The association between maladaptive daydreaming disorder and depression – part 2

In last week’s post, I explored some of the underlying reasons why someone might independently develop both maladaptive daydreaming disorder (MaDD) and depression. However, there are also good reasons why MaDDers may experience more negative emotions than normative daydreamers. And over time, these negative emotions can build up, until they overwhelm our joy and enthusiasm for life. When negative emotions become our default state, we are well on the way to burnout or depression. So, what negative emotions do MaDDers feel?

MaDD makes us feel bad about ourselves

Many MaDDers feel bad about having MaDD. You might think you’re the only person who daydreams in this way. You might feel no-one else understands. You might think you are weak for not being able to stop, or that it’s ridiculous to still have imaginary friends at your age. Thoughts like that can affect your self-esteem. In addition, many of us become an idealised version of ourselves, or even someone different altogether, when we daydream. If you spend long enough living as your alter ego, you can start to resent who you are in real life. You can wonder why you aren’t more confident, more successful, more attractive. And you can start to beat yourself up about not living up to the ideal version of you that you’ve created in your head. And that resentment can fuel depression.

Daydreaming socially isolates us

If you started daydreaming when you were very young, like I did, you might not have given yourself the opportunity to develop social skills. I didn’t have many real-life friends when I was a child, and it didn’t bother me because I had the loveliest group of imaginary friends I could wish for. But as I grew up, I realised that others seemed to be able to naturally connect with people in a way that I couldn’t. Seeing everyone else making friends easily and not knowing how to do it can make you question whether you have what it takes to be a good friend. And that can lead to feeling rejected or unloveable.

Daydreaming creates unrealistic expectations

Most of us have fantastic daydream lives. We are famous, successful, attractive, and, of course, we have a perfect romantic relationship with our ideal partner. Real life can look difficult, messy or boring in comparison. And if we sub-consciously expect our real life to be as amazing as our daydreams, we’re setting ourselves up for resentment and disappointment. It’s OK to be mentally dating your celebrity crush, as long as you don’t feel rejected every time they post a picture of their real-life partner on Instagram. It’s OK to have a perfect life in your head, as long as you don’t end up believing you need that perfect life to make you happy.

Daydreaming stops us from confronting our problems

When faced with a difficult situation, daydreamers have a choice. We can work through the problem and look for a solution, or we can run away into our heads and pretend the problem doesn’t exist. If you’re anything like me, running away wins nearly every time. Daydreaming is way more fun than figuring out a solution that’s going to take time and effort. I don’t want to put effort into making my problem disappear when I can daydream it away in an instant. Except that I can’t, of course. As soon as I stop daydreaming, I know the problem is still there. And most problems, if left long enough, just get bigger and bigger. Until they get overwhelming and you can’t see a way out. And then you’re on the way to burnout or depression.

Daydreaming stops us moving forward

Daydreamers aren’t good at setting goals. We aren’t good at deciding what we want out of real life. And when we don’t know what we want or how to get there, we tend to stay where we are. And while being in the same place tomorrow as you are today might not sound like a big disaster, still being in an entry-level job in your 40s can deliver a hefty dose of regret for all the opportunities you’ve passed up along the way. You’re definitely more likely to develop depression if you aren’t where you want to be in life and you know you’ve only got yourself (or your daydreaming) to blame.

It’s a depressing list, isn’t it? So many reasons that we might be feeling bad about ourselves or living a life filled with regret. But the good news is, it doesn’t have to stay that way. It doesn’t matter how old you are or how long you’ve been daydreaming, you can turn things around. You can leave the shame behind and develop a healthy relationship with your daydreaming. You can figure out what you want out of real-life, make realistic plans and follow through on them. It won’t be easy, and you may need the help and support of people around you, but it is possible.