It’s been a transformative few months. In the middle of October I had a mental breakdown. It had nothing to do with being a daydreamer. I’d been trying to struggle on through lockdown-induced burnout, pressures at work and a complicated family situation for far too long. Everyone has their breaking point, and I found mine. I cried for two days solid; I thought the most compassionate thing I could do for myself would be to end my life, and the only reason I didn’t was that I could barely put a coherent thought together, so getting out of bed to find a knife or take an overdose was just too much effort.
After several days in crisis, I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital; I ended up staying for four weeks. I remember waking up on the first day in hospital wondering how things could have reached this point and whether I was ever going to be able to recover. But over the next few days and weeks, the world slowly started to look brighter.
The thing about being in a psychiatric hospital is that it’s a safe place and you’re surrounded by the most caring people (both staff and fellow patients). You leave your pretences and judgements at the door, along with all the day-to-day stressors that contributed to the crisis. You’re looked after while you work on yourself. And it’s hard work. We had three to four hours of group therapy every day, and as a result of that, not only was I able to make sense of what had happened to me, I was also able to start to understand some things about myself.
One of the first things I realised was that the old me died when I had the breakdown. I will never go back to being my old self, because the person I was doesn’t exist any more. Things will never go back to the way they were, because the way things were made me ill, and if I go back to that life I will just get ill again. What happened to me was one of those rare turning points that only come along once or twice in a lifetime – those moments when you know everything is going to change. In one of our therapy sessions, we were invited to draw a picture that represented how we were feeling. In that moment, I didn’t know how I was feeling, so I just went with the first thing that came into my head. It was an image of a dragon’s egg cracking open inside a volcano (because, obviously, I’m a daydreamer so I wasn’t going to come up with anything mundane). It was only when I reflected on it afterwards that I realised I was trying to represent the ultimate in new beginnings, and that whatever I end up doing with the rest of my life, I’m going to do with fire and confidence and passion.
I only mentioned my daydreaming once while I was in hospital – not because I was embarrassed or trying to hide it, but because for the most part it wasn’t relevant to everything else that was going on. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t still with me. It got me through the early nights when I was still adjusting to the medication and couldn’t sleep. I’m sure only a daydreamer can lie awake in bed all night and feel completely at peace.
One thing I realised during my time in hospital was that I’ve spent my whole life suppressing my authentic self because it felt safer to be the person that the people around me wanted me to be. Fear of rejection led me to reject myself. It was only in the safe environment of the hospital that I felt able to let down the mask and be more authentic. And that’s where I’m profoundly grateful that I’m a daydreamer. Because when I suppressed my authentic self, I didn’t lose touch with her completely. She became my alter ego. My authentic self found expression in the one place where she was safe from rejection and judgement – my own mind. The person I become in my daydreams isn’t the person I would have liked to have been, she’s the person I was born to be, the person that until now I wasn’t brave enough to be.
A few days before I was admitted to hospital, I asked my daydream mentor how to begin my healing journey. And what he told me was “It’s not a healing journey, it’s a learning journey”. He was right. I learned so much about myself in hospital, and I’m still learning, both inside and outside the daydreams. We never really stop learning. So perhaps I don’t need to know where I’m going because I’ll never arrive. I’ll always want to keep going – learning new things, living new experiences, dreaming new dreams. When I left hospital, I told everyone I’d reached the end of chapter one. I’m looking forward to writing chapter two.
PS – Regular readers might notice that I’ve changed my display name on this blog. My real name doesn’t entirely feel as though it belongs to me any more, so I’ve decided to blog under my daydream name for the time being. It feels more me.