ADHD, Social Withdrawal and Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria

It’s bloody exhausting, exasperating and exhilarating being the owner of an ADHD brain. Or we realise, being in our lives and helping us to manage them at times.

It’s taken a hell of a lot for me to write this, to post on social media. I know that seems ridiculous, given that I can confidently do a speech live on telly or write a huge report for the Secretary of State for Justice. I’ve spent all day feeling physically sick and anxious about it, it’s been so long.

And BECAUSE it’s been so long, the harder it became, and the more that dreaded fear of rejection choked me. The fear that nearly every adult with ADHD knows only too well.

I know WHY I’ve been socially withdrawn. I’ve experienced several traumatic events in the last year which knocked me for six. To be fair, they’d knock anyone for six, let alone someone with ADHD. I didn’t quite realise how much I had been affected until I have started to feel better. Often the way, with mental health — you think you are surviving, hanging on in there, when actually you aren’t too great.

What a ‘pick n mix’ of toxic emotions I’ve had, swirling around. Guilt. Shame. Worthlessness. Choking fear. Exhaustion. Self loathing, Verbal self-flagellation. Knowing you are letting others down and yourself. Convinced that your friends and followers will either be furiously angry with you for being absent, or have forgotten who you are. Going to bed and promising yourself that tomorrow is a new day. That you’ll answer that text message and arrange to see your mates that you miss, you love and think of constantly. That you’ll write that blog for the charity, the one you nearly finished but were too scared to post for fear of being laughed at or shouted at over email by ‘Big Pharma’ conspiracy theorists.

Begging silently in your head for those that believe in you to not give up, even when you doubt yourself so much.

It’s like watching the world go by from behind a dirty window, desperately wanting to see through it, move round it, but being somehow paralysed. Like when you are asleep but think you are awake and can’t move. Knowing that it makes no rational sense. Knowing the simple steps needed to fix it. But can’t.

I haven’t been confined to the sofa or in bed, however. The garden in my new house is looking cracking. And my home-grown tomatoes taste gorgeous. Learning to compost was an interesting mini-hyperfocus. Perhaps because I could feel joy and get some things done, wasn’t what people would typically call ‘depressed’, I didn’t realise how I’d mostly withdrawn, how deep the fear of rejection had become.

I have also kept the ADHD advocacy moving forwards, I just have been too scared to tell you all about it. For example, I’ve been to Parliament several times, taken part in round tables with MPs, spoken at an international conference, helped journalists write positive pieces on ADHD. I’m proud of these things, and proud I’ve written a report recently for the minister which we are optimistic will soon deliver some real changes for justice in the UK. But the energy these activities took was immense, a mask that drained me even more.

I know that RSD (Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria) is more or less a given in adults with ADHD. Severe stress and trauma can make it worse. Things that have helped are accepting it as part of my condition (and not a character flaw), being mindful, practising CBT (what evidence do you have that if you send a tweet 3000 people will send you a critical message, and that even your own sister thinks you are a dick?)

I am also incredibly fortunate to have the support of both a brilliant coach and clinician. ADHDers need their team, even when they don’t feel they deserve one.

RSD is a fascinating aspect of ADHD (although not just exclusive to us), and one that is rarely talked about in the core group of traits/symptoms, although it clearly should be. You can read more about it here: https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/friendship-20/201907/what-is-rejection-sensitive-dysphoria.

And please remember that if someone you know shows these traits or behaviours, they might be struggling to navigate this condition.

To sum up: even when we are successfully treated as ADHD adults, life events can come along and set you back a bit along the long road you’ve already travelled. To be an adult with ADHD, despite meds and a diagnosis, means you have to be on your toes to guard against this. And not beat yourself up if it happens, when you thought life was all rosy thanks to your diagnosis.

A personal note to everyone that has sent support messages periodically, despite me not replying: I am humbled, grateful and I send lots of love. Normal service is resuming. I have missed everyone so much.

Right, no going back now, I’m pressing send. I’m not even going to check for typos. In case I get cold feet and go water my tomatoes instead.

1 thought on “ADHD, Social Withdrawal and Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria”

  1. Dear Michelle
    Thank you for this honest and heartfelt post.
    It has taken me the past 4 years, since my diagnosis at 44, to overcome the major war of ‘toxic emotions’ that I have grappled with all my life, and I have learnt to deal with each mini-battle on a day by day basis. By using my own coping strategies (when I remember what they are 🤪) it makes me happier than I have been for as long as I can remember.
    It is only now I am able to reflect back over my life, that I have lived with constant fear of rejection. Now, thankfully, I personally don’t feel rejection in the same way as I did – which I have several beliefs as to why that is.
    I love the phrase ‘owner of a ADHD brain’ because it helps to detach that part of me from me. I can utterly relate to the dirty window metaphor.
    I liken my ADHD brain to bustling street market where there are so many things on offer but too much to take in so I chose to do nothing. Once I have passed through that episode, I am able to see a clear road ahead. It is exhausting to live in an up/down way but much better to know myself than to have continued in the dark.
    Enjoy your tomatoes 🍅
    With best wishes
    Rachel x

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