The main thing that maladaptive daydreaming steals from us is time. A lot of time. And as a result, many maladaptive daydreamers feel as though they’re falling behind with life and it’s too late to turn things around. We think we would have accomplished so much more if we hadn’t spent all that time daydreaming. And then we feel bad about ourselves. And we blame our daydreaming for everything that’s wrong in our lives.
Most of us have some kind of life plan. The milestones and ages will vary from person to person, but the general idea is the same. You’re supposed to have achieved certain things by the time you reach a certain age, otherwise you’ve left it too late and you’re a failure.
And if you don’t impose this arbitrary timescale on yourself, then your family, friends or culture will probably do it for you. Society tends to judge us by what we have, or haven’t, done with our lives.
But many maladaptive daydreamers fall behind schedule. We see people younger than us who have achieved so much more than we have. And we wonder if it’s too late to change. And we tell ourselves that all that time spent daydreaming is somehow to blame.
But your daydreaming didn’t come out of nowhere. In most cases, you were already behind schedule, and daydreaming was the way you attempted to cope with it. Perhaps something happened to you in childhood, or maybe it was something more recent, but somewhere along the line, something didn’t go the way it should have. And suddenly life was more difficult, and more painful, than you could handle. And so you escaped to your daydream world to get away from it.
But when you use daydreaming to escape from a painful reality, it causes problems of its own. You stop working on real life. And so that difficult, messy, painful reality just gets worse, because now you aren’t even attempting to solve your problems.
When you wake up years later and feel as though you’ve daydreamed your life away, you’re partially right. Your daydreaming has stolen time from you. Time that you will never get back. Time that you could have used more productively. But your daydreaming is not solely to blame. Your life wasn’t going well when you started daydreaming. If it had been, your daydreaming wouldn’t have got out of control.
The only solution is to take charge of your life and start fixing your problems. It’s not easy to do. It requires courage, and commitment, and a lot of hard work. For many of us, it also requires therapy.
But the good news is it’s never too late. It doesn’t matter how old you are or how long you’ve been daydreaming. It doesn’t matter how many opportunities have passed you by. You still have time ahead of you. And that’s time you can use to turn things around.
I can say this because I’ve done it. I used to let life happen to me. It never occurred to me that I could control my emotions or my circumstances, let alone my daydreams. I was so terrified of confrontation that I avoided interacting with people. I was so terrified of being judged that I didn’t let anyone see my authentic self. And whenever anything went wrong, I would escape into a daydream. I didn’t know there was any other way.
It took a serious mental health crisis to wake me up. But since then, I’ve turned my life around. I’ve come to know, and love, my authentic self. I’ve left a career I no longer enjoyed, and I’ve embraced my calling as a writer. And when I went to therapy, I took responsibility for my healing instead of hoping the therapist would fix me. I’ve mended relationships I wanted to keep, and let go of relationships that weren’t healthy for me. I’ve started taking care of my physical and mental health. And I’m even learning the cello.
I had my breakdown at the age of 49. Now, at 51, my life is better than it was at 30, or 40. And I honestly believe the best years of my life are ahead of me. I don’t regret the wasted years, because I’m too excited about what’s to come. I’m grateful for what I have now and what I’m building for the future.
And none of it had anything to do with my daydreaming. Yes, there have been times in my life when my daydreaming was out of control and making all my problems so much worse. But my problems didn’t go away because I stopped daydreaming. My problems went away because I committed to working on them. I haven’t stopped daydreaming. It’s easier to manage now that I don’t need to use it as an escape. But it’s still there. And I think it always will be.
The point is, if you aren’t where you’d hoped to be by this point in your life, it does not mean you’ve failed. It does not mean your life is over. And it does not mean you can’t turn things around. Your maladaptive daydreaming might be contributing to the problem, but it is not the problem. Stopping daydreaming will not fix everything. You have to work on real life. You have to take back control. Whether you’re in your 30s, 40s or even older, it is not too late. You can’t get the wasted years back, but you can create a beautiful life in the years you have left.
[Photo by Ravish Maqsood]