Have you ever allowed yourself to close your eyes for merely a moment, and suddenly find yourself out of it altogether? You can feel the wind whisking your hair around your face, and the brush of a hand on your back. You see the angry sea laid out in front of you, and grasp further to your partner as the storm rages on. Or rather perhaps you are standing in front of a vast forest, ready with equipment and fellow friends, to once and for all find yourself among the wooded land. Whether imagining yourself playing out in the future, or in a book/film, or something of your own creation altogether, you let yourself go for just that moment. You can go anywhere, be anyone, as anything falls within your grasp. But then you shake yourself out of it and come back to planet earth to listen to the rest of your professor’s lecture for the day. Daydreams get in the way, and there’s no place for them here among the reality of the day to day operations of any normal individual.
Well for maladaptive daydreamers, there isn’t all that much of a difference between reality and that other world. Between the blink of an eye I could be present and here with you, and suddenly somewhere else altogether. While you and I both know it’s merely in my mind, a simple figment of my imagination, in those moments it feels to me like so much more than that. It’s an ongoing plot in my mind, as I’ve built onto this other realm every day since I was a child and first creating it, with made-up friends and family and other loved ones all present. It is said to be a response to trauma, as a way to escape and feel secure in times of personal crisis. Many would look at this and see it as a gift, an amazing and awesome talent to disappear in a second, but anyone who would experience it would categorize it closer to a curse.
Spending anywhere from 2-10+ hours a day absent from the actual world around you, can cause anybody to miss out on many major moments in their life. It’s an addiction, a pull to simply allow oneself to slip away into the background, and into another environment altogether. The maladaptive daydreaming disorder is one that many don’t understand, as they cannot see the toll it can take on any individual pushed to succumb to those fantasies. Without the ability to acknowledge that line between real and fake, you find yourself lying victim to an entourage of emotions that should only be reserved for actuality.
These characters that build up around you, live with you and support you and love you, feel the same as any friend or family member in real life. They have names, personalities, entire lives. So when one of them leaves or dies, as all people do, a maladaptive daydreamer is going to grieve as if they lived. This may all sound crazy or hallucinative to many who don’t understand it, but that’s how real these pieces of this other reality feel to oneself, as they most likely have accompanied the maladaptive daydreamer for more than half of their life-time already. The eye-opening reality of the situation can cause one to lose themselves into the reverie.
The actual process of daydreaming can occur at any point during the day, usually when one is triggered by a real-world event. Something so simple such as music, a movie, a book, or merely something someone said can activate these daydreams. Otherwise sometimes they occur when one feels the need or the pull to slip away. It’s extremely distracting, taking up any and all thoughts when one is supposed to be focusing on something else entirely, and usually withholding one from the ability to easily sleep. Other actions or movements can accompany these daydreams, especially if one has not formerly trained themself to adapt in a public environment. These can include shaking, moving, talking, and unconsciously making facial expressions. I for one used to rock or pace back and forth when daydreaming, before teaching myself how to do it when sitting still, and now mainly struggle with the talking or expression aspect there.
So while many would look at the description of Maladaptive Daydreaming and see a pleasurable escape that relieves you from any sort of boredom, I simply see the addictive and obsessive tendencies that pull me away from the world around me and experiences I could be having. Yes, while the enjoyment that follows those moments of taking down the vengeful monarchy or ice skating with a partner purely made from stone is amazing- you cannot be so ignorant as to forget the rest. I am at a point in my life where I can notice and acknowledge how much it has taken from me, whether that be those experiences or just the ability to form normal relationships a large percentage of the time, and must move past only the focus pinpointed on the gratifying aspects that come with all the bad.
Side note: If you have heard of Maladaptive Daydreaming before this point, you probably heard it on social media. The community aspect of sharing your experiences with this rare disorder online has been something that has offered great support during darker moments for myself and many others. But there is a more negative side to this, as misinformation has and continues to be spread around. There is a big difference between slipping away into little daydreams from time to time during the day, and it consuming your entire life- as this other reality becomes a piece of you much like the actual reality is. If you match up with many of the symptoms I have laid out in this blog, ensure to do your own research as well, before being misguided to diagnose yourself without all the facts first as many do.