Miss Conduct

Advice: Keeping personal connections strong in times of distance

My mental health sometimes makes me withdraw from people, but I still care about them.

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Sometimes personal issues take a toll on me and I can’t be as social as I’d like. When this happens, how can I stay in touch with people to remind them that I exist and am thinking about them — without oversharing about my mental health, which I might not want to do for both their sakes and mine.

S.A. / Cambridge

Your question arrived before Everything Changed, and I hope you are doing all right, S.A., now that the rest of us are in a very similar boat — and you know it. In the time before the virus, I wrote, “People will get it, S.A. We’ve all been there or know someone who has. And we’re willing and able to cut slack, meet halfway, and learn new workarounds. You’re giving other people permission to be imperfect, too.” That’s even more true now.

Remember that depression and anxiety, whether they stick around for hours or years, lie to you. And they most enjoy telling you whoppers about whether other people are mad at you, or noticed that weird thing you did, or love you — and about how much all that matters in the general scheme of things. So if you’ve got that kind of disinformation campaign happening inside your head, please find a good therapist (or cognitive-behavioral workbook or app) to help combat it, OK?


Almost everyone else has those worries, too, at least occasionally. So when you stop returning texts or commenting in the group chat, people might start cutting you loose. Not because they don’t care but because they think they did something wrong, or they’re not cool enough for you anymore, or what have you. So it can be a kindness to set expectations, without having to go into detail: “Hey, friends, I’ve got some stuff going on, nothing I need to talk about or you need to worry about, but please be patient if I’m not the most reliable, OK?”


Relationships are built on time together, and some friendships will inevitably fade, despite best intentions, when deprived of that source of warmth. But faded doesn’t mean gone forever, only gone underground for a while.

Everyone loves a returning character! Look how happy viewers are that Hank Schrader from Breaking Bad is back on Better Call Saul. And Hank is obnoxious!

Try to introduce your friends to one another — it’s easier to integrate back into an existing network than to reestablish one-on-one contact with everyone. If you can, deputize a few friends as representatives to keep you in the loop and included. Don’t feel awkward about texting friends or acquaintances spontaneously on the days you do feel good, just to say hello or to suggest a FaceTime chat. They’ll be delighted to hear from you.

Whatever we were saying about social media last month, it’s a godsend for everyone now. There won’t be any passive voyeurism of other people’s better-looking lives, just useful group texts and message boards. Online games, photo or coloring apps, and the like can be a way of staying in touch without words. I have a good friend who posts a photo of her morning walk every day on Instagram. Just that. It’s enough. And if she didn’t do it for a couple of days, people would check in.


Miss Conduct is Robin Abrahams, a writer with a PhD in psychology.