Five truths that helped me overcome maladaptive daydreaming

For years, my daydreaming oscillated between immersive and maladaptive. There were times when I could enjoy it without it affecting other parts of my life. And then there were times when it was so compellingly addictive that it was hard to focus on anything else. For a long time, I thought those swings from immersive to maladaptive and back again just happened. It didn’t occur to me that I could take control of my daydreaming and decide how I wanted to use it. But then I learned five truths about maladaptive daydreaming that allowed me to heal and to turn my daydreaming into a powerful source of inspiration and motivation.

I am not alone

When I discovered that my addiction to my imaginary world was called maladaptive daydreaming and that other people also experience it, my life shifted. The shame I used to feel about my daydreaming began to fall away. My mind wasn’t uniquely defective. I wasn’t broken. I had a mental-health problem. And as I’d already discovered from my long battle with depression, mental-health problems can be managed and even overcome. Discovering the term “maladaptive daydreaming” meant that I could learn about it, understand myself better, and figure out how to improve my life.

Maladaptive daydreaming is a symptom of something deeper

The second thing that made a big difference to my recovery was realising that maladaptive daydreaming is a coping mechanism. It allowed me to avoid thinking about the things in my life that were painful or difficult. It was how I escaped. And when I had more to escape from – when I felt overwhelmed, or burnt out, or depressed – my daydreaming became more maladaptive. Therefore, if I wanted to heal from maladaptive daydreaming, I was going to have to face all the things I was running away from. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I healed from maladaptive daydreaming at about the same time that I got serious about overcoming a lifetime of low-level depression.

My mind was trying to protect me

Understanding that maladaptive daydreaming is a coping mechanism helped me to see that my mind was trying to protect me. My daydreaming didn’t become maladaptive because my mind wanted to indulge in some fun fantasy. My daydreaming became maladaptive because my life was a mess. And my mind wanted to protect me from the emotional pain associated with that. That meant that my mind wasn’t the enemy. My mind was trying to help me by providing an alternative to my painful reality.

On one level, it’s real

Obviously, I’ve always known that my daydreams aren’t real. That’s one of the defining characteristics of maladaptive daydreaming. But paradoxically, part of my healing involved accepting that, in some ways, it is real. The characters in my daydreams aren’t real, but the emotions I feel for them are real. My daydream self isn’t real, but she can still help me understand who I am. The events I daydream about never happened in the real world, but I still have memories of them, and for the most part they’re good memories.

My daydreams have always been a source of love and connection. And my daydream self is as valid as the person I show up as in reality. Denying that was blocking me from healing. It wasn’t helping me to pretend that the love isn’t real just because the characters aren’t real, or that the connections aren’t valuable just because they only exist in my mind.

Immersive daydreaming is a special and beautiful thing

And the final truth, which I’m grateful for each and every day, is that I’m an immersive daydreamer. My mind is never going to work the way most people’s minds work. I’ll always have stories bouncing around in there. I’ll always address my thoughts to a fictional character. I never need to feel bored, or lonely.

Immersive daydreaming isn’t “normal” in the sense that it isn’t the way most people think. I’m not like other people in that respect, and I never will be. And that’s OK. Because I have this amazing ability to find motivation and inspiration, to solve my problems, and to regulate my emotions, just by tapping into my imagination. And I think that’s special, and beautiful.

These five truths led to lasting healing

These five truths didn’t come all at once. They built on each other over time. But as I came to accept them, my mindset shifted. I had tried so hard, so many times, to stop daydreaming and live just one life, the way most people do. It never worked for long. Because I wasn’t meant to live just one life.

Once I understood what my daydreaming really was and why it had become maladaptive, it was easier to heal. I stopped fighting myself. I stopped believing that my life would be better if I could just think the same way as everyone else. And I dared to explore the possibilities that came when I made peace with my imagination.