I have a problem with my moods. Some days I am happy, excited to be alive, and others it's the opposite.

Picture a sullen teenager who won't say a word, is negative about everything if they do, doesn't want to do anything or go anywhere, and can't crack a smile - this is me some days.

While it's normal to have ups and downs, I can have very low downs. My coping strategy for normal interactions is to be quiet, put on headphones, and focus on my work, or go for a walk.

Usually, if I'm left alone for some time, I will be fine - but it's usually a day or afternoon / evening not a few minutes or hours.

When this happens, my SO and kids don't understand, and I feel unable to explain. Of course, they pick up that something's wrong and won't leave me alone about it - this both worsens my mood and hurts them since I'm clearly unhappy and they start worrying it's something they've done. It's never really about someone else, but it can be triggered by silly little things.

This question isn't about those mood swings, but how to communicate to others (especially family) that while I'm feeling like this, I just need some space & time and will be fine again afterward. And that it's not their fault.

I've tried explaining to my SO and while they do seem to understand, they still find it hard and can't really leave me alone. If I insist, I'll have to pick up the pieces later once I'm feeling better.

For context, kids are teens.

  • Have you talked with them (your SO at a minimum, it may or may not be appropriate with your kids depending on their specific ages) about how they feel and what they are trying to accomplish when you are in a depressed state? It's easy to guess at others' intentions, but hard to guess correctly. – Upper_Case Jun 19 '18 at 19:31
  • @Upper_Case I've spoken with my SO about it before, but didn't occur to me to ask what they were trying to do. I know it upsets them and they said they feel like it's their fault. I have said it's not but I would understand if they weren't 100% convinced. – nurgle Jun 19 '18 at 21:21
  • Have you tried talking to them about it on your good days as well, or only when they're bothering you on your bad days? The conversation may be less stressful for you, and they may be more likely to listen if you are in a cheerful and friendly mood when you explain it. – David K Jun 22 '18 at 12:36

I'm not a medical professional; I can't diagnose you. If you feel like your mood swings are abnormal, I strongly suggest you seek professional help.

I will assume your children are old enough to understand your explanation and mature enough to handle the truth. If they aren't, adjust accordingly.

Be direct and explain everything.

Sometimes I feel bad. First of all, it's nothing you did. So don't blame yourself. If it is something you did, I will tell you. Secondly you don't need to worry. It's always silly little things that trigger it. Nothing major is going on. Furthermore I always feel better afterward. I know what's going on. I know I'm going to recover. The thing is, I can't be around anyone when I'm like this. I still love you all. A lot. I just need some space.

They need to know when you're in a mood. So give them a way to know. That way they're not not guessing when they can talk to you. Hopefully they'll honor your request.

However they may not. It's normal for people to be concerned. They're probably thinking the same thing I thought first - is something medically wrong? If you don't explore medical help I don't blame them for worrying about you. Conversely, if you get evaluated and nothing's wrong, then you can explain that to them. That should help them worry less.

  • 4
    thankyou. I spoke to my SO just now touching on the points you made, and their response was very positive. I'm going to speak with my doctor even though this is normal for me, and follow their advice if they think anything is to be done - telling my SO this helped alot. – nurgle Jun 19 '18 at 22:53

1. These do not sound like "normal ups and downs".

I'm just a unipolar depression sufferer and not a medical professional, so this is not in any way intended to be a diagnosis. It is instead meant to be a hint as to what others might see. These may be normal cycles for you with regard to your own life, but other people (who don't have the same tendency, whatever it genuinely is) might be very disturbed by what they see. That is a powerful disincentive to leaving you to yourself, even if you personally believe that you will be fine if you are left alone for a while.

2. Find out what they want to accomplish.

If the above is the case, then even if they understand that you sometimes go through darker moods they may not be interested in leaving you alone, even if that's what you would prefer. If this is the case it would be worth talking to them (your SO, for certain, maybe not your kids yet) to figure out their specific concerns and how you might be able to assure them that you are/will be OK. Questions like "You always seem concerned that you need to do something when I'm down. Do you know what causes you to feel that way, and is there anything I can do to reassure you that it's not necessary?" might help. The core of this is that it's not about you achieving your stated desire or your family understanding you better, but rather about you understanding them better. Maybe you can provide some reassurance, not necessarily in the moment, that helps them cope with your need to periodic solitude.

3. Consider developing a routine, if you don't already have one.

It may be worth designating a specific area as personal space that you use when in these moods. If you install yourself in a public area of your home and then demand that no one interact with you, you will be putting a lot more pressure on your family than if you retreat to your home office. A space or activity which helps to "normalize" the behavior in the context of everyday life may help a lot. This doesn't even need to be in your home. For example, you mentioned taking walks already. It also helps to give a signal to your family that you are in such a mood-- them acting normally and then abruptly encountering it makes it easier to believe that it's their fault.

4. You may need to give ground to maintain your relationships.

It's easy to think of this as something you personally need that your family is having trouble providing. But it's also the case that your family needs things from you, and your effectively disappearing for a day or two may not be feasible. No matter how important you feel it is to get this alone time, it might not be realistic to expect that you'll get 100% of that 100% of the times that you want it. That's not to say you should aim for 0% of what you want, but if you're viewing a single, brief interaction with a family member as "ruining" your alone time it may be easier (and better for your family) if you revise your expectations and satisfaction somewhat.

5. Seek a professional opinion.

I know you stated that you're not looking for help with your moods, but this is still for your family. I've heard depression described as seeing the person you love essentially die right in front of you, and good luck getting your family to shrug something like that off. As it stands it sounds like your family sees you suddenly and inexplicably descend into these moods, which distresses them. Any explanations and reassurances they can get will probably be valuable and help them feel OK about things. A professional opinion helps with that, and also is infinitely more valuable than your own subjective impression of "what you need".

Your description of these moods makes it sound like your ability to judge yourself and the world really changes, and consequently I would put very little faith that judgement as an outside observer. A psychiatrist or therapist saying that you need some alone time to move past the moods would be much, much better.

  • thankyou - I will take your advice on seeking a professional opinion - while this is normal for me, the point that I can't be the best judge is well taken. – nurgle Jun 19 '18 at 22:54

You've laid it all out very clearly on this question. Why not show this to them?

In my experience, I have had similar mood swings and I have had relationships with friends and acquaintances who have behaved similarly. While the causes for and the magnitudes of these lows vary with each person, the simple fact of needing time alone to recharge, to recuperate, to reset, has led to many misunderstandings and feelings of guilt.

Recently, I have begun telling people outright when I need time alone. Some people don't understand it, but to my surprise most have conceded that they have had similar needs from time to time, which would end the conversation and often with a reassuring nod or smile as we walked our separate ways.

If you're searching for words to say specifically, I would start with some of the things you've written yourself. Like I said, your situation and thoughts have been clearly explained by yourself already. Take it one word at a time, and have confidence in the fact that they love you, and you love them.

One more thing: if you do end up telling them yourself, they may forget. As a parent, you probably already know this, but kids--most people, I'd reckon--need to be reminded again and again until and idea or lifestyle becomes rooted. Learning to give much-needed personal space at certain times might be one of those things that needs to be said again and again.


I had this problem once. Not a mental problem, but a very painful ear infection for three days, followed by three days in the other ear. I couldn't stand anyone near me. I just wanted to be left alone until the pain goes away. Shouted at my wife to leave me alone, and fortunately she had the wisdom to do so. No lasting damage was done.

Apart from the fact that you should try to do something about your mood swings, tell at least your wife that you have these deep lows where you need to be left alone, and any attempt to cheer you up doesn't actually help, but makes things worse for you. If you are in this state and she tries to cheer you up, tell your the same thing again until she gets it. Maybe she had it drilled into her that if someone is in a bad mood it is her responsibility to cheer them up, but it's not the right thing obviously in your case, so you need to make her realise this.

For the kids, I'd make a large "Do Not Disturb" sign.


One downside of our society's increased friendliness and openness is the inability to interact politely with someone you do not like or at least do not wish to engage with. Ways of doing this are no longer taught and are rarely used. You can consult Miss Manners, as well.

I may find myself in similar moods at times and have learned to tell people, "Please excuse me." and make motions to leave. If I wish to talk to someone alone and get joined by another ("What's goin' on?!") I say, "Please excuse us." They may appear hurt but eventually get it.

You can always come back later to them and thank them for their compliance without offering a complete explanation.

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