Why I Sometimes Miss My Maladaptive Daydreaming in Recovery
Growing up, maladaptive daydreaming was a huge part of my life. Of course, I didn't realize it was maladaptive until I went off to college and the daydreams just sort of stopped. I missed them a lot at first, and there are times even now, several years into my recovery from depression and anxiety, that I miss my daydreams.
What Is Maladaptive Daydreaming?
Maladaptive daydreaming is exactly what it sounds like. Daydreaming is when people use their imagination to create a fictional scenario in their minds, which can often be incredibly detailed and nuanced; and maladaptive daydreaming is when this imaginative world goes from a harmless distraction to a very problematic compulsion. According to Professor Eli Somer, the man who identified maladaptive daydreaming as a serious problem, it is:
". . . an excessive and vivid fantasy activity that interferes with an individual's normal functioning and can result in severe distress."1
Because researchers have only begun looking into maladaptive daydreaming fairly recently, it isn't categorized as a disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) yet, but it really can be a big problem for the people who experience it. According to one self-reporting study, people who experience maladaptive daydreaming often daydream for upwards of four hours per day2 and they may feel very distressed when they are pulled away from their daydreams.
My Experience with Maladaptive Daydreaming
For me, daydreaming was always part of my daily life. I have an incredibly rich imagination, and from the time I was in elementary school up until I left for college, I could easily spend hours each day lost in my daydreams.
Usually, they involved something terrible happening and I would be the tragic protagonist, surviving the unendurable. Often, my family would die in car accidents, there would be a school shooter, my friends and I would get lost in the woods for days, and plenty of other scenarios that probably would have seemed disturbing to an outsider. But to me, these daydreams weren't depressing, they were just a story where I got to be the main character. I wasn't worried about any of these things happening in real life, I just loved reading and drama, and I constantly found myself creating my own stories in my head.
Then I left for college and after a few months I woke up one day to find that the daydreams were gone. I tried to recreate them, but I just couldn't get into it. At first, I thought it was because I was too depressed to daydream, but even when I felt good, the daydreams weren't coming to me like they used to and I simply couldn't force it.
Looking back, this is how I know what I experienced was maladaptive daydreaming. It wasn't a choice; it wasn't something I consciously chose to do; it was a coping mechanism that I used all the time without any real control. It was a form of dissociation I used to cope with my emotionally-invalidating home life. Once I left home, the daydreams weren't necessary anymore, and so they faded away.
Why I Miss My Maladaptive Daydreams Sometimes
The entire time I was actively engaging in maladaptive daydreaming, I didn't realize it was maladaptive. I thought it was just part of being creative, so when it went away, I really missed it. My inner life felt a lot less interesting without constant stories running through my head. Now, several years later, I'm fairly used to living without my daydreams, but sometimes I still miss them.
I miss the ability to slip away into my mind and tell myself a story for hours on end. I recognize that it's for the best, and now that I'm not trapped in my daydreams, I can really engage in life in a way I always avoided when I was younger. But I still miss the stories.
Do you experience maladaptive daydreaming? How has your recovery affected your daydreams? I'd love to hear more from others who have lost their maladaptive daydreaming and still miss it sometimes. Share your story in the comments below.
- Schimmenti A., Somer E., et al., "Maladaptive Daydreaming: Towards a Nosological Definition." Annales Médico-Psychologiques, Revue Psychiatrique, November 2019.
- Young E., "People with 'Maladaptive Daydreaming' Spend an Average of Four Hours a Day Lost in Their Imagination." The British Psychological Society, Research Digest, June 2018.
Griffith, M. (2020, May 12). Why I Sometimes Miss My Maladaptive Daydreaming in Recovery, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, September 20 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/recoveringfrommentalillness/2020/5/why-i-sometimes-miss-my-maladaptive-daydreaming-in-recovery