How Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria Affects Me as a Person With ADHD


Editor’s note: If you struggle with self-harm, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

My personal attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) journey has been fraught with so many emotions; so much that is overwhelming, that often I cannot see past the pain to see the big picture.

Since seeking treatment for myself, I’ve had a tsunami of feelings come up. I don’t know what to do with them, or how to adult through them. I end up catastrophizing the insults and making them into the apocalypse.

I’m realizing rejection sensitive dysphoria (RSD) is ruining me. What is RSD, you ask?

From Additude Magazine: (RSD) is an extreme emotional sensitivity and emotional pain triggered by the perception – not necessarily the reality – that a person has been rejected, teased or criticized by important people in their life. RSD may also be triggered by a sense of failure or falling short – failing to meet either their own high standards or others’ expectations. The term dysphoria is Greek for “difficult to bear.” People with ADHD who struggle with RSD aren’t weak, it’s just that the emotional response to rejection and criticism takes a heavy toll on us, rather than someone who doesn’t have it. Also, the depression and anxiety for us are 10 times more than those who don’t have this condition. More at Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria: What They Don’t Want You To Know About ADHD

By no means am I attempting to scapegoat my behavior on the ADHD or RSD. I am trying to learn all I can about it and put forth my best efforts to avoid sinking into the despair which so often accompanies these RSD attacks. This is no easy feat. I’ve done some serious damage to my life and important relationships.

I am starting, after 38 years, to be able to recognize these RSD moments for what they are. Doing something healthy with this perceived rejection is my goal… right now, I’m finding I have to move. Physically removing myself from the situation seems to be key right now. I used to be a walker — I would walk miles per day. These days, since my back surgery, walking is not an option.

So, instead, I find myself gravitating to my family’s beach; the one generations of my family have summered at… I park, grab my journal, headphones and pen. Settling into the pebbles, I sit and take it all in, through all my senses. I’ve found my grounding. My spot.

Getting up and leaving? Last Thursday morning, all of the air had been sucked out of the house. My son and husband were still sleeping. As I sat writing downstairs, I realized I couldn’t breathe. Some say panic attack, I say suffocating. This wasn’t the normal panic response I was used to.

I saw the writing on the wall. We have been so ugly to one another, taking each other for granted. Saying hurtful things to be the one on top… even if for a brief moment in time…. we were both guilty.

So many external, and internal things were contributing to this descent. Blame, shame, hurt, anger; you name it, we were living it.

My heart broke. I couldn’t carry the atmosphere of our house anymore; and since that morning, I haven’t. I cannot be the doer. (I wasn’t the only one doing, but I sure felt that way).

I always try to find the positive in the negative experiences and learn from them.

So much of me was left behind on Thursday, June 14, on that beach in my hometown. And that is OK. That beach took my rage and opened my eyes to what was most important. What needed my attention.

My home, husband and son need me to be present. Physically and emotionally. And I’ve come home.

Since my awakening (or whatever you’d like to call it), I feel the change in my soul. I feel as if I’ve been given new eyes to see the world with, and it sure is a beautiful place. Especially when we put our devices down long enough to drink it in.

And my husband and I? We talked like we haven’t talked in years. I think he gets it… how sensitive I can be, and he actually apologized the other day for potentially hurting my feelings (yes, they were). That’s something we have never really talked about before. We are both guilty of not sharing. Now? We are taking steps to care for ourselves and nurture our relationship. This is new and exciting.

And me? I get a day off from responsibilities. Weekly.

Last week, I went for a tattoo.

I have an ugly scar on my arm from long ago. The ER doctor at the time told me he was going to do an awful job stitching me up, so I’d not do it again; he held true to his promise. Seventeen years later, I finally am OK with that scar and wanted to add a reminder of the beauty of grace in this world, and how I’ve been saved by it countless times.

Since my trip to Ireland last year, I’ve wanted grace in Gaelic. After much research, I found the Celtic swan symbol; the symbolism behind it fit perfectly. I have hope to get past this ugliness and move toward the best life we three can create.

celtic swan tattoo with description of meaning

“Find ecstasy in life, the mere sense of living is joy enough.” — Emily Dickinson

Follow this journey on the author’s blog.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

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Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash


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