When people first find out that their style of daydreaming has a name and that other people do it too, one question I often see is “Is it a disorder?” Some of the people who ask this question have been daydreaming for as long as they can remember and, beyond assuming that no-one else daydreamed in that way, never really saw it as a problem. That was certainly how I felt when I randomly Googled “making up stories in your head” a few years ago and realised there was a name for my style of daydreaming.
The problem is, the name “maladaptive daydreaming disorder” (MaDD) can sound frightening. That first word, maladaptive – one definition is “not adjusting adequately or appropriately to the environment or situation”. Immediately there is an implication that being a daydreamer is inappropriate or that it makes you inadequate in some way. And then there’s disorder – which also implies that something is wrong and needs to be corrected. So to someone who is basically happy with their daydreaming and started researching it simply out of curiosity, as I did, finding out that you may have “maladaptive daydreaming disorder” can be sound quite scary.
But, what constitutes a disorder in the context of mental health is open to interpretation. Generally, for something to qualify as a disorder, it has to cause distress, suffering or some kind of functional impairment. The SCIMD (which I have described here and which is used to diagnose MaDD) contains the question “Does your daydreaming cause significant distress or does it impair your social, academic, occupational, or other important areas of functioning?” You can only be diagnosed with MaDD if you can answer yes to this question. In other words, if your daydreaming doesn’t distress you and doesn’t prevent you from forming relationships or succeeding at work, then you don’t have MaDD. If you’ve got as far as completing the MDS-16 and the SCIMD, you’re probably an immersive daydreamer, but immersive daydreaming is not a disorder.
The point is, no-one else can tell you whether what you have is a disorder, because no-one else can judge whether your daydreaming (or any other mental health condition) causes you significant distress. That is for you alone to decide. No-one else is in your head, living your experiences. No-one else understands how it feels to be you. And because no-one else can fully understand the extent to which you’re experiencing distress, no-one else has the right to judge your conclusion about whether or not you have a disorder. If your daydreaming causes you significant distress (and you meet the other criteria laid out in the MDS-16 and SCIMD), then you have MaDD. No-one has the right to claim that you don’t on the basis that “everybody daydreams” or “you can just stop”. Anyone who tries is ignorant about the true nature of MaDD.
Equally, if your daydreaming doesn’t cause you significant distress, then you’re an immersive daydreamer rather than a maladaptive one. It doesn’t matter how high you score on the MDS-16 or how long you spend daydreaming or what you daydream about. If you’re happy, then you don’t have a disorder and nothing needs to change. As long as you are happy and functional and not harming anyone else, no-one has the right to judge how you choose to spend your time.
What other people think about our daydreaming, or sometimes even just what we think other people think about it, can cause us to feel a lot of shame. We don’t want to admit that we talk to ourselves, or that we have imaginary friends. We don’t want people to think we’re weird or crazy. In short, we don’t want to be judged. And that’s understandable. Being judged by someone who has no clue what’s really going on in your head isn’t nice. But usually it says far more about the person doing the judging than it does about you. There are too many people who think there is only one “right” way to be and who think that no-one can, or even should, be happy unless they conform to that definition of “right”.
There isn’t currently enough awareness of MaDD and immersive daydreaming. Many normative daydreamers simply don’t appreciate that some of us have this whole extra dimension to our lives. One of the things I hope to do through this blog is to raise awareness of immersive and maladaptive daydreaming – it’s positives and it’s negatives – because I hope that one day immersive daydreamers will feel they don’t have to hide, and maladaptive daydreamers will be able to readily access the support and treatment they need. And none of us should have to feel that we are alone.