What do you really want from life?

You can’t organise a recovery around a vacuum

Patricia Deegan

Patricia Deegan wasn’t talking about Maladaptive Daydreaming Disorder (MaDD) in this quote, but I think her words apply to anyone who is struggling with a mental health problem and to anyone who is using an addictive behaviour to escape the pain and stress of day-to-day life. Many MaDDers are doing both.

The thing that struck me about Dr Deegan’s words is that we often assume that when someone has developed a mental health issue as a result of distress or trauma, we need to heal those wounds before the person can move forward. I think that’s true, but in many cases it’s not enough. As well as coming to terms with the past, we have to have a sense of excitement about the future. That goes beyond just believing that we can overcome our problem and learn to live a balanced and happy life. It involves having a clear idea of what that healed life looks like; it involves having something to aim for.

And therein lies the problem for many daydreamers. We’ve spent so long chasing our daydream that we’ve forgotten what our real-life goals are. Some daydreamers daydream about an idealised, but realistic, future life. But for those of us whose daydreams are a long way from reality, it’s harder to take inspiration from them. If your daydreams revolve around dating your celebrity crush, being famous, winning the lottery or saving the world from an alien invasion, it’s easy to dismiss the idea that there’s a connection between your daydream ambitions and what you want in real life. And if you’re spending most of your time and energy in the daydream world, you may not be consciously aware of wanting anything in your real life.

But if you want to reduce your daydreaming, you’re going to have to find a way to make real life as interesting and exciting as your daydream world. And that excitement isn’t going to come from seeing a therapist to fix your past – necessary though that may be. It comes from building a vision of your future. Not your daydream future. Your real future.

So, what is it you really want from life? From your real life? Your daydreams are a great guide to this, because when you’re daydreaming, you’re free to be whatever you want and do whatever you want. Even if you know that your daydreams can never literally come true, they’re still an expression of something that’s important to you. Think about one of the high points in your daydream life, the scene you return to over and over again when you need to boost your mood. What’s so good about it? What makes that moment special? What are you feeling in that instant?

What you are looking to uncover here are your values, the feelings and emotions that drive you. This could be “I want to make people’s lives better”, “I want others to admire me”, “I want to earn someone’s gratitude”, etc. If something negative comes up, such as “I don’t want to be lonely” or “I don’t want to be bullied”, see if you can flip it around to a positive, such as “I want to be surrounded by people who value me”. Then see if you can dig a little deeper. Ask yourself “what feeling would I get from being valued?”. You might come up with things like “safety”, “confidence”, “freedom”. These are the things that, at your core, are really important to you.

Now you can start to consider where you find these things, or where you could find these things, in real life. What could you realistically do that would give you the same sense of safety, confidence or freedom as that perfect daydream moment? Do you need a promotion, to improve your relationship, or to make plans to travel? Do you want to learn to play an instrument, run a marathon, or have enough money to buy a new car? Whatever it is that excites you and motivates you can become your anchor to the real world. Something that you know you can achieve if you just point your focussed attention in that direction for long enough. Something that’s worth coming out of the daydream for.

In her video, Dr Deegan goes on to say:

We need to organise our recovery around something. Something that has meaning. Something that has purpose.
Something that gives us a sense that “I can begin to move”.

Find your something. Begin your journey.