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Behind the Mask

Depression and anxiety lie. Jenny Lawson has said it many times. So has Wil Wheaton. I’ve said it to many people, friends and strangers. I tell it to myself.

The sad thing is, even when you know it rationally, you can still fall for their lies. The saddest thing? The lies aren’t even all that good.

A couple of days ago, I had a very, very good day. That morning, two of my best friends told me I seemed more confident lately. When it came to digging at the roots of my anxiety and depression, “You’re making more progress than you think you are.” They both told me they were proud of me. I was beaming. Later that day, I got to hang out with one of them and chat on the phone with the other. With both friends, we made each other laugh so hard, I had trouble breathing. It was a very, very good day.

Sadly, the next day was terrible.

For the most part, I like my ADHD brain. Honestly, I don’t really mind being easily distracted, having little sense of time or space, going nonlinear, being creative and imaginative, being emotional and sensitive. Except…the sensitivity and high emotions also come with Rejection-Sensitive Dysphoria, which I only recently read about but which resonated strongly with me and explained a lot of bad interactions I’ve had with friends and romantic partners throughout my life.

Saturday was an RSD day. All it took was me sending out a few “Good morning! How’s it going?” messages to friends and not getting any replies for…oh, an hour or two, and I suddenly flipped into “I’ve been rejected!” mode. My brain started spinning all kinds of lies, one on top of the other, spinning out into a thrilling combination of spiraling-up anxiety and spiraling-down depression. “Your friends don’t really love you. Nobody loves you. You’re needy and insecure, a burden on everyone! If you withdraw, nobody will come for you! If you reach out for reassurance, you’ll push everyone away! Even when you explain what’s going on in your head and they tell you they understand and it’s okay, they’ll still ditch you as soon as they can to get away from your craziness! They’re probably all talking about you behind your back right now, asking each other how long they can stand it before they have to cut you loose!” I kept telling myself these thoughts weren’t true, they weren’t helpful, they weren’t good for me. I did my best to keep my breathing deep and regular. I talked to myself internally as if I were talking to my best friend instead of myself, because if your best friend came to you and said “I’m having these difficult feelings,” you wouldn’t tell them they were a crazy burden, no, you’d comfort them and tell them they’re loved and accepted for who they are. But no matter what I did, I couldn’t get away from the feeling that I was driving everyone away with my poorly-controlled emotions.

This went all day and into the night. And then just as suddenly as it had come on, I saw through it all. The monster that was yelling all these things in my head was revealed to be the cheesiest, hammiest actor in a cheap, rubber suit. Everything it was saying was nonsense. Yes, I’ve had people tell me I was weird and annoying, but they weren’t friends of mine. Yes, I’ve had romantic partners break up with me for reasons that probably had to do in some way with my ADHD, depression, and anxiety, but for the most part, it was because we weren’t a good match romantically, and that’s nobody’s fault, that’s just life. How many close friends have I lost because they couldn’t deal with my depression, anxiety, my emotional sensitivity? I can’t think of any. How many close friends have told me they love me, stuck with me during the difficult times, accepted me for who I am? Pretty much all of them. Sure, some friends drift away, the closeness fades. That’s nobody’s fault, that’s just life.

Sure, I’ve had friends tease me and hurt my feelings, but only unintentionally, and when I told them, they apologized. And the friendships continued. Sure, I’ve gotten embarrassed and felt uncomfortable when my emotions amped up around friends, but my friends have always assured me they still like me. And the friendships continued. Sure, my sensitivity and insecurities have gotten the better of me, causing me to react badly, but I apologized. And the friendships continued.

Depression and anxiety feed off of and into the emotional sensitivity that comes with ADHD, but they lie. They fucking lie. They tell you over and over again that you’re broken, unlovable, on the verge of being rejected and abandoned. But the reality is this: the people who truly love you, the ones you would stick with if they were acting this way, will stick with you when you’re acting this way. And the horrible monster telling you what a terrible loser you are is just a shitty, cheap special effect delivering badly written dialogue.

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