Failing Forward

I have ADHD, which is known for intense emotions and rejection sensitive dysphoria. At the same time, I also have a trauma history, which further amps up my stress response to perceived failure. Failure hurts. It hurts enough that my intense response to it, associated perfectionism to try to avoid it, and general emotional spiraling when I do experience it, are probably paradoxically the things most holding me back from true success. Have you ever met a CEO who crumbles when someone insults her? How about a politician? I’m relatively successful, but how can I progress into the upper echelons of my career, or muster the confidence to stake a serious financial claim like buying a house, if I respond biopsychologically as though any failure at all portends permanent financial, professional or interpersonal ruin? Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria (RSD) compounds better-known symptoms of ADHD, PTSD and anxiety such as fidgeting, difficulty reading social cues and inability to focus, and it makes it that much harder to project leadership.

Ever heard of rejection therapy? Alternately, for those in the corporate world, ever heard of failing forward? (Indulge me in the corporate jargon. I am trying to mold myself into a corporate leader, after all.) This blog is pretty much rejection therapy in blog form. One girl attempting to overcome her deeply painful response to negative feedback by putting her journal online for strangers to read.

I’ve tried regular rejection therapy. The problem was the paradox that if your goal is to be rejected, it’s no longer rejection/failure the moment you succeed in your goal. Or, at least, it wasn’t for me. I set out to have strangers say no to me, and they did. It was liberating, yes, but there were no personal or potentially lasting stakes to the suggested activities. The activities were rejection training wheels, but I’m now ready to fall off a bike.

People with ADHD often enjoy a certain level of daredevil risk for the natural dopamine rush, and since none of the suggested ways to induce rejection (e.g. asking strangers to play rock, paper, scissors) were associated with my identity or passions, rejection therapy became akin to an extreme sport for me. It got the heart pounding, but it didn’t fully trigger the indescribable pain of true personal rejection. Good in concept; flawed in execution.

I have realized that whatever I use as exposure therapy for rejection must induce that rejection in a way that directly challenges my core identity or competencies, as me Lavender, not as game-buyer #2567. Those of us with ADHD, especially women and girls with ADHD, tend to have hang-ups about our intelligence. Although ADHD isn’t associated with lower intelligence, stereotypes in society suggest it is. We’ve shown symptoms since childhood, and because of ADHD-associated difficulties excelling in typical school environments – even if (eventually, after much angst to be explained another day) we are eventually identified for gifted and talented services alongside our diagnosis – we end up hearing almost 20,000 more negative messages by age 12 than our neurotypical peers. I have the typical ADHD hang-ups about my intelligence, so one of the quickest ways to induce an RSD response in me is to suggest I’m stupid, untalented or generally just not good at anything. Writing for the public isn’t a kind pursuit, and the internet in general isn’t a kind place. Lack of talent will be noticed. Thus, one way I realized I could easily experience meaningful rejection was to let strangers critique my writing. That realization was the genesis for this blog.

As an upfront caveat (and maybe a last-ditch attempt to soften the degree of rejection I’m asking to experience), I will warn that I am not a professional writer, nor am I daydreaming about becoming one. I have other career goals. As an additional caveat, I will admit that demurring my own writing experience or plans won’t really make me feel better about being told my writing isn’t great. I’m not a professional video game player either, yet I gave up on playing video games for fun after my first attempt because I failed horribly at a jumping puzzle in an online mission with friends during my first ever MMORPG. My RSD is so intensely experienced that if I don’t show at least a raw, natural talent my first time doing something, I’m too ashamed to ever try, try again. My gut instinct is to try narrative writing once, laugh about my lack of experience as a cover, and test to see if anyone offers at least burgeoning positive feedback. If not, that would typically would be the end of it. I have no idea if this post evidences any actual promise, but I’m committed to writing this blog for at least a few months. Hopefully that will be long enough to draw some honest feedback, and maybe even to improve a little as a writer.

I’ll attempt to keep my posts generally light-hearted, hence the levity in Lavender and Levity, and I’ll try and learn the delicate art of good-natured self-deprecating humor. However, since this blog will discuss mental health, trauma, learning disabilities, ADHD and other such personal topics intentionally designed to be hard for me to talk about, expect some raw emotions at times. Know in advance that I’m in a generally good place, even if – like everyone else – I experience occasional setbacks and frustrations. I’m not experiencing crisis. (Did I mention I am trying to bolster my fragile self-esteem through rejection therapy? That already requires a certain amount of being in a good place, or it would be foolish to start this project right now.) I just want to live up to my full potential – whatever that is – and I need to do something that perturbs and challenges my emotionally stability to get there.  I need to risk learning I don’t have the potential I hope I have to have a chance of reaching it if I do. I’m inviting my readers to help me do that.

I’m inviting failure, but I’m not completely naive. I’m writing this blog anonymously. I will change some personal details and timings of events in my story to stay anonymous, and I will police my comment threads. Constructive criticism is welcome. Comments that make this blog an unsafe space, are wantonly disparaging or hateful towards me or anyone else, or otherwise remind me just how horrible people can be with the veil of Internet anonymity to hide them will be removed. Welcome to my little corner of the internet. Enjoy the show, and be (mostly) nice to me and each other!

Need a recap of anything I’m talking about in any post? Check out the Glossary of Terms.


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