Do NOT give up your coping mechanism

Maladaptive daydreaming is very often a coping mechanism. Something in real life isn’t the way we want, or need, it to be. So we mentally check out of real life and imagine a better or safer world. But then, of course, our daydreaming gets out of control and starts causing problems of its own. And we realise it’s harming us more than it’s helping us. That’s the time when some maladaptive daydreamers wonder if they should just stop.

My experience of not daydreaming

Leaving aside the fact that you can’t “just stop” an addictive behaviour that’s available to you in any place and at any time, stopping a coping mechanism that you still need can be a really bad idea. That, unfortunately, is perfectly illustrated by what happened to me during the pandemic.

A study published in November 2020 reported that many daydreamers found their daydreaming became more maladaptive during lockdown. For daydreamers who were furloughed and suddenly found themselves with a lot more free time, I can see why that would be the case. But I was busier during lockdown than I have ever been in my life.

My typical lockdown day involved spending the morning home-schooling a reluctant eight-year-old, the afternoon and evening trying to keep on top of my work-from-home job, and if I was lucky, spending a few minutes with my husband and children. Day after day, for months, I did not have a minute to myself. I was busy from the moment I woke up until the moment I crashed, exhausted, into bed. And I never had the house to myself. I did not have the time or the privacy to daydream. My go-to coping mechanism was suddenly not an option.

Those of you who were reading this blog in 2021 will know what happened next. Shortly after lockdown lifted in the UK, I had a serious mental-health crisis that nearly ended my life and put me in a psych hospital for a month. I look back on that time now as both the worst and the best thing that ever happened to me. I turned my life around as a result. But that doesn’t change the fact that for three days, my life was in very real danger.

It was not daydreaming that caused the crisis

Being a daydreamer was not the reason I became suicidal. I became suicidal because I was going through a depressive episode, I was under a lot of stress, and I wasn’t able to deal with that stress in the way I normally would – by daydreaming. And that’s the important point.

If your daydreaming is the only way you’re coping with something you can’t control or aren’t ready to deal with, you must not stop daydreaming. If daydreaming is your coping mechanism, it’s serving a purpose. And if you take away your coping mechanism, there’s a very real possibility you’ll end up worse off.

That does not mean maladaptive daydreaming is OK

Just because your maladaptive daydreaming is serving a purpose does not mean it isn’t also messing up your life. Both things can be true at the same time. That’s what tends to happen with unhealthy coping mechanisms. But when you recognise that a coping mechanism is unhealthy, the solution isn’t to get rid of the coping mechanism and let the underlying problem consume you. The solution is to either address the underlying problem or find a healthier coping mechanism. And both of those options mean you have to take your focus off the daydreaming.

If you’re using maladaptive daydreaming to cope with a problem that is still very real and present in your life, you can’t afford to focus on the problems your daydreaming is causing. You can’t afford to try to shame yourself into change. And you can’t afford to listen to anyone who thinks stopping daydreaming completely is the answer. That might work for some people, but it doesn’t take into account the reality of your situation. What you have to do is focus on the problem your maladaptive daydreaming is protecting you from. Make sure you have a healthier way to deal with that before you try to make any changes to your daydreaming.

Eliminate the need for a coping mechanism

Maladaptive daydreaming is a complicated condition, and the process of overcoming it is also complicated. When your maladaptive daydreaming is the way you’re coping with an underlying problem, your focus has to be on resolving that underlying problem or at least finding a better way to cope with it. When you do that, you don’t need to use your daydreaming to cope. And once you don’t need your maladaptive daydreaming, it becomes a lot easier to deal with.