I’m 50. I found out what maladaptive daydreaming was four years ago. Until then, I’d always assumed no-one else daydreamed the way I did. Those years of feeling alone were mostly unavoidable: the term maladaptive daydreaming wasn’t introduced in the scientific literature until 2002. So how does my experience of maladaptive (and immersive) daydreaming differ from that of younger daydreamers?
Building a career
When I found out about maladaptive daydreaming, I’d been working in my dream job for more than a decade. So I knew that being a daydreamer wasn’t a barrier to a successful career. Younger daydreamers who are struggling to study may wonder whether they’ll be able to gain the qualifications they need to pursue the career of their choice. But I’d never consciously considered how my daydreaming might affect my career. Subconsciously, though, I think it did make a difference. I knew I needed both variety and intellectual challenge to stay focussed, so I deliberately sought out roles that would give me those things.
Finding a life partner
I’d been married for over 20 years when I found out that my style of daydreaming had a name. I’d experienced how it was our imperfections, and the challenges we’d faced together, that made our relationship so strong. If I’d thought more about my daydreaming before I got married, I might have wondered whether I could be happy with someone who wasn’t as perfect as my daydream partner. But finding out about maladaptive daydreaming later in life meant that I already knew real-life relationships and daydream relationships are different, and enjoying a perfect relationship in my head didn’t mean I needed, or even wanted, that in real life.
Accepting my daydreaming
I’d been daydreaming for over 40 years when I found out it had a name. So I knew it wasn’t something I’d grow out of or something that would just fade away by itself. When you’re young, you don’t have as much control over major aspects of your life – such as where you live, who you live with, and how you spend your day. So it’s easy to think that you might stop daydreaming when your circumstances change. But although your daydreaming might flip back to immersive if your real life improves, your mind is never going to work in the same way as a non-daydreamer.
One area where I think younger daydreamers have the advantage is that they don’t have to suffer in silence like I did. Even if maladaptive daydreaming had been discovered in the 1980s, the internet didn’t exist when I was a teenager. It’s hard to open up about your daydreaming to people you know in real life. You don’t know how to explain what’s going on in your head and you worry you’re going to be judged or ridiculed. But for young daydreamers now, there are online groups where you can connect with other daydreamers in a safe space, where everyone can relate to your experience and understands what you’re going through. You don’t have to feel alone.
But today’s easy availability of information brings its own problems. Although there’s a lot of valuable information about maladaptive daydreaming online, there’s a lot of misinformation too. In particular, some websites will tell you that all vivid narrative daydreaming is maladaptive daydreaming, and therefore having complex stories and fictional characters in your head means you have a mental health problem. By the time I found out about maladaptive daydreaming, I’d been through several bouts of depression, I’d been on medication, gone to counselling and attended CBT. I hadn’t opened up about my daydreaming to any of my therapists, but I’d learned enough to know that my daydreaming wasn’t the problem, it was the way I ran away from the problem. I never saw my daydreaming as something I needed to get rid of. Instead, I instinctively knew that when my daydreaming became problematic, it was a sign there were things in real life I needed to work on.
So, knowing what I know now, do I wish I’d learned what maladaptive daydreaming was when I was a teenager? On the one hand, it would have been wonderful to know even one other person who had stories bouncing around in their head the way I did. But on the other hand, I think it was finding out later in life that gave me the determination to turn my daydreaming into a positive. After all, how broken could I be if I had a career, a marriage and a family? I saw my daydreaming as something to get curious about rather than as something to get rid of. And I’m grateful for that.
What about you? How old were you when you found out that there was a name for the way you daydreamed? Do you think it was the right age? Would you have preferred to know sooner, or do you wish you’d been older before you’d learned about maladaptive daydreaming? Let me know in the comments below.