Recently, in the ADHD Tumblr-sphere, there has been a lot going around about RSD or Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria. As I have read about RSD, pieces of my life are coming together and starting to finally make sense.
When I was a teenager, my mental health struggles baffled my psychiatrists. I showed signs of mania and depression, but my mood swings were far too rapid to qualify as bipolar. Inside an hour I could swing from relatively ok to earth shatteringly depressed to bouncing off the walls manic.
I have always been a perfectionist to a fault. Anything I perceive as a failure can send me into a tailspin of depression that is extremely difficult to shake. If I think that I’ve upset someone or that I’ve been rejected, I wither away inside beneath the soul-crushing weight of depression that hits in an instant.
So when I read about RSD, I filled with relief. There’s a name for what I feel. There are others who react the way I do. I felt validated and comforted.
According to William Dodson, MD, 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.”
Reading this feels like reading something written about me. I have always felt weak for how I react to rejection and failure. It’s something I’ve been ashamed of throughout my life. Finding that there is a name for what I experience is starting to chip away at the shame. Knowing that most people with ADHD experience this helps me feel less weak for my reactions.
In the article in ADDitude (which I definitely recommend reading), Dodson goes on to explain that “When this emotional response is internalized, it can imitate full, major depression complete with suicidal ideation. The sudden change from feeling perfectly fine to feeling depressed that results from RSD is often misdiagnosed as rapid cycling bipolar disorder.”
The combination of my mood swings and psychosis eventually led to a diagnosis of Schizoaffective disorder, a diagnosis I am now questioning. When my psychiatrists were trying to put together the pieces of my mental health during youth, they were missing two major pieces: ADHD and autism. Looking back over my life now through the lens of ADHD and autism, now combined with RSD, my emotional states are starting to make sense. So many of my mood swings have been caused by a perception of rejection, failure, or being criticized.
Finally having a name for what I experience is so liberating and is helping me to understand myself better. Unfortunately, from what I’ve read, there aren’t many effective coping skills for RSD as it is an intense visceral reaction. However, there are some medications that have been shown to help.
If any of this rings true for you, read further on RSD and ADHD. While there may not be many treatment options, just understanding yourself better can be a huge relief.