From positive escapism to negative rumination and "daymares" - Has anyone else experienced this. *WARNING Very loong post*

Hi all,

I am new to this forum, it has been funny looking at all the posts as a lot of people have experienced maladaptive daydreaming in the same way I have. Please bear with me as this will be a long one.

For me it basically begun when I was around 12 years old, though I did have a vey vivid imagination beforehand – I loved to be fully immersed in books and movies, it was never really as detailed until then. It started when I was watching a reality show and at the end a woman was being bullied and spoken down to by the rest of the group on the show. This triggered a thought which turned into a full blown daydream where I imagined a woman who I was, though she did not look much like me. Essentially if I was to pick an ideal of what I could look like this would be it lol. This woman came in an defended the contestant who was being bullied and that is how it all began. From there I had very elaborate daydreams, I would wake up in my bed and just indulge in them for almost three hours and then get up out of bed (on the weekend) they were so intense I would make facial expressions and feel every emotion, even cry at times. One of my friends at school mentioned that she saw me smiling to myself and I remembered that was because I had a very intense daydream going on at the time. I could basically experience a wide range of emotions, do anything and be a completely different person where my characters’ lives would basically centre around me. Very narcissistic I know!

Music plays a huge part in my daydreams, I would imagine performing music to people I wanted to impress or felt negatively judged by in real life. I pretty much integrated it into my life so no matter what I do I always have this extra layer where I have an audience or people commenting on my actions that I carry out in reality. However, when I can say it became truly maladaptive is when as I got older it became apparent to me I had difficulty feeling like I belonged in a friendship group, I had no friends and an inability to form close friendships with people. I would often walk around in school and the sixth form alone living constantly in my head, it felt like life was passing me by. I have always been introverted and quite shy but it was around 14/15 when it was clear I had social anxiety and was highly sensitive to any judgement or criticism real or perceived. This was when my pacing began, first I would be listening to music and would be acting out the songs in my daydreams where I was performing to people. If I had a fixation or liked anyone at the time, whether I knew them personally or they were a complete stranger they would be included. The first time I paced I walked until 3am, intensely daydreaming and walking faster as the feelings grew. I could create feelings of complete euphoria from these imagined experiences. I am now 25 and though this does not happen as regularly, I still pace. Before I was known to do this from 8pm to around 3am, non-stop. I have even walked from around 12pm to 6am, non stop. As you can imagine this has caused havoc to my sleep cycle. I will actually opt to pace until the early hours of the morning rather than sleep. Particularly if I haven’t done it recently, I can walk hours on end.

I became aware of the negative affects it was having on me when I went to uni. After making some friends and going out in my first year, my daydreams became more realistic but were still there. However from my second year I was back to square one in the friendship department. I had no friends so spent most of my time alone in my room. However it became apparent whenever I was trying to study or concentrate my mind would drift off to begin daydreaming, if I didn’t fulfil this urge, I would be riddled with anxiety. I felt compelled to do it. Even worst I would imagine very negative scenarios, like everyone who had bullied me at a point would all be in the same room taking jabs at me, though I knew it wasn’t real I would feel compelled to respond. The feelings that came with this were so strong I have left seminars and lectures mid-way because it would make me feel anxious internally and physically. I would imagine people throwing things at me in the lecture hall, being taunted. None of this actually happened but it literally felt as if I was experiencing it. I would imagine being in very heated exchanges with family members and other people as if everyone has some kind of vendetta against me. Intrusive thoughts started to come in and my daydreams became daymares (as some have already put it). However at the heart of it though I felt a strong compulsion to do it I also wondered subconsciously whether I had an addiction to the emotion it created. Bad or good I felt something.

To combat this however I practice mindfulness meditation and breathing exercises which have helped a great deal with feelings of anxiety. I came across Eckhart Tolle’s “The Power of Now” when my intrusive thoughts was causing me so much distress. The relief that came with the teaching of being grounded in the present moment rather than in your heads and reacting to your thoughts was overwhelming. However the pacing I do has not yet stopped. I feel as if it might be a creative outlet in some ways. I can connect with music and feel emotions I would not otherwise through these scenarios generated (the positive ones, where I am entertaining people). I just wondered if anyone has experienced this at all??? – Maladaptive daydreaming turning from positive escapism to very negative scenarios that you feel trapped in.

Sorry for the essay! This has been therapeutic for me – I have had CBT and have never told my therapist this during as did not want to be labelled as insane!

- L.solace :)

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Hey L, 

Its amazing you remember your past in such detail. I'm unable to remember much of my past and certainly cannot remember since when I've started DDing. 

I occasionally have negative DDs. That too gives me the feeling of being great because of going through suffering. So it's just another mechanism to hide away my insecurities. 

 I dont think DDing is a creative outlet. For me it feels more like an alternate way to express my emotions which I'm unable to express in reality.

I'm glad this had been therapeutic. I suggest opening up to your therapist too. Ever wonder why you feel uncomfortable opening up?

Hi Cane, 

Thanks for the response! Yeah I understand what you mean about it being a mechanism for insecurities - sometimes if I am uncomfortable about something I will generate a daydream where my own thought might be directed at me by someone else so it seems less personal. I don't know whether you have experienced the same?

I'm not currently in therapy but I think the reason why I felt uncomfortable opening up is because MD is still fairly unknown... Also some of the contents of my daydreams just are either quite personal or slightly bizarre lol! I don't know whether I would feel too exposed actually retelling them aloud. 

That is a very interesting post and resonates with me. I am a lot older than you, but I have come to a lot of the same conclusions gradually that you seem to have come to fairly young. That the daydreams are a way to express strong emotion that feels too threatening in every day life seems to me to be true.

to me the biggest problem with daydreams is they take my attention away from reality and particularly, as you mentioned, will damage relationships. It’s difficult to have a real life relationship that generates the same intense emotions that a daydream does and consequently they seem less attractive. The way I express it to myself sometimes is the daydreams drain all the colour from life. Also they tire you out both physically and emotionally so you have less energy to engage in every day real matters.

I have kind of a love-hate relationship with my daydreams. I have been able to stop doing them for periods of time, but I always come back to them. Right at the moment because of COVID-19 I’m daydreaming a lot because I really don’t have much to do. Honestly I don’t think it’s helping.

The worsening you experienced over the course of a decade was the only way it could go if left unchecked. At its core it's a self-perpetuating feedback loop of simulating scenarios in your head which allow you to experience feelings that the real world denies, only to find yourself cut off from reality because the detachment has isolated you to the point that more and more emotions have become inaccessible without simulating them. How else could it end?

It's good that you found a way back into the real world, but simply learning how to exist in the here and now will not be enough in the long run. It takes strength and persistence to not lose yourself to the temptation of stepping back into that convenient madness, and if the foundation of your willpower is brittle or incomplete you'll wake up one day to find it gone.

Do you know the price of shutting yourself away from everything, as every dysfunctional MDDer I know has? Did you feel its impact when you woke up? If you know it, don't ever fall for the cheap solution of ignoring it.
Fear will paralyze you. Hunger will blind you. Combined they will strip you of everything you've ever known, and you'll be back here again lamenting your relapse, if you ever leave yourself behind.

It's turned out different for us. We managed to shift it into a positive feedback loop that helps us self-actualize in shared reality. But I understand that's not the norm, and I think with the level of shaming most people experience with it (externally and internally) it's not possible. 

Camoran said:

The worsening you experienced over the course of a decade was the only way it could go if left unchecked. At its core it's a self-perpetuating feedback loop of simulating scenarios in your head which allow you to experience feelings that the real world denies, only to find yourself cut off from reality because the detachment has isolated you to the point that more and more emotions have become inaccessible without simulating them. How else could it end?

It's good that you found a way back into the real world, but simply learning how to exist in the here and now will not be enough in the long run. It takes strength and persistence to not lose yourself to the temptation of stepping back into that convenient madness, and if the foundation of your willpower is brittle or incomplete you'll wake up one day to find it gone.

Do you know the price of shutting yourself away from everything, as every dysfunctional MDDer I know has? Did you feel its impact when you woke up? If you know it, don't ever fall for the cheap solution of ignoring it.
Fear will paralyze you. Hunger will blind you. Combined they will strip you of everything you've ever known, and you'll be back here again lamenting your relapse, if you ever leave yourself behind.

Our experience has always been a mix. We experienced a lot of sustained trauma early in life so our daydreaming was both escapism and what we now understand to be our body spirits trying to make sense of painful experiences we were struggling to make sense of. Throughout our life there's been an ebb and flow and now we don't even try to stop the "negative" or distressing daydreams because we understand them to be a signifier that something needs our attention. That there is some wound unhealed. So instead of clamping down on scary or distressing daydreams, we relax into them and move through them like a dream our subconscious is offering to us. When the daydream is "over" (I put quotes because sometimes we need to circle the same daydream a bunch of times to get the full learning and healing from it). But when it's "over" we sit and reflect on the content and how we felt we had to react in it. Asking why we reacted the way we did and if the feelings we felt during it are similar to feelings we have felt at some other point in shared reality. Then the daydream comes again almost like labor pains, and then we reflect and dream and reflect and dream as long as it takes until we find the catharsis or learning or healing that we needed. We've experienced a lot of healing this way. 

It sounds like you've reached a place that you are happy with. 

It's totally reasonable to be nervous about sharing with your therapist. Unfortunately, those who are supposed to be trained to help and support us can be very pathologizing and judgmental. I never shared with any therapist for exactly that reason and only recently shared with my current therapist because she has shown herself to be very open minded and accepting enough for me to risk it. 

Hi Martha, 

Yes, I have definitely relapsed during lockdown. Being at home for such a long period of time has caused me to indulge more in daydreaming especially as I have had not much to do to break up my day. I have noticed that it comes more frequently and intensely when I am stressed. I think it might be important if you haven't already to consider triggers. E.g. For me I have a specific daydream associated with eating or cleaning up that sort of plays out in the background. Becoming aware of when this begins and then choosing that moment to focus on my breath rather than the contents of my thoughts helps massively. I have also become aware of the different sensations in my body that will occur with different thought streams, which has allowed me to understand how MD creates tension in my body. I think understanding how this negatively affects me shifts my focus and allows me to become more grounded and aware. 

I like your comment on how daydreaming drains all the colour from life. It hadn't become obvious until I attempted to stop, how much I had missed and how little I pursued because I was content in dreamland. It also meant that the subtlety and seemingly small things in life became underappreciated and completely ignored by me in favour of a more exaggerated and colourful imagined reality. 

Martha M said:

That is a very interesting post and resonates with me. I am a lot older than you, but I have come to a lot of the same conclusions gradually that you seem to have come to fairly young. That the daydreams are a way to express strong emotion that feels too threatening in every day life seems to me to be true.

to me the biggest problem with daydreams is they take my attention away from reality and particularly, as you mentioned, will damage relationships. It’s difficult to have a real life relationship that generates the same intense emotions that a daydream does and consequently they seem less attractive. The way I express it to myself sometimes is the daydreams drain all the colour from life. Also they tire you out both physically and emotionally so you have less energy to engage in every day real matters.

I have kind of a love-hate relationship with my daydreams. I have been able to stop doing them for periods of time, but I always come back to them. Right at the moment because of COVID-19 I’m daydreaming a lot because I really don’t have much to do. Honestly I don’t think it’s helping.

Hi Camoran, 

I understand what you mean - initially it was the stress that the intrusive and negative DD had caused me to wake up and see how this is impacting my overall mood, emotional and even physical state. Becoming aware of how indifferent I had become towards life and had passively allowed opportunities pass by me was another reason for me to acknowledge just how my DD had to stop. It is true what you say about strength and persistence being needed to prevent relapse. The most successful way of doing this for me is through the constant practice of breathwork and mindfulness meditation.

Camoran said:

The worsening you experienced over the course of a decade was the only way it could go if left unchecked. At its core it's a self-perpetuating feedback loop of simulating scenarios in your head which allow you to experience feelings that the real world denies, only to find yourself cut off from reality because the detachment has isolated you to the point that more and more emotions have become inaccessible without simulating them. How else could it end?

It's good that you found a way back into the real world, but simply learning how to exist in the here and now will not be enough in the long run. It takes strength and persistence to not lose yourself to the temptation of stepping back into that convenient madness, and if the foundation of your willpower is brittle or incomplete you'll wake up one day to find it gone.

Do you know the price of shutting yourself away from everything, as every dysfunctional MDDer I know has? Did you feel its impact when you woke up? If you know it, don't ever fall for the cheap solution of ignoring it.
Fear will paralyze you. Hunger will blind you. Combined they will strip you of everything you've ever known, and you'll be back here again lamenting your relapse, if you ever leave yourself behind.

All I would add is that there is absolutely nothing "insane" about anything you said. And that in order to get the most out of therapy, we have to be open with the therapist about what's going on. It doesn't help to conceal things. Now, I've never done CBT I've always been on the more psychoanalytic side, but I can't see any therapist reacting in the way you imagine, If they are any good at their job at all. And if you open up about it and don't feel like the therapist is able to understand or help you with this problem, you might consider looking into therapy with somebody else? 

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