To review, the suggested course of action for this LW might be:
1) Consult mental health/health team about mitigating anxiety about self-soothing strategies, dealing with intrusive thoughts, and the possibility of medication.
2) Possibly treat this as an attention budgeting problem. You need to budget less attention for the current horrible workplace, a gentle increase in job-searching and career-planning attention, and (the topic of this post) a way to budget time and energy to deal with the ups and downs of rejection when the RSD kicks in. Some strategies include:
- Mentally & emotionally disengage as much as possible from current workplace. It can't be fixed and you don't have to fix it. Throw away your insecure overachiever conditioning and all the messages that ADHD kids get about "not living up to potential" and figure out how to do the minimum and put your work self on autopilot as much as possible. Since the horrible boss is a problem, do some work on de-escalating and disengaging from conflicts with that person to the extent you can, with the goal of minimizing the disruption of any interaction that is not specifically about "this needs to happen so that your work can happen."
- Build a very gentle "job and career thinking" schedule, where you do a small amount of work on finding a new position and getting out of your current workplace. Give yourself tons of treats and rewards for effort (vs. results) and consider working with an accountability buddy who can cheer you on and keep you motivated.
3) What I want to do in this post is to talk about creating some rituals for when the familiar panic at having been rejected and the slurry of shame and avoidance start flooding all your systems. How can you take care of yourself and get back to (somewhat) normal after an episode?
I'm not religious, but I love rituals. I love the thing Rae McDaniel suggested about the holidays, where we can bookend a difficult family visit with something really soothing and caring to transition back to the life we created for ourselves. I applied that this year, renting a very inexpensive AirBnB for the first weekend in January so I could have some alone time to decompress, plan, and write, and I think that is going to be my First Weekend of January thing forever.
I don't think I'm alone in this, but I spend a truly astounding amount of time trying to talk myself out of having feelings. I don't have feelings, I have thoughts. Okay, I have feelings, but they're stupid and pointless, they don't really affect me. Okay, they are affecting me, I feel quite bad, so how can I stop feeling bad? How do I "snap out of it"? How do I skip this part, "push past it," and move directly to the next part? This is old conditioning from a childhood where expressing or displaying a feeling meant being immediately contradicted or corrected, and it's also a hand-me-down from a toxic patriarchal culture that idolizes "logic" (aka man-thoughts minus man-feelings) and tells us that feelings are things that hold us back or distract us instead of treating them like important sources of information. I grew up thinking my feelings were the wrong feelings and anyway I should be able to outsmart them, and if some of them leaked out of my eyes or my mouth from time to time that was a failure to be worked on, not a sign that something might be, you know, actually difficult for me ("You're so smart, you can do anything you put your mind to, so if you struggle you must not be trying hard enough") or deeply wrong ("Don't be so dramatic, you're exaggerating, I don't remember that").
One of the most common questions I get in the inbox is from readers who are trying to avoid future feeling bad or the possibility of making anybody else feel bad (usually in a situation where they are already feeling bad) and I feel such a kinship with these questions, I truly cannot describe the "OH BUDDY, R U ME, I LOVE YOU" reaction I have to these questions because that impulse is so deeply relatable. But we can't prevent feelings, we can't control them, we can't even predict them. In the literature about RSD a common thread is "talk therapy doesn't really help with this because the reactions are unpredictable by nature." And that's where the avoidance comes in hard, right? I'm afraid of triggering bad feelings in myself and others so I better stay quiet about what I need. I'm afraid of putting myself out there so I should just not apply. If I have to have a feeling, let me stay inside here with my shame, at least that's familiar. And shame is like, Hello Old Friend, let's settle in, why don't you put the kettle on, or maybe don't, we can't have you feeling better when feeling bad will suffice!
A thing I often tell my students who are trying to work in the arts is that the industry has enough rejection for everyone, you don't have to manufacture your own. Make them do the work of rejecting you, don't do it for them. CATS WAS A REAL MOVIE, Taika Waititi successfully went with "Funny Hitler, but you know, for children!" (and more than pulled that off, but STILL, the pitch, imagine the pitch), so you might as well shoot your shot.
If you do apply for jobs, you are going to experience at least some rejection. It's just...it's not avoidable. It's part of the process.
If you don't apply, you are going to experience shame and the whole bundle of horrible emotions you are experiencing now - hatred of your job, fear of being trapped, and the pain of rejection anyway because you are pre-rejecting yourself from new opportunities and a new life. And hello, here's shame again, singing the old song you know about "never living up to your potential" and how you "should" be able to overcome this so everything is all your fault.
Does it help if you look at it as two choices where you will definitely feel bad either way but one choice maybe gets you a better job so maybe that kind of feeling bad is slightly better?
What if you had a ritual where you could put that shame and the other bad feelings? Like, yep, okay, it's happening again, so instead of beating myself up for these feelings or trying to distract myself from them or convince myself not to have them, I'm going to lean the fuck in to the terribleness for a defined period of time and then when the timer goes off I'm going to lean back out.
My friend M. gets bad seasonal depression and when he feels it coming on in the fall, he has a ritual to welcome it in. He takes a day off work so he gets a three-day weekend, he stocks up on uncomplicated frozen foods of childhood, he turns off his phone, he closes all his blinds and shades so zero light comes into his apartment, and then he listens to The Soul Cages album (yes, by Sting) and cries in the dark and sleeps. For three days.
On the fourth day he showers and opens the curtains and goes to work and tries to get back to his normal life. He's still depressed because the ritual doesn't cure or fix seasonal affective disorder, but after that three days in the soul cage with nothing but fish fingers and weeping, the depression-help-maintenance stuff like sitting by the full-spectrum lamp in the mornings, vitamin D supplements and daily walks and keeping therapy appointments feels a little easier somehow. He embraced How Bad It Could Get for a second and he knows he doesn't want to live there.
This ritual is M-specific so I'm not suggesting you adopt its exact practices wholesale, but what would happen if you built two RSD-related rituals for yourself?
Ritual 1: You've been turned down from a job and you get 24 hours to feel fucking terrible about it without apology, pep talks, the word "should," being cheered up, attempting to cheer yourself up, "getting back on the horse," etc.
Set a timer for 24 hours. Listen to the saddest music you own, create a complete catalog of all your failures and shortcomings and every mean thing anyone has ever said about you with refrigerator magnet poetry, write elaborate prophesies of doom, do chain-smoking except with a series of naps that flow seamlessly into other naps broken up only by the sound of the buzzer when your GrubHub delivery arrives or the toaster dinging when your Pop Tarts pop up, I don't know, choose your own misadventure.
Probably don't dial the confusing ex in your phone under "Bad Idea, Never Answer" and sleep with them, and definitely don't cut your own bangs. Otherwise, be like that bit in Little Women when they all decide to go on chore strike and Meg ruins the blancmange with salt instead of sugar and Beth does her chores anyway (because Fucking Beth, that's why).
There are people who would suggest adopting healthy habits here, like, well, distract yourself with getting some vigorous exercise and singing to the plants while you water them and then fix a healthy fresh meal with vegetables and if that's what sounds good to you go for it, but I am really talking about giving yourself permission to feel as bad as you actually feel for 24 hours.
LET YOURSELF FEEL THE SHITTY FEELINGS, EVERY LAST ONE, WE'RE HAVING A SHITTY FEELINGS PARTY, NOBODY CHEERFUL OR HELPFUL OR OPTIMISTIC IS INVITED, THIS IS A 'FUCK SOLUTIONS, WE'RE WALLOWING IN PROBLEMS TONIGHT' ANTI-PARTY<3)
Ritual 2: You've spent the last 24 hours feeling totally fucking terrible and now you need to take one clear, visible, repeatable, constructive step back to your daily life.
You have ADHD which leads to perfectionism which leads to overcommitting to all the wrong things in times of crisis and times not of crisis so all I'll say about this is think more like: "I will eat a nice breakfast, floss thoroughly, and wear Really Good Lipstick/My lucky never-fail shirt today, even if I'm not going anywhere" or "I will schedule a hangout with my most encouraging and helpful and loving friend to eat cheese and watch Sanditon" than "I will now design and implement the greatest home organization system the world has ever seen, time to take everything out of the closets, goddamnit where did I put my Pantone color swatch book! I cannot put laundry away until I know what color the storage solutions will be!" in terms of ambition. Ritual 2 isn't "Take on something ambitious and new!" it's "Make a small visible stab of effort."
Perhaps some visual aids?
Ritual 1? Dramatic is just fine.
Ritual 2? Wash your face and embrace the anticlimax. ;-)
Here's the thing about rituals...maybe they sound or feel silly, but they do actually help me. I once got an assignment from a therapist to repeat affirmations into the mirror at myself every morning and I actually got so upset that it worked (It can't be that easy, right? It must be a trick?) that I stopped out of spite even though, I repeat, it worked.
- The "Shit my boss says"/"Do I have to care?" log from yesterday's post is a kind of ritual about disengaging from the deluge of how much your workplace sucks.
- The 30 minutes/1 hour/2 hours of "Career planning future time" every week can be a ritual about putting all your future/job thoughts and feelings into a predictable box.
- Weekly therapy can be a kind of ritual, sometimes when I'm down I don't know if it's working (usually other people tell me when it's working because I am noticeably less of a depressing asshole) but just the fact of "Friday at 12:30 is when I am going to talk about/cry about that, so I don't have to handle it all right now" can be a small relief.
- Morning pages, Julia Cameron's solution of writing 3 pages of stream-of-consciousness every morning when you first wake up is a ritual that I know has changed the whole direction of my life at times when I can stick with it. (It can be 1 page btw. It can be half a page. It doesn't matter what the output is, the ritual does the work.)
- Often mentioned on the site, diverting problematic relatives into a scheduled weekly or monthly catchup call session is a ritual. "I don't have to deal with Difficult Parent Stuff today, that's for next Sunday at 2."
I SUCK SO BAD AT SCHEDULING but it still works to put a little space and time around certain things, to protect them and acknowledge them as important. Sometimes "weird stupid feelings I hate" are what most need that space and time, but I have the least practice and experience in letting those things be actually important, and when every scheduling app and calendar and advice thing in the world is about "being more productive" and "accomplishing goals" and our whole culture is like "CONQUER YOUR FEELINGS TO BE SUCCESS" and "This $5 you spent on a quiet coffee or a matinee is the only money that could possibly buy cat food in your retirement, you fool, why are you wasting it, also that was time you should have been looking at job listings or finally finding a skincare routine that works for you" and "Look this CEO drinks green tea once a day and uses an expensive device that is basically a wristwatch to steal the 15 minutes of her day that lead to OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT (p.s. she has all the money and last cooked a meal, washed her own laundry, or dealt with 'errands' in 1998)." In the midst of all the pressure and shoulds, it can feel transgressive to say "Look, I am doing a really hard thing with a brain that is not cooperating and I need some time to maybe just feel bad and regroup before I can start Doing Things again."
So look at it this way: When students with learning disabilities and diagnoses like ADHD present their accommodation letters at the beginning of the term, the letters don't say "ensure this student never experiences negative feedback, discomfort ,or the prospect of rejection." The letters outline accommodations like "recruit a paid notetaker from the class" or "make sure this student has more time + a quiet, distraction-free space for exams" and that's why I'm casting this as a time-attention-budget problem and set of solutions. You don't need to never look for jobs, you need to figure out the accommodations that would help you get it done, because you are trying to do a thing that is hard for everyone with a brain that makes it so much harder for you.
Hopefully something in here will help, please know I'm sending you love and solidarity and luck and permission to just feel terrible sometimes if that's what you need to do. Brains are terrible. <3