What does your future hold?

I first heard the term maladaptive daydreaming when I was 46 years old. It was a relief to finally have a name for the thing I’d been doing all my life. By that age, I had a fair idea of which areas of my life were affected by my daydreaming. More importantly, I had a successful career and had been married for over 20 years. So I knew that being a maladaptive daydreamer wasn’t going to stop me achieving the things that mattered most.

But as awareness of maladaptive daydreaming increases, more and more people are finding out about it while they’re still young. If you discover you’re a maladaptive daydreamer when you’re a teenager or young adult, it’s very natural to wonder how this style of thinking is going to affect your future.

So let’s look at some of the questions you might have when you first discover that you’re a maladaptive daydreamer.

Is this something you grow out of?

Not necessarily. Maladaptive daydreaming can come and go depending on what’s going on in your life. I’ve found that my daydreaming fades into the background when my real life is going well. But when I’m stressed or depressed, it becomes harder to control. Even when my daydreaming is at its calmest, my imagination still likes to conjure up complex, detailed stories. I’m never going to think like a “normal” person.

So I’ll be a maladaptive daydreamer forever?

Not if you don’t want to be. You’ll always be an immersive daydreamer. You’ll always be able to create detailed imaginary worlds full of characters you’re genuinely emotionally attached to. But immersive daydreaming isn’t the same as maladaptive daydreaming. Your daydreaming doesn’t have to be a damaging addiction that takes over your life. It can also be a powerful force that motivates and inspires you.

Will there ever be an effective treatment for maladaptive daydreaming?

I hope so. Researchers are learning more about maladaptive daydreaming all the time. The ISMD is pressing for maladaptive daydreaming to be recognised as a mental-health disorder and included in the DSM. Trials of treatments such as mindfulness and CBT have shown encouraging results. Some people report that medication has helped them.

But understanding a new mental disorder takes time. A universally effective, scientifically validated treatment is probably still some way off. Until then, you’ll need to take responsibility for your own recovery.

Can I overcome maladaptive daydreaming on my own?

Yes, although seeking the support of your doctor or therapist might make the process easier. Maladaptive daydreaming usually starts as a coping mechanism. So understanding what you’re using it to cope with, and focussing on that, is a good place to start. If you can make real life a place you want to come back to, you’ll have less need to use your daydreaming as an escape. You’ll need to focus on your life as a whole, rather than seeing your daydreaming as an isolated problem.

Can I have a successful career?

Definitely. Maladaptive daydreaming can make it hard to focus, which can affect your ability to study and therefore to gain the qualifications you need to enter your chosen career. But with effort and determination, you can turn your maladaptive daydreaming into immersive daydreaming. It can then become a tool that helps you learn. I can’t think of any career that an immersive daydreamer wouldn’t be able to excel at.

Will I ever fall in love with a real person?

Yes! You’ll probably never meet anyone as perfect as your daydream partner, because in real life no-one is perfect. But the most fulfilling and enduring romantic relationships aren’t based on perfection. They’re based on commitment and mutual respect and a willingness to share moments of magic and to build a life together. A perfect daydream partner doesn’t inspire you to grow into a better version of yourself. Perfect is fine in a daydream, but it’s not a foundation for a life-long relationship.

So there is hope?

Absolutely. Maladaptive daydreaming doesn’t have to be something you’ll suffer from for the rest of your life. It isn’t something that defines you, or that you have to adjust to, or that will become part of your identity. It’s a mental-health problem that can be overcome. Right now, that’s probably a little harder than it will be in the future, because so many doctors and therapists still don’t understand what maladaptive daydreaming is, or the best way to treat it. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be successfully treated.

Being an immersive daydreamer, on the other hand, probably is something that will become part of your identity. Your imaginary worlds and your fictional characters have been with you for a long time, and they’re not going away. But they’re also not a bad thing. When you overcome the parts of your daydreaming that make it maladaptive, and let go of any shame you feel about being an immersive daydreamer, you’ll be able to achieve anything you want. Your future can be whatever you want it to be, and your daydreaming isn’t going to hold you back.