Why I Sometimes Miss My Maladaptive Daydreaming in Recovery
Growing up, maladaptive daydreaming was a huge part of my life. Of course, I didn't realize it was maladaptive until I went off to college and the daydreams just sort of stopped. I missed them a lot at first, and there are times even now, several years into my recovery from depression and anxiety, that I miss my daydreams.
What Is Maladaptive Daydreaming?
Maladaptive daydreaming is exactly what it sounds like. Daydreaming is when people use their imagination to create a fictional scenario in their minds, which can often be incredibly detailed and nuanced; and maladaptive daydreaming is when this imaginative world goes from a harmless distraction to a very problematic compulsion. According to Professor Eli Somer, the man who identified maladaptive daydreaming as a serious problem, it is:
". . . an excessive and vivid fantasy activity that interferes with an individual's normal functioning and can result in severe distress."1
Because researchers have only begun looking into maladaptive daydreaming fairly recently, it isn't categorized as a disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) yet, but it really can be a big problem for the people who experience it. According to one self-reporting study, people who experience maladaptive daydreaming often daydream for upwards of four hours per day2 and they may feel very distressed when they are pulled away from their daydreams.
My Experience with Maladaptive Daydreaming
For me, daydreaming was always part of my daily life. I have an incredibly rich imagination, and from the time I was in elementary school up until I left for college, I could easily spend hours each day lost in my daydreams.
Usually, they involved something terrible happening and I would be the tragic protagonist, surviving the unendurable. Often, my family would die in car accidents, there would be a school shooter, my friends and I would get lost in the woods for days, and plenty of other scenarios that probably would have seemed disturbing to an outsider. But to me, these daydreams weren't depressing, they were just a story where I got to be the main character. I wasn't worried about any of these things happening in real life, I just loved reading and drama, and I constantly found myself creating my own stories in my head.
Then I left for college and after a few months I woke up one day to find that the daydreams were gone. I tried to recreate them, but I just couldn't get into it. At first, I thought it was because I was too depressed to daydream, but even when I felt good, the daydreams weren't coming to me like they used to and I simply couldn't force it.
Looking back, this is how I know what I experienced was maladaptive daydreaming. It wasn't a choice; it wasn't something I consciously chose to do; it was a coping mechanism that I used all the time without any real control. It was a form of dissociation I used to cope with my emotionally-invalidating home life. Once I left home, the daydreams weren't necessary anymore, and so they faded away.
Why I Miss My Maladaptive Daydreams Sometimes
The entire time I was actively engaging in maladaptive daydreaming, I didn't realize it was maladaptive. I thought it was just part of being creative, so when it went away, I really missed it. My inner life felt a lot less interesting without constant stories running through my head. Now, several years later, I'm fairly used to living without my daydreams, but sometimes I still miss them.
I miss the ability to slip away into my mind and tell myself a story for hours on end. I recognize that it's for the best, and now that I'm not trapped in my daydreams, I can really engage in life in a way I always avoided when I was younger. But I still miss the stories.
Do you experience maladaptive daydreaming? How has your recovery affected your daydreams? I'd love to hear more from others who have lost their maladaptive daydreaming and still miss it sometimes. Share your story in the comments below.
- Schimmenti A., Somer E., et al., "Maladaptive Daydreaming: Towards a Nosological Definition." Annales Médico-Psychologiques, Revue Psychiatrique, November 2019.
- Young E., "People with 'Maladaptive Daydreaming' Spend an Average of Four Hours a Day Lost in Their Imagination." The British Psychological Society, Research Digest, June 2018.
Griffith, M. (2020, May 12). Why I Sometimes Miss My Maladaptive Daydreaming in Recovery, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, February 1 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/recoveringfrommentalillness/2020/5/why-i-sometimes-miss-my-maladaptive-daydreaming-in-recovery
Author: Megan Griffith
Similar experience to those above. The problem I've found with my real life are no skill development, no real relationships or fixed identity. Social anxiety and underachiever because I achieved everything is my dreams. Received love and adoration in my dreams. In real life, nones really that interested and I haven't really done anything. I find it very hard to make real decisions because I can always change the script in my daydreams
Feels like my daydreams were a form of self hate and avoidance from real life. I must have been very very unhappy.
I also experienced the same as you two. I had vivid movie-like daydreams from age 8 to 25. I used to feel really happy each time I laid down at night after a long day because I knew that I could finally escape to my perfect reality. This false reality was filled with freedom, fantasy and a fearless version of myself. I could even have a partner, something that to this day I have never achived to obtain and still long for.. The maladaptive daydreams became increasingly stronger during my time in highschool as I was very alone and friendless. I desperately wanted acceptance and love and in my dreams I could achieve these things each time. Soon after I started work at a trashy bank and I was miserable because of how my coworkers and boss treated me. I had the most vivid daydreams while working there. This is when I started to notice that the daydreaming was probably a by-product of my depression. Soon after I left this job and got employed as a accountant. I was also severely mistreated there and even locked in a closet by the person who was training me. I kept dreaming so much on paid company time. It stopped me from being able to focus on the new job and information. I got fired from this job, and started a new one at an amazing Supermarket Company. I have been very well treated here by my coworkers and bosses and even the customers too. For the 1st time in my life I feel happy. This is when I just recently noticed that my daydreams had completely stopped; Its been 6 months since they vanished. Sometimes I miss them, they were extremely comforting during hard times. I believe they are gone now because I left these terrible situations I was in and finally found some peace and joy. I can only thank God for giving me this new life that is actually worth it now. If anyone is suffering from this disorder I don't believe it's dangerous but just remember that real life will always be 10 times more beautiful and that your life is worth it. Tap into your real life you won't regret it.
-Sincerely, an ex-maladaptive daydreamer 💙
I had my md since I was about 7. They recently just abruptly stopped at 34. Your story is just like mine. However I can’t pinpoint a change in my life that made them stop. What you’ve described as a sudden loss of interest but desire to continue is exactly what I’m feeling. However I find myself more distracted with my day to day life and that want vanishes. My daydream was a whole fantasy world filled with hundreds of characters. I used to spend days hiding in my room just to see and experience that world. To have it vanish is like having a part of me missing. One that I don’t mind having gone. I felt abnormal. I asked what was wrong with me. I wondered what type of thoughts normal people had. I didn’t notice an extreme decline in the daydreams about 6 months ago. I would stop for days and then start up for a day or two then be gone again. I haven’t daydreamed my world in well over 4 months. I believe it’s gone for good. I’m torn between relief and sadness of what I’m going to miss in my never ending story.