Posted on 7 Comments

Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria: An open letter

To the guy who will never understand why I reacted the way I did:

You probably will never read this, because you think I am crazy. You’re not the first. What you perceived as an overreaction on my part was actually an attempt on my part to remind myself that you weren’t trying to hurt me, I just have a brain that processes things differently.

You’ll never know I’m not some weirdo, I just opened up to you and I got scared. Scared because I’m still recovering. Scared because in some ways I’ll always be recovering.

I’m sorry that I couldn’t tell you because I didn’t want you to be afraid of me. Or think I was crazy, or that you have to walk on eggshells. I have rejection-sensitive dysphoria. It won’t go away. It is here, like Dexter’s dark passenger. By definition, it is this:

A term coined by William Dodson, MD, one of the top experts in the field of ADHD. Dodson describes this as akin to atypical depression, which means it is not truly depression but dysphoria, a term that means difficult to bear. In essence, Dodson has found with his patients a common theme of people who describe an internal state of arousal that prevents them from simply relaxing and enjoying life (hyperarousal vs. hyperactivity ? remember after adolescence most of us show few symptoms of hyperactivity). The other commonality they reported is feeling devastated by failure or rejection.


Rejection sensitive dysphoria blows.

You’d know that if I had told you what it is. It is my own personal hell. It is my Achilles heel, the thorn in my side, the piss in my cornflakes. It is the one symptom of ADHD that I would blow off the face of the planet if I could.

I don’t know if I speak for everyone who has it when I say this, but if one more person tells me I am too sensitive, I’m not really sure what I’ll do. Nobody knows about it because they would dismiss it as crazy. I have been called crazy more than my fair share, and the dismissiveness, the unfairness of being called never stops stinging. Because crazy is pejorative.

You didn’t call me crazy because you were trying to compliment me or appreciate those qualities within me that have enabled me to survive despite being different. You called me crazy because you think my behavior should be modified.


I guess because you never get to see how hard I have to work to remain rational, you could never understand.

You’ve never felt the earth slide from beneath you when someone you care for says something to you that instantly makes you feel worthless. You’ve never been hit with that barrage:

“Of course, no, you’re right.”

“I’m so stupid.”

“I’m so careless.”

“Well, of course, that was the wrong decision.”

“You messed up.”

“You’re messing up.”

“You’re always going to mess up.”

This isn’t the same as low self-esteem. This is fear, a terror that can only come after a lifetime of being told that you will NEVER measure up. You’ll never ever be good enough. This is a terror that has been hard-wired into my brain, one I will never be free from.  In that one instant of perceived rejection, I die. It feels like a death.

For just one instant it feels like every negative thing everyone has ever said about me is true and I am the only one who doesn’t know. I am in Fight Club, and someone just told me Tyler doesn’t exist.

Your criticism can gut me like a fish.

Your criticism can slay me.

Your criticism can make me cry for hours.

And it isn’t your fault. It isn’t mine either.

I know this about myself, and I have made provisions. I step away, I shut it down, I give myself some time to relax to a point where I can address whatever it was like a rational human being and not a wounded, keening animal. I know this about myself.

You didn’t. You never will.

It was easier to let you believe I was too sensitive. Because my heart can’t take another crazy.

Until next time,


7 thoughts on “Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria: An open letter

  1. thank you, you said everything I’ve wanted to say. I have not been told that I’m adhd, just that I have bipolar. I get depressed, but I also have self worth issues. If I try to explain it to anyone I’m told I’m just to sensitive.I need to get a grip,
    this is the classic one, I got this while on family vacation. “it is not always about you, linda

    1. It takes a lot of bravery to push through! We will make it. ???

  2. I can relate with you so much! Wow you are so brave and strong to share your experience, strength, and hope. Thank you for doing so, for it helps me not feel so broken. I have adhd too, and I think I know very little about what that really means for me sometimes. Your post hits home with one of the ways, the profound ways I think it affects me sometimes.

  3. I’m still dealing with the fragments left from my unaddressed ADHD.I am now 60 y.o. and reading this story helps me understand my sensitivities. OH, that horrible feeling of the earth sliding underneath my feet when a work superior looks at me with a scowl.I know whatever just happened,it will be my fault. At least these are younger people now and are willing to learn what makes an employee tick,unlike former bosses. We all just keep pressing on.Thank you

    1. It is SO DIFFICULT to deal with, but the more we all support each other through it, the better off we will be. I’m right there with you.

  4. Thank you. Thank you so much for saying the words I have never been able to say. You really helped me to understand myself better. So thank you so much.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *