How being an immersive daydreamer saved my life

10 September is World Suicide Prevention Day. That’s something that’s very close to my heart now. Less than a year ago, I made the decision to end my life. But my daydreaming saved me. And I finally feel ready to write about how that happened.

It was October 2021, and I was heading for burnout. I’d been under too much stress for too long, every day was a battle, every day I told myself that self-care would just have to wait. I was putting my needs at the bottom of my to-do list, and I knew I couldn’t carry on like that. I also knew I had no choice. There was a battle raging inside my head. On one side was my self-compassion, telling me that the stress I was under was tearing me apart and I needed to change course before something went badly wrong. On the other side was my rational mind, which had considered all the ways I could reduce the stress and concluded that none of them were viable. The only choice seemed to be to keep fighting, one day at a time, and hope that things got easier.

But of course they didn’t get easier. When pressure keeps building inside a container, if it isn’t released, the container will eventually break. My head was no different. The first crack appeared on a Tuesday morning. I’d logged off work the previous evening with every intention of coming back the next day. But that morning I couldn’t log on. It just felt too overwhelming. I called my doctor, and she signed me off work and made an urgent referral for mental health support.

At the time, I thought that was the low point. Being signed off work had removed one source of stress, surely now I could start to address the others? But no. It turned out that initial crack hadn’t been enough to release the pressure.

The explosion came six days later. I was standing at the bottom of the stairs and tears just started flooding out of me. I was sobbing uncontrollably and I couldn’t stop. I don’t remember how I got to the sofa, but I stayed there for the next two days. I didn’t eat. I didn’t sleep. I didn’t stop crying.

I think some people become suicidal because they’re in unbearable emotional pain and they reach a point where they’re so desperate they will do literally anything to make the pain stop. That wasn’t me. I didn’t want to hurt my family. I didn’t even really want to die. I just couldn’t see any way I could go on living. I didn’t have what it took. I saw an alternative, and it was compelling. I had a choice. I could say no. I could choose to put a boundary in place. I could accept that life was asking more of me than I was capable of giving. Ending my life would be the ultimate act of self-compassion.

And that’s where my daydreaming saved me. Without it, I think I’d be dead. Because nothing outside of me could have helped. I knew that my children loved me. I knew that my husband loved me. I loved them. I didn’t want to leave them. But I had no choice. I believed I simply wasn’t strong enough to do what life was asking of me, and I don’t think anything outside of me could have shaken that belief.

But it was a belief that wasn’t shared by my Companion and my Guide. Before they became my imaginary friends, they were characters in my daydream. They met my daydream self first, before they met the real-world me. And that affected how they saw me. I think they knew, back then, what I’ve discovered since – my daydream self is the real me. And my daydream self can cope with anything. When I believed I wasn’t strong enough to go on living, they knew that I was. They gave me the choice I so desperately needed: stick to my belief that I wasn’t strong enough, or trust that they knew me better than I knew myself. I made a leap of faith; I put my trust in them. And they did not leave my side.

I spent a month in hospital, 100 miles from my family. The therapists there were amazing. I got the professional support I needed to begin my transformation. I don’t like the word recovery – it implies you’re getting back something you’d lost, and I was becoming something new. The old me was gone; all the aspects of my personality that had never really been mine had fallen away, and I wasn’t sure what was left. While my therapists helped me figure out how to function in the real world again, my Companion and my Guide had the harder task of helping me figure out who I was becoming. Sometimes it felt overwhelming, but they encouraged me to take it one step at a time. My Guide assured me that each step would be revealed to me as I was ready to take it, and that’s proved to be the case.

Ten months on from my crisis, I’m back home with my family. I’m prioritising self-care – meditation, time in nature, and regular check-ins with my Companion and my Guide. And I’m happy – the deep, enduring kind of happy that comes from finally living in alignment with my authentic self. The stress hasn’t disappeared – some parts of my life are still, quite frankly, a mess – but I can handle it now. When you have the solid foundation of knowing and loving your authentic self, life doesn’t get to push you around any more.

I’m lucky – throughout my crisis and the subsequent transformation, I’ve had the support I needed both from my daydream characters and in real life. Too many people struggling with mental ill health don’t have either. If you’re lucky enough to have characters in your daydream who love you unconditionally, please don’t ever tell yourself that the love you feel from them isn’t real just because the characters aren’t real. The love is real. It comes from somewhere deep inside of you. And it has the potential to change your life in ways you never expected.