TL;DR version:

Sometimes people expect you to act in a certain manner, and keep pestering you with "why"s and "what's the problem"s when you don't. While the asker thinks she is being helpful, you know her reaction to a truthful response would be negative and outright harmful. What answer should I give to those questions, if I want to stay on good terms, yet don't want to use outright lies?

In case it matters, the specific situation at hand follows.

I have some recurring depression/anxiety episodes, lasting for a few months at a time. While I manage to deal with it and keep functioning, I have to avoid any non-vital social interactions. Some of my relatives took offence to my ignoring or slow (as in, a few months later) response to their calls/emails. Thus I was recently confronted a few times with questions along the lines of "Why won't you reply, do you hate us?". The thing is, I know those people well enough, and I know they share the common prejudice against mental disorders. They nearly put me into a mental asylum once already, and I'd rather avoid that. On the other hand, outside of that topic we are on good terms, and I'd rather not cut off ties by answering "Yeah, I hate you, even if only for half of a year". So far I've been stalling with refusing to answer and promising to be more responsive in the future, but a) that doesn't satisfy them and b) that's not a promise I can fulfil. Is there a way out of this without burning bridges?

  • Related: interpersonal.stackexchange.com/questions/166/… I understand your concern in that regard.
    – Vylix
    Commented Sep 11, 2017 at 17:29
  • @user3169 I'm located in Russia. While I'm not exact on legal details of the process, I know plenty of precedents of relatives stuffing away even people that would be considered helathy, simply for differing political opinions, so that's a real threat. As for the hospital remark, putting aside what they actually do and how, that's how they are perceived by the society, including any potential employers. Yes, it's illegal for employers to obtain such information. Yes, they still can do it easily with impunity. That's not relevant, you can have a similar question for a gay person in Chechnya.
    – Alice
    Commented Sep 12, 2017 at 7:46

3 Answers 3


Given there is a risk of being thrown into a mental asylum, I think you may have to be a bit harsh.


Let's get this clear. You have clinical depression. While it is hard to understand, the best and easiest thing to do is to give you your space. Let you be a little bit on your own, give you time. Room to breathe, if you will.

It is horrible that your family does not understand that. My wife's mom admitted my wife in the psychiatric hospital because she was having a manic breakdown. My wife suffers from severe bipolar disorder and anxiety.

What my mother in law had to say to that was: "I was looking out for you, I wanted the best for you". My wife tells me all the time: "I'd rather spend the rest of my life in prison than be a single day in the mental hospital". She HATES that place.

If they've already considered throwing you in one of those hellholes, you need to tread VERY carefully. Anything in the lines of "oh I was feeling a bit low.." would automatically mean, "Welp, off you go to the psych ward". It might not be that extreme with your family, I am exaggerating for dramatics. But still..

A few directions you go:

1. Make up for not talking much or for your prolonged silence:

My brother has bipolar disorder too and he hardly talks to my(/his) mom. He is a sly sneaky guy. This is what he does:

  1. He doesn't talk for months.
  2. When he finally feels like talking and decides to talk, he talks for hours! Literally, hours. My mom gets on the phone with him and talks to him for 2-3 hours.

What does that do to my mom? She feels really happy and satisfied. Of course, the call started with a lot of frustration from my mom. "Why didn't you call for so long? What is wrong? Why do you hate us" kind. But he just gives some random excuses/lies and then starts talking about his life in general, gets my mom excited about things. The reason he doesn't just tell her he does not feel like it because of his mental state is not because of the fear of being thrown in a mental hospital. I am Indian and in India, mental disorders are not a thing. No one recognizes that as an actual disease. If he says that he has bipolar disorder, my mom would probably say "no you don't, stop making stuff up." OR "Just call us and talk to us, you will feel happy". So, he does not even try to explain all that to them and just make them forget about his silence.

If you think you will never be comfortable enough to talk for that long or if you feel like they come to you and act pissy to you about you not talking BEFORE you could get comfortable enough to talk for a long time, take a look at the next option:

2. Come up with something better than empty promises:

I don't know how good you are at lying, but you may want to work on your lying skills. Going back to my brother's behavior:

If he does not feel like talking and it has been a few months, he has to say something so my mom would stop calling him 20 times a day. What does he do? Calls her up and makes something up and hangs right back up. Few examples:

I am in the middle of a shoot mom, I will call right back up.

My cat is sick, I am at the vet's hospital. I will call you back in an hour.

You get the idea. Something that will get you off the hook for that instant. But then of course, you are expected to call back in a week or so at least. No one spends an entire week at the vet's.

Nothing that indicates your mental health is an option here. So that narrows down our options!

Nothing like this:

I've been feeling a bit low for the past few days

I need some time to think stuff over

I am going through a difficult time right now

Here are a few more masterpieces my brother has used so far:

I was going for a run and my phone fell off my pocket and into a puddle. I've not been able to afford a new one.

There was heavy winds and the electricity pole outside our house broke, so I haven't had power (and yes, he said he didn't have power for literally 2 months).

My cat died, so I needed time to get over that sadness (his cat actually did die, but he recouped from that in a week and spoke to ME, just not to mom).

I was in the forest for a shoot, so had no cell reception.

I've just been really busy at work/school. I've been having a hard time understanding something/I have a very tight deadline on something.

A lot of these are a bit over the top and my mom knows it. My brother just doesn't care. These are excuses they cannot deny. It is YOUR story, YOUR life. They cannot say it is not true, they don't know it.

You didn't mention how old you are in the question, so I do not know who you live with or what your current occupation is. So depending upon that, you may want to change these a bit.

Some times, my brother does a preemptive lie routine. Where he calls my mom up out of the blue and tell her that he has an important assignment and won't be able to talk for a few months because it is off the coast of China. That could come in handy.

Also, the one thing that REALLY helps:

Whenever you get out of your depressive state, take the initiative and call them without them asking you to. Just pick up the phone and talk to them in a happy note. Make them feel important to you and that you thought about them. This eventually starts feeling like a chore, but this will make absolutely sure they know you still love them.


Honestly, telling them the truth is not going to be an option for you and telling them you will keep up with them more in the future isn't either. The best you can do is make sure they still like you and accept that you just don't talk to them as often as they want you to.

Do whatever it takes to ensure that and I think that will help you have your room.


When I am stressed or going through a difficult time I have learned that I need to limit who I interact with as well, particularly people (whom I love) that are likely to incidentally add stress or anxiety to my life. I have to feel "up to" handling being in contact with them. I also get similar type questions. I can offer what I say. They do not love it, but I have come to the conclusion there is no explanation I am willing to offer that they would love. They want me to not have times I take a leave from interacting and any other answer is likely not welcomed, so I remind myself it is not my job to ensure they are pleased. What I say is something like

I have had a lot going on personally. My absence isn't about you, so please do not take it personally. When I am under a lot of pressure/stress, I sometimes pull back from being able to engage as much with others as it helps me be better able to handle what is on my plate. I am sorry if that is frustrating. I can understand why it would be. I do it simply because it is a coping mechanism and it helps me be better able to handle my own life. If something is urgent or you really need to reach me then you can contact me through (insert your answer here). Otherwise, I hope that you can accept this is one of my quirks and I am sorry that this is in any way hard for you that I operate this way.

I offer them the ability to contact me via a text to another phone. Overall most people have been willing to accept it and respect not to try to contact me over minor things using that. They don't "like" it, but they do respect my boundary with it. I wish I could tell you how long that took, but a while. It wasn't instant. I know I had people bring it up here and there over different times (same people, bringing it up again). I just stick to the same basic response as above, as many times as I have to say it. There are people I am always in contact with. There are many who I am only in contact with when I feel I can handle them.


"Please don't ask me to defend myself, I hate it, and it's one of the reasons I keep putting off calling you."

Assertive, but polite. A clear answer. Does not imply you dislike the person, just that this conversation bothers you.

I've found turns of phrase like this be effective in similar situations. It puts the person you are talking with on a different footing, where they need to consider your point of view, and your feelings, rather than just their own.

  • 1
    We prefer answers on this site to include some explanation; could you edit to to include why you expect this course of action to work in OP's situation? For example, have you done this successfully in the past, or read about this technique somewhere?
    – Em C
    Commented Oct 21, 2018 at 15:34

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.