This post originally appeared on my tinyletter, Where is my Mind?
We’re less than a month away from the day my son broke his arm, which also happened to be my daughter’s birthday. It wasn’t quite rock-bottom for me, but that week, it was for him. He had been having trouble in school, blessed (because I can think of no other word for it) with a patient and caring teacher who was at the end of her rope. I had hoped that the broken arm would calm him down a bit, but instead the opposite happened – he got worse. By the end of that long, hard week, he came home with another note from his teacher. He ran into his room, slammed the door, moved all of his stuffed animals into the hallway, especially his beloved Baby Lion, whom he said he didn’t deserve anymore.
This was pretty typical. He punishes himself, channeling his frustrations inward. But this one was different. He didn’t deserve our love, he asserted. He didn’t deserve to live.
As a parent, there is nothing more terrifying than hearing your child say they didn’t deserve to live, that they would be better off dead. But when it is a then 8-year-old boy, a sweet, loving, loved, child…I heard my own words, words spoken softly to few, but that had long repeated over and over in my own mind.
It had happened a year before, again, around his sister’s birthday. She was having a birthday party, everyone stayed up too late and had too much sugar, and my son accidentally hurt one of his sister’s friends. She yelled at him. After retreating to his room, he whispered to me, after much prodding, that he wanted to find a gun and shoot himself.
He was 7.
I chalked it up to being over-tired and stressed. He woke up the next day like nothing had happened. I asked him if he wanted to talk about what he had said the night before, and he didn’t even know what I was talking about. But when it happened again a year later, I knew I couldn’t just chalk it up to the disappointment of breaking his arm and the stress of the school year. I knew. I’m lucky enough that our health care provider has a full-time mental health professional on staff. I knew, from my own experiences, what I needed to say, what I had to say, to ensure that I could get my son in as soon as possible. I repeated a conversation I had had a year before, but this time, for my son. My 8-year-old son.
I know the genetics. I know that chances are, I have passed on whatever faulty genetics I have to him, this small boy that I love more than my own life. He didn’t ask for any of this. He doesn’t deserve any of this.
It was then that we received a diagnosis of ADHD. The medication was a scientific miracle. We were now armed with knowledge, as well. But he was still unreasonably hard on himself, particularly in the face of failure and rejection, when he knew he had disappointed those that he loved the most.
“You have to stop being so hard on yourself,” I would say. “Why? You’re even harder on yourself,” he replied.
He’s not wrong. They are always watching you, your kids. He saw me. He knew.
I got news last week that I didn’t get another job I had applied for and been an on-campus finalist for. It was a job I really wanted. It was a job I thought I would be really good at it. I thought I did well on the interview (which, trust me, I don’t always think). And I didn’t get it.
I turned my frustration inward, because where else can it go? They made a decision, and most likely DID get the best person for the job. It just hurts that it wasn’t me. It’s almost impossible for me NOT to take it personally. I took to Twitter to try and (badly) articulate what I was feeling. I hate feeling this powerless, this out of control of my own life and future. And while I didn’t spiral anywhere nearly as badly as I have in the past around this kind of rejection and disappointment, it still wasn’t one of my finest moments. I don’t process things well in my own head; articulating the process, while helping me immensely, opens me up to…well, being seen the way I see myself.
There is a thing, apparently, that is common for people with ADHD, called Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria:
Rejection sensitive dysphoria (RSD) is extreme emotional sensitivity and pain triggered by the perception — not necessarily the reality — that a person with ADHD has been rejected or criticized by people in their life.
When the emotional response associated with RSD is internalized, it can imitate full, major depression complete with suicidal ideation that comes on so fast it is often misdiagnosed as rapid cycling bipolar disorder. When this emotional response is externalized, it looks like an impressive, instantaneous rage at the person or situation responsible for causing the pain. 50% of people who are assigned court-mandated anger-management treatment have previously unrecognized ADHD.
It has a name. It has a profile. It is a real thing. “What can be done? Often, patients are comforted just knowing there’s a name for their feelings.”
We have to stop being so hard on ourselves. We are even harder on ourselves for not being stronger, being able to move on, let go, not being grittier, more resilient, more able to bounce back, just better. Better at dealing with the world and the inevitable disappointment and rejection that comes with it. We have to stop being so hard on ourselves because these things ARE hard for us, harder for us.
This next month is going to be hard. May we greet each other in this space with patience and kindness and forgiveness. This is harder than it needs to be, but easier than it has been in the past. It has a name.
It has a name.