Maladaptive Daydreaming A Mental Disorder or a Branch of the Creative Mind?

“I’m often daydreaming, and it’s because I’ve always liked the idea of there being something more than the normal world.” — Samantha Shannon (From Brainy Quote)

For my whole life, I have been a homebody. As a child, I would stay in my room, listen to music, and pretend to be with the band, playing air guitar and dancing around. I would also re-write movies and television series, add a unique character, and act it out behind closed doors. When I got out on my own, I did the same thing. Now, living with someone, I spend time in the bathroom and act everything out in my head or at my computer desk with my eyes closed, daydreaming. All these “daydreams” took up most, if not all, of my time. I felt like I was living in my “daydreams” because, in reality, my life is uninteresting and unadventurous because of my social anxiety and lack of confidence in myself.

These “daydreams” got worse after my first marriage, the one that mentally, physically, sexually, and emotionally abused me. I recently talked to my counselors about this. One of them said, “It is normal to daydream, don’t worry about it.” I told her how “daydreaming” for most of the day is not normal or healthy. It is bad enough that I am diagnosed with Chronic Depression, Social Anxiety, Chronic Pain in the lower back and the left hip area, and PTSD, and I gave up fighting for disability (I won my disability in 2020). Having something that is not yet known in the world of mental illness just increased my depression. I had to look up my problem on the internet to understand what was happening to me. Doctors were writing it off like it was nothing, but it is something, and it is called Maladaptive Daydreaming (MD or MDD), and many psychologists know nothing about this condition.

Maladaptive Daydreaming is defined as an “extensive fantasy activity that replaces human interaction and/or interferes with academic, interpersonal or vocational functioning” (Somer, 2002, p. 199). That Maladaptive Daydreaming entails “…themes typically include highly complex fantasies of social attractiveness, power, fame, and love, as well as other fanciful plots…” ( Somer et al. 2015). According to Sabrina Bachai of Medical Daily, symptoms of Maladaptive Daydreaming are:

1. Daydreaming excessively in a way that is often compared to an addiction.

2. This excessive daydreaming often begins in childhood.

3. Books, movies, music, video games, and other media may be a daydreaming trigger.

4. The daydreaming itself is often detailed and elaborate, sometimes compared to a movie or novel.

5. Repetitive movements while daydreaming are common (but not always present in sufferers) — pacing, rocking, spinning, shaking something in their hand, etc.

6. They may sometimes talk, laugh, cry, gesture, or make facial expressions as they daydream. People suffering from this know the difference between daydreaming and reality and do not confuse the two; this makes them distinctly different from psychotics or schizophrenics.

7. Some people will lie in bed for hours daydreaming and may either have difficulty going to sleep because of this or have difficulty getting out of bed once awake. They may also neglect basic functions such as regular meals, showering, and other daily activities because of their daydreaming.

I can relate to this. I would rather daydream than do my studies, interact with my husband or my cats.

But, here I am, a writer. A writer who wants to write but can’t because she cannot stop daydreaming her stories instead of writing them down. My daydreams seem like a television show or movie playing in my head. I react to the daydreams, especially when someone dies in them, and smile when someone makes me happy. I know the difference between daydreaming and reality, and I hate getting interrupted when I am daydreaming. But, I have not neglected eating, basic hygiene, or cleaning the apartment.

According to Consciousness and Cognition, Maladaptive Daydreaming is an under-researched mental health disorder, and many people are being treated for having ADHD or OCD. The daydreaming was also reduced and controlled with the drug Fluvoxamine which is used for OCD. A survey analysis was done by Bigelsen and Schupak, and their findings suggested that a population of people who engage in daydreaming on average is 56% of their waking hours with 80% kinesthetic activity (Somer et al. 2015). I noticed I do some movement when I daydream. It also depends on what I am daydreaming about. For example, if there is a fight scene, then I move more than when I am just talking to another character.

Maladaptive Daydreaming is still under research, a theory at best. According to Jordon of The Mind Unleased website, he wonders if Maladaptive Daydreaming should be “…treated as an illness or an extension of the creative mind.” He wonders if people with Maladaptive Daydreaming “…have a heightened imagination that keeps building upon itself; strengthening itself with every intense daydream that they experience?”

I know that my condition results from how I was as a kid (no abuse or anything remotely deemed abusive, just kept to myself), the abuse from the first marriage, my poor health, my current marriage (money problems), and getting old. I know it is an escape from reality that I have grown to depend on. Because of this condition, I went to school to get my AA in Communications and my BA in Creative Writing ( I also earned my MA and MFA), hoping to learn to turn my daydreams into stories. However, I am still working on getting them out of my head and onto paper.

So, how can someone deal with Maladaptive Daydreaming?

The first thing is admitting that you have a daydreaming problem.

Second, try to remember when it started and what triggered it, and begin to avoid the triggers.

Third, try to keep engaged. I know it is hard. It is with me. I try watching shows that will not trigger my daydreaming, such as Law and Order SVU. If I watch Supernatural, I start re-writing in my head, adding a character and such. Cook, bake, do a crossword puzzle, exercise, just something that keeps your mind focused than daydreaming.

Fourth, speak with a therapist. Remember, most have yet to hear about Maladaptive Daydreaming, but coming forward will help educate them and you.

Fifth, if you can write your daydreams, do so. I have a problem writing them out. I enjoy seeing them played out in my mind’s eye.

It is good to know that I am not alone in this world. There are two groups on Facebook Maladaptive Daydreaming and Maladaptive Daydreaming Disorder Support. There are people there that you can share your stories. It amazed me to know that I have much in common with these people with Maladaptive Daydreaming. I do not interact like I should, my anxiety and shyness, but I do read what they post.

References and Resources not linked in the article:

Somer, E (2002). Maladaptive daydreaming: A qualitative inquiry Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy, 32 (2002), pp. 197–212 http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.snhu.edu/10.1023/A:1020597026919

E. Somer, J. Lehrfeld, J. Bigelsen, D.S. Jopp. (2015). Development and validation of the Maladaptive Daydreaming Scale (MDS). Consciousness and Cognition: An International Journal, 39 (2016), pp. 77–91 http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.snhu.edu/10.1016/j.concog.2015.12.001

Published by T.L. Hicks

Tracie Hicks is a Speculative Fiction. You can read her work at Coffee House Writers, where she is an editor. Tracie has an Associate of Arts degree in Communications from UoPX. Bachelor and Master of Arts degree in Creative Writing (focused on fiction and screenwriting) from SNHU. She wrapped up her education with an MFA in Creative Writing from SNHU. She is working on two books and one short story collection. You can read her work at tlhicks.me

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