work/environment/weather etc.

Being friendly is different from being a friend. You can be friendly with colleagues but you don't have to be friends. Often I've found it keeps expectations and disappointments somewhat limited this way and my sanity and mental health with office politics in balance. Of course every person is different so there isn't one rule that fits all. But I have started to think about and have some boundaries on what I will do or don't do, doing that with speech has been slightly less successful and a work in progress. If you share every thought with a coworker like you may do with a friend, then what's the difference? Secondly, I have encountered coworkers who just use your words to play politics and it minimizes any degree or fall out or drama resulting from this. I don't lie because that's too much mental work for me and its not about not being authentic or living life to the fullest or such; its more about preserving my peace of mind (since people politics is very distasteful to me) and being able to stay focussed on work.

There is a whole range of verbal and non-verbal interaction cues that we follow everyday with different people in society. If I say hello to a stranger who is walking past me in the opposite direction (very common in many places), one is following a politeness norm, not necessarily lying or faking it. This "How are you" question needs to be addressed as such depending on who in society asks you. I would also think about how the coworkers answer it, what you like, what you don't and then have a few ways to respond, which feel both authentic and don't add stress.

For what it's worth, a lot of people struggle with this question for this very reason.
posted by xm at 6:20 AM on April 27, 2020 [4 favorites]

You may have to pick what's more important to you. Liking someone and short answers can go together. Liking someone and not wanting to pursue a longer conversation do go together. Liking someone and giving shorter answers (short is not curt, short can be very polite and very courteous) to prioritize your mental health absolutely go together. Second thing to think about is how much of a people pleaser do you tend to be? Liking someone puts you in no obligation to put their comfort over your mental health, unless making them happy (because you like them) is a priority over your mental distress.
posted by xm at 6:25 AM on April 27, 2020 [2 favorites]

I think the feeling of liking your coworkers but not wanting to discuss your mental health issues (or other troubles!) at work is totally normal and a situation many (maybe even most!) people deal with all the time. If someone asked me how my weekend was and I wanted to let them know it wasn't great but not get into a whole THING I might say something like, "It was a rough one," or "Honestly, I'm glad it's over!" and then (this is key) follow up with a conversational pivot to something about the other person's weekend ("Did you end up taking that hike you were talking about?") or something I *am* comfortable talking about (work talk, Netflix talk, whatever).

You can let people know you're having a tough time without that being an invitation to really get into your mental health stuff. And it's not lying or hiding anything, it's just being private and work-appropriate. Hopefully your coworkers will pick up on your cues and not press you for further info, but even if they do you're allowed to say, "I don't really want to talk about it." Like, if you told your coworkers you were sick over the weekend and they were like, "Oh, was it diarrhea? Or a UTI? How high of a fever were you running?" that would be inappropriate and you would be justified in saying you didn't want to talk about it, and it's the same thing here.
posted by mskyle at 6:29 AM on April 27, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: How do I respond in a friendly and professional way with work colleagues when people ask me about my weekend, but I had a bad time?

Work small talk is just small talk and I promise almost everyone knows this and is okay with this.

If I had an incredible weekend, I'm not telling my colleagues: "my friends and I found the best mixed drink I had ever tasted, we got sloppy drunk, I won $500,000 on a scratcher, ended up with a new tattoo and had the best sex of my LIFE."

Instead it's "It was good, thanks for asking. Saw some friends, called my accountant, and then M and I did some things around the house. Yours?"

Same rules apply for bad weekends and meh weekends.
posted by kimberussell at 6:38 AM on April 27, 2020 [21 favorites]

Best answer: If you like your co-workers, it's tempting to interpret that relationship as more inviting than a workplace usually allows. There's probably a part of you that wants to be "authentic" with them, because you like them and they're nice and sharing your struggles with people you like feels so good.

But there's another part of you that knows it would be inappropriate. I suspect this is the source of your confusion. You kinda want to tell them and seek support from them, but you also know that's not appropriate. What to do? What to do?

I suggest you find other sources of support to lean on in your life. How are your other friendships? Are you close with siblings or family? Are you in therapy? When you fill your life with sources of emotional support and people to lean on, it won't be so tempting to confide in your colleagues. But if you are starved of close connections in your personal life, suddenly a colleague's surface level "How was your weekend?" morphs into a tantalizing invitation to unburden yourself.

When you've had your fill of sharing your experience authentically with personal contacts, it becomes much easier to respond to colleagues in a friendly but not oversharing way, in line with many other suggestions on this thread.
posted by MiraK at 6:42 AM on April 27, 2020 [9 favorites]

Conversation-openers like "how are you?" or "how was your weekend?" are not usually questions. They're just some social lubrication for which boilerplate content-free responses are just as good as - perhaps even better than - actual shared personal experience. A response is invited, but a sincere or deeply-felt response is usually just going to scare them.

Something about the weather would usually fit the bill.
posted by rd45 at 7:49 AM on April 27, 2020 [2 favorites]

Every time I've been even close to honest (e.g. "Glad to be back at work, TBH"), even with quite close colleagues, I've always regretted it, and often because I perceived that I'd just made the other person feel some degree of unease.

Lately—especially now—the bleakest I'm willing to go is a chipper "Can't complain!", which contains just enough plausibly-deniable-irony that I don't feel duplicitous.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 7:50 AM on April 27, 2020 [6 favorites]

I'm probably wrong but I trend towards honesty. I think we might be all better off dispensing with "boilerplate content-free responses" and the ritual of asking "how are you?" but not wanting to hear the answer.

I'm sure I've made some colleagues uneasy by being honest. "How was your PTO?" "I wasn't on PTO, my father died and I was on bereavement leave." "How was your weekend?" "Pretty lousy, one of our young cats had FIP and we had to put him down."

The flip side of this is if I ask you "how are you?" I actually want to know, and I have no interest in buffering work conversations with filler if I don't care. You got a job, I got a job, let's just do it and not pretend we care about each other if we really don't. It plays into fictions around "we're not just coworkers, we're family" and so forth that are IMO better off done away with.

But the other folks are probably right that a blithe, content-free response is what's sought after and will be the path of least resistance in those interactions. But if we could all agree to stop pretending, especially now when nobody is really OK, I think that'd be glorious.
posted by jzb at 8:05 AM on April 27, 2020 [2 favorites]

I've had the same job for 15+ years now and have friendly relationships with my coworkers — people have been to each other's weddings, we get coffee/lunch/drinks together, and we like and respect each other. I've also struggled with major depression most of my life.

The most I would open up about it (to anyone but the HR liaison with whom I discussed the letter of reasonable accommodation my doctor wrote for me) would be something like "Oh, well, when it's overcast like it was all weekend it's hard to get motivated, you know? Anyway, about that report we were working on..."

Friendly work relationships aren't the same as true friendships, unfortunately. And experience has taught me that when it comes to mental health issues at work, it's best to disclose as little as possible. Even if the person you're talking to is a friend, there's no way to control whether they tell anyone else about it, and that could have negative effects for you.

Would it be better if we lived in a world where we could be truly honest with each other? Maybe. Speaking only for myself, most of the time when I say "good morning, how are you?" I'm not actually looking for a deep, personal conversation. I just got to work, I haven't had my second cup of coffee yet, and TBH 80% of my brainpower at that point is probably thinking about what my day holds and what I need to do. If I said "Hi, good weekend?" to someone in the elevator, I would be surprised and dismayed if they emotionally unburdened on me.

Also, being open and transparent about mental health at work can be okay up until someone who has it in for you learns something they can use to hurt you. There's a lot of misunderstanding and stigma around depression and mental illness, and unfortunately there are people who will use this against you.
posted by Lexica at 8:13 AM on April 27, 2020 [2 favorites]

I'm not sure if you're asking about Normal Times or about Covid Times. I've found that these days, a simple "oh, you know" has been a sufficient answer to that question.
posted by Ragged Richard at 8:39 AM on April 27, 2020 [3 favorites]

Speaking from experience, you could always if you’re feeling it cultivate a persona as the amusingly Eeyore-ish coworker who doesn’t always say “fine, thanks!” Like grumble about the things that are getting you down, but with a little levity if you have any available.
posted by less of course at 8:59 AM on April 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

I agree with the people saying this calls for a social script, not an exposing of the true self. I find "You know, hanging in there" is a suitable response for these particular times if you're having a hard time going completely bland.
posted by praemunire at 9:22 AM on April 27, 2020 [4 favorites]

In normal times, it's not-fake but not-TMI to just say something like "Oh, nothing special. What about you?"

In these covidtimes, I think that the answer for most people is a pretty mixed bag at best, and "Meh, y'know, keepin' on, but I've had better weekends" or something likewise a little more pointedly unenthusiastic is entirely reasonable.

Related sympathetic venting anecdote: My boss has not altered his smalltalk routines in the face of our current situation, and asks me about my weekend Every Single Monday Morning with a level of beforetimes enthusiasm that I find bizarre. I'm running out of reasonable ways to answer "hope you had an enjoyable weekend!" and "do anything fun this weekend?" Um. Not really? Because...[gestures broadly]...this?
posted by desuetude at 9:24 AM on April 27, 2020 [2 favorites]

when my dad was getting older and there was always something he could be complaining about, if people asked him how he was doing, he'd smile a bit and quote something he'd remembered his grandmother saying:

"As well as can be expected."

And then he'd re-direct the conversation, get down to business as it were.
posted by philip-random at 10:01 AM on April 27, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Seeing as you like your colleagues, one of your goals might be to give the some small talk fodder that makes it easier for them to engage with you over something positive. Those short, low-detail "nothing special" responses, especially when they become a pattern. Anything that's less than somewhat-chipper is pretty likely to make people uneasy, and I agree with everyone upthread suggesting that you're best off steering clear of that stuff. But something content-free can lead to a bit of "I don't really know what to talk to this person about that's not about work", which can over time weaken your work relationships.

Colleagues who know each other well, at least in my experiences, are doing a kind of social lubrication that goes a bit beyond weather-and-laundry patter and extends into something surface-level positive yet still a bit personal to show that they have a life. You know, like casually mentioning something your kids did, or having gone out, or even binge-watching something. The folks who don't bring that to the table consistently, depending on your work culture, aren't perceived as positively, even if they're trying with the neutral responses. This isn't going to be the case in all offices, but in some this really matters a lot for building and maintaining social capital.

The most acceptable social script for maintaining good relationships rather than just being polite, depending on where you are, involves enthusiastically talking up something kind of mundane weekend activity. kimberrussell's response provides a good example of what I'm suggesting. That's the authenticity that other people are looking to respond to - the easy stuff. I know how difficult that is to do when you're dealing with mental health struggles, but bringing more challenging stuff to the table can be boundary-crossing in a way that will damage your work relationships.

tl;dr: if you don't want to hide who you are, then find a way to highlight the work-safe parts of your life that aren't about struggles with depression and anxiety in small-talk settings.
posted by blerghamot at 10:04 AM on April 27, 2020 [7 favorites]

If you find yourself wanting to share something about your mood but not any of the reasons for it, you could take advantage of the prevailing mood around today's current events. "I spent too long reading coronavirus news. Looking forward to thinking about work instead!"
posted by trig at 10:29 AM on April 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

“Too short. Where did the time go?”
posted by oceano at 10:31 AM on April 27, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I have depression and anxiety and sometimes I struggle with it. How do I respond in a friendly and professional way with work colleagues when people ask me about my weekend, but I had a bad time?

I have this reaction generally when this stuff happens and especially in the now-times. I am in a few groups with meetings where there's an expectation of a certain level of sharing in the beginning of our conversations. I find it intrusive because I can either make small talk ("Oh things are ok, could be better, you?") or I can be honest and share ("I haven't seen my boyfriend in nearly two months and I hate every minute of it. You?") but I can't find a middle ground absent any other context.

This is especially tough if it's a meeting with a lot of people and I'm expected to go first in the sharing stuff. I've decided it's a lot easier to either underreport or be kinda cryptic ("Well, finally left my house and it was okay" "Just realizing how many different types of BIRDS are out there..." "My Solitaire skills appear to be improving") and realize that even in a bad time weekend, there was probably an observation or an interaction that I had that can meet the obligatory "Try to end on an up note" tone that these kinds of sharing seem to require.

Save the reporting of your bad time for personal interactions with friends or even work-friends, but all-hands meetings are the wrong place for it. I struggle with anxiety too and one of the hallmarks of it, to me, is really feeling almost a compulsion to talk about the things I am worried about in places where it doesn't belong.
posted by jessamyn at 11:05 AM on April 27, 2020

You can say you "really like your coworkers", but what my non-work friends always comment is: do you spend any time with this person outside of work?

If the answer is "no", then they are a work colleague and the polite chit-chat rules apply. You're both there for a paycheck, which provides food and shelter. Neither party has sacrificed their non-work time (eg: real life) for the other. People don't want to have strong feelings and opinions at work because it can deteriorate the ability of people to work with each other (and in certain occasions, can get them fired).

Even if the answer is "yes", there is a time for polite conversation (work) and a time for personal interaction (non-work).
posted by meowzilla at 11:27 AM on April 27, 2020

That's what weather is for. Saturday sure was nice, wasn't it? and then ask about their weekend. Or sports, or Netflix, I lost way too much time binge-watching Blah blah.. It's not meant to be a hard question, it's meant to be social lubricant.
posted by theora55 at 12:34 PM on April 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

I am a big advocate/user of the polite social lies most people have mentioned.

BUT if you choose not to use them, my personal experience is that it is safer professionally to have an unnamed and nondescript "health problem" than it is to have a mental illness.

So I suggest answers like:
"Oh, I actually felt a bit under the weather, so I tried to get some rest."
"I haven't been feeling well lately, so it was pretty quiet."
Then to follow-up questions: "Oh, it's something I've been dealing with for a while; it's usually no big deal but sometimes I just have to be a little more careful."
"Just a chronic thing I have to look out for once in a while."
"Just something that pops up for me occasionally, it's annoying but most of the time I'm fine."

The note to hit is "I'm not at 100% because of this annoying but minor health thing but I'm non-contagious and ready to work."
posted by Snarl Furillo at 2:16 PM on April 27, 2020 [5 favorites]

Maybe someone already covered this, but for the duration of the pandemic I think you'll be just fine with a sigh, a wistful smile and, "Oh, you know... getting by." Nobody's pretending things are great right now.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 2:17 PM on April 27, 2020 [2 favorites]

I usually say "I just ran some errands. Not much else. The time flew by. How about you?"

That's not a lie. Getting out of bed to pee is an errand.
posted by ihaveyourfoot at 2:27 PM on April 27, 2020 [1 favorite]

I have a close relationship with my colleagues but we're not always in the mood to share. Work "pleasantries" currently sound a lot like this:

Bob: How's it going?
Carol: Oh, y'know, hanging in there. What did you want to meet about?

Ted: How was your weekend?
Alice: Eh, could have been better. Now about those teapot revenue reports...

It's honest but vague, and the quick subject change signals you want to not linger on it and the conversation should get down to business now.

A slightly jokey alternative:

Jane: What did you get up to this weekend?
John: What even is a weekend anymore?
posted by rhiannonstone at 5:25 PM on April 27, 2020

Best answer: When this is me I find one thing that I can say that will take more than 5 words. I look throughout my weekend as I'm experiencing it to make note of it. You don't have to tell them about your whole weekend to bond with them, you just need to say something.
How was your weekend?
"Well I saw the biggest poodle I've ever seen on Saturday!"
"Netflix is getting old, I can tell you that."
"Now regretting that I didn't have the chance to get a Slurpee."
"I could probably time the length of the wash cycle down to the minute in my sleep now"

It's really just about sounding friendly. People respond well to things like this even though it's not really saying anything, because it sounds like you're actually giving the question thought. Its detailed enough to where people could start a conversation if they wanted to, but it can also be skipped.
posted by FirstMateKate at 10:39 AM on April 28, 2020 [2 favorites]

"Fine, thanks. How was yours?"

They don't want to know the truth.
posted by Jacqueline at 3:55 AM on April 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks to all for your answers. Some answers were useful reminders of things that I already know, and some brought fresh perspectives to the question. Reading these answers, I also feel very lucky to have such a supportive workplace. Thanks.
posted by mnfn at 12:03 PM on May 5, 2020 [1 favorite]

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