When I was ten years old, I used to run home from school so I could daydream. I can vividly remember how intense the urge was. I needed to daydream. There was no why. Pressure had been building up inside me all day, and I knew that as soon as I got into my bedroom and shut the door, all that tension, all that stress, would just melt out of me. And what I’ve only recently realised is that I wasn’t running away from reality.
Maladaptive daydreaming usually starts as an escape. Something in real life isn’t the way we want, and so we escape from that painful or unfulfilling reality by creating a daydream world where everything is under our control. That was me, to a certain extent. As a child, I was bored and lonely much of the time. My imaginary friends and imaginary worlds were the way I avoided the pain of being alone. But it was more than that. Because when I got home from school and shut the door on the rest of the world, I wasn’t trying to block out reality; I was being pulled into something. Something accepting, loving and freeing. Something that made me feel alive.
My daydream world was, and is, my safe space, my playground. It’s where I can be fully, openly, unapologetically me. I don’t have to pretend. I don’t have to compromise. And I don’t have to care what anyone else thinks. It’s the ultimate in letting go.
Daydreaming becomes an unhealthy coping mechanism when we use it to avoid facing our real-life problems. But daydreaming can be both an unhealthy coping mechanism and something incredibly precious. It can be something that takes you away from reality and something that allows you to find yourself.
Daydreaming steals our motivation. It’s difficult to motivate yourself to work towards something in real life when you can have it instantly in your daydreams. I spent years thinking I would be a writer – someday. But it’s only since I’ve got my daydreaming largely under control that I’ve been able to make that a reality. The thing is though, if I wasn’t a daydreamer, I wouldn’t even know I wanted to be a writer. Daydreaming has often stopped me achieving what I want, but it’s also been the thing that’s shown me what I want.
Sometimes, daydreaming isn’t about disconnecting from yourself and the world around you; it’s about reconnecting with your soul. Daydreaming is an escape, but it can also be how you come home.
Of course, when I was ten years old, I didn’t understand any of that. I didn’t know daydreaming was how I expressed myself. But I knew I needed to daydream. I didn’t understand that I was using daydreaming to escape the pain of loneliness. But I knew it made me feel better. And I never told anyone what I was doing alone in my room for hours at a time.
Back then, there were adults in my life who cared about me. If I’d told them how lonely I was, or if they’d realised I was hiding in fantasy to escape that pain, they’d have tried to help. They’d have encouraged me to get out and socialise more. They might even have taken me to therapy. And that might have helped. But it would also have given me the message that my daydreaming was something bad, something I should stop doing. And, perhaps, I’d have lost something very special.
I’m grateful it didn’t happen like that. I lost most of my teenage years to maladaptive daydreaming, and I’ll never get that time back. But I also have very fond memories of the worlds and characters I created back then. Even when my daydreaming was completely out of control and causing me all sorts of problems, it was always my safe space. Just because it harmed me at times doesn’t mean it wasn’t also a force for good. The challenge for me was to recognise and build on the positives while overcoming or mitigating the negatives.
For most of us, daydreaming feels really good. Whether you’d describe it as peace, excitement, love or acceptance, it’s a special feeling. And when we compare maladaptive daydreaming to an addiction, we think of that beautiful feeling as a high. And that makes it into something we crave but don’t need. Something that, although it feels good, doesn’t add anything meaningful to our lives.
But what if it isn’t that? What if daydreaming feels good because it’s part of who you are? What if daydreaming isn’t just the way you waste far too much time, but also how you honour your authentic self? And what if daydreaming gives you a sense of peace that you can’t get anywhere else, because there’s nowhere else that exists just for you? Then it becomes obvious that overcoming maladaptive daydreaming doesn’t mean you have to stop daydreaming completely. You just have to get it under control.
You need to daydream. You were born a daydreamer for a reason. Honour that.