Almost five years ago I became entrenched in Maladaptive Daydreaming. I was in deep denial of how badly my degree had been going for the five years previous to that and I took refuge somewhere no one else could go. It ate up days, weeks and months of my life.
More than three years ago I escaped university, retreated home and licked my wounds. MD followed me home.
More than two years ago, I was in a bad relationship that cured MD simply by giving me no time for escapism. When that ended, MD returned immediately.
More than one year ago, I decided I was sick to death of my own mind and started retaliating against MD in every way I could.
- a summary of all the strategies I found useful, for people in a hurry
- a detailed exploration of everything that triggered and sustained and defeated my MD
- a short description of where I am a year later as of writing this post
- a fancy-pants conclusion
Everyone is different. This is what worked for me, bearing in mind that I had a combination of Attention Deficit Disorder, anxiety, depression and anaemia. I hope the strategies are helpful regardless of how you came to be here.
Diet - I comfort ate so much and for so long, which is bad for ADD any day of the week, that I'd started to feel the bad health sticking to me with every bite. I'd gained a third of my body weight in 3 years. This was partially force of habit and partially instant gratification and a big helping of comfort food needed after my year of rage.
The first two weeks of not bingeing dramatically improved my mental clarity (cue sharper dreams). I mostly didn't follow the plan but stuck to one rule not to buy junk food from shops. Easier done because I don't do the house shop. 3 months later I have largely stood by this rule, started to lose weight and feel well in myself. I'm going to credit all of that to my mother who is on the same diet and does all the cooking. Unfortunately, I don't know how far I would have got against MD without living at home and relying on my family.
Cooking is something that requires ideas, an attention span and coordination. I spend all that on keeping my job - in other words I don't cook. Since the daydreams cleared, I can envision learning to cook and enjoy cooking again like I used to. The mental storm is fading and there's space for other things in my life again.
As a rule of thumb, if someone confided in you how hopeless they were feeling - you'd have faith in them, external faith, and you'd encourage them that things can change and they're not defined by how they feel at their lowest.
Give yourself the same leeway you would give to others. Become aware of your good qualities. If you really have to, pick a vicious scumbag and list all the ways in which you are not like them. You might find that you've been taking yourself for granted. And don't be sarcastic about it, it IS a great masterpiece to be a normal and decent person to others.
Take note of how often you are being harsh on yourself when not caught up in dreams. Consider whether you are actively pushing yourself away. When you notice it, try thinking the opposite. Make the same arguments you would make on a friend's behalf if they were being unreasonably harsh on themselves.
Keep a diary. Not a list of things you didn't do. A diary of things you did after you did them.
Everything counts. Going to work counts. Emptying half the dishwasher a day after you were supposed to do it counts. Having a conversation with someone counts. What you ate that day. If someone smiled at you. You do not write ‘felt awful’. You do not write ‘totally failed to do my unrealistic list of stuff because I'm scum’. You write what did happen, you write down anything at all that you liked.
When you look back on it, time will start to fade out the stress or passiveness you felt that day and you'll end up with a concrete list of positives. Pick a diary you really like the look and feel of, it will encourage you to pick it up.
This is the first year of my life that I managed to consistently keep a diary, I started it because I had to prove to myself that life didn't revolve around the attention whore I was with. It was an act of rebellion and I got the habit of filling in a couple of lines whilst my computer loaded at work (attach things to existing habits). On 01 January 2018 I listed every book I read, game I played, film I watched and life event from 2017 in the back of the diary.
I looked back at the year and realised I wasn't solely, hopelessly wasting my life away in my maladaptive daydreams. I had done enough to be proud of because I had redefined everything as worthwhile and gathered concrete evidence of it. I shared my lists with my friends and I forgave myself for not doing/being enough because that drifting to better habits had taken me farther than I'd realised.
If you want to record or quantify your daydreaming, do it small so it doesn't overshadow your achievements. I used a code, like MD or ‘plotted stories’ or ‘blob day’. Unlike my uni planners, it did not get filled up with lists I failed to start and disappointment.
On 02 January 2018 I had a burst of art in the day and a huge bout of daydreaming. I stayed awake all night on 03 Jan refusing to quit/sleep until I had DONE SOMETHING. I had hoped ever since my daydreaming became maladaptive that I could make something out of it. A fanfiction to end all fanfiction - I couldn't, it was too personal. A world-building guide on how to develop ideas from initial concepts -that's what we’re all good at. I couldn't back then, because I had to both expose what mess was in my head and pretend my opinion had any weight.
Well I've gotten in the habit of being kind to myself and I've gotten better at rebelling against my passive identity. At 4am on the third of January 2018 I started to write my world-building guide. About three sentences in I felt the need to explain WHY I was writing it. What came out was a deluge of all the emotions I'd thrown away and all the unhappiness and all the hopelessness I felt from not being myself for so many years and despite so many countless second chances.
I wrote exactly how I felt, with vicious honesty towards myself and towards others, I even allowed my character surrogates to vent about their pointless endless loops, I even apologised to my inner world for the sad state of the source material! I admitted what I had wanted and what I had failed at. I admitted how ill not believing in myself had made me. I admitted that my reasons were justified.
So try a brain dump or three. Your emotions are currently being bottled and suffocated and scapegoated into daydreams. You're allowed an opinion. Externalise it.
I didn't include triggers when I wrote this article on 08 Jan 18. After browsing the forum, and while editing this to post, I saw other people talking about triggers and realised that's a very good point.
I had plenty of triggers, and even favourite triggers. I had playlists for different scenarios. I would dive into my dreams for hours at the slightest reminder of how lonely or abnormal I felt. I couldn't bear to see people with the simple things I lacked and would immediately invest days in having my characters figure out how to conquer such problems - without changing anything for myself. Or I would see something inspiring and impressive, and suddenly my characters would take that up as their new hobby or undiscovered skill. Often I would let the lyrics decide the plot, even unlikely and outlandish plots, as long as it was the character that represented my emotions doing it.
When I started to fight MD, I still liked my triggers and still sought them out. I had to slowly work on cutting back the frequency and duration of the dreams. I played audiobooks in a foreign language that broke my concentration, instead of music. I tried harder to focus around other people and listen to them without glazing over. I made mental lists of all the things that upset me and would trigger an MD session. I tried to come to terms with them.
At uni, life was all MD with the occasional pause for food or sleep. It was no one's responsibility to check on me, so no one did. At home, I gradually committed more and more time to other people until MD was in the minority.
A few weeks before the great unbottling of emotions on 03 Jan 2018:
At this point I had started to fight back specifically against the daydreaming, done my research, browsed the Wild Minds forum, found some people with it worse and realised the danger I was in of it never stopping on its own. The thought of it lasting for decades was terrifying motivation. I also found some people who'd gotten through it and absorbed their expertise. I have to recommend Eretaia's website, but I assume it's the first resource you found. Her posts were a revelation for me.
I have very good friends who I used to write with and it's the writing background that makes me very clear on the divide between daydreaming too much because it's fun and daydreaming all the time because you can't exist in any other way. It is beyond a doubt an addictive tendency and it cannot go cold turkey because other people can't take it away. I've always known I could entertain myself for the rest of my life if I was locked in an empty white room - I never realised I'd end up locking myself in that room.
Once I was taking it seriously, I one by one began to confess to people what was going on with me, because I wanted it to stop. I didn't tell everyone, just those who would get it. I started by telling trusted friends who'd heard bits of it already, and then friends that were a bit less introverted but still understanding of mental differences, and worked my way up to telling my (supportive) mother.
I openly apologised to her for being so distant, I explained why it was and what I was doing to fix it, I explained that I needed to get through this before I would even have the energy to help out in normal, perfectly-within-expectations ways around the house. The amount of badgering it took for them to get me to help was making us resent each other. I didn't want her to think that I didn't care about the things around me. I was starting to care again.
Confessing to people only happened after I felt I understood it, I had a handle on it, I could explain it without feeling shame for so many squandered years. I acknowledged it as a real disturbance and credited myself for fighting for control over myself again. I expressed it to people who would believe me and would want to help me.
I'm grateful to have such people and I've worked hard to meet and keep them. If you don't have anyone to talk to I can only suggest this forum, or finding a forum for one of your interests and expressing yourself about things you enjoy as a stepping stone. It might be a route to like-minded people who can make you feel heard.
Push yourself for something inspiring.
I went outside my (tiny) comfort zone, and I also revisited highlights of my predaydream life. I went for a weekend abroad (first trip in years) with friends I'd not seen for 5 years that I'd met on my year overseas.
They picked a country I knew nothing about and where I didn't speak the language. I was phenomenally nervous and in denial about packing. We winged a lot of the details and figured things out at the last minute. To my family I was very negative about my prospects. I'd been bullied into being meek and distrustful and stay-at-home during my relationship.
When I got there I REMEMBERED I loved to travel, I loved new situations, I loved strangeness. I loved my ridiculously geeky friends whose dreams were still constructive. I reconnected with myself for a few days. I only daydreamed to help me sleep. I bought my next year's diary in the airport on the way home so that it would remind me every day.
Whatever inspires you, out there in the real world, give it one more try when you feel - almost - ready. Don't wait until you actually feel ready, or you'll never leave your tiny, cramped comfort zone.
When I decided to retake my final year I had some time in 2014 with nothing to do. Insomnia had always plagued me, I was constantly drained and sleep deprived, my brain had never known how to switch off and I only slept when I crashed.
I attribute this to the ADD, something in the act of falling asleep used to trigger tiny panic attacks as my mind tried to settle. Daydreaming and constant distraction until I fell asleep without anticipating it was actually the solution to this until I was 25 years old.
During that free time until I moved back home I spent ten solid days researching sleep routines and sleep monitoring apps and all kinds of things, and finally learnt how to switch off. It still comes and goes now but it made a big, big difference to me to be able to sleep.
Is this is an issue for you, start looking up and trying different relaxation techniques and getting a concept of night is for sleep, not for everything you didn't do in the day and are too tired to do now. I am actually still daydreaming to fall asleep, or for fifteen minutes to and from work, because yes I still like experiencing my other worlds. I haven't traumatically rejected them, I've just measured myself as bigger than them. But since the new year I've become able to turn the daydream on and off like a tap, and live in the moment, and I am so full of hope for 2018.
If you have physical obstacles to good health like sleep deprivation, or anaemia, or fatigue; whatever it is try finding ways to repair it. As I will discuss in the 1 Year Later post, your physical situation could be having just as much impact on your MD as your mental situation. MD affects your whole life and is a result of your whole life, it requires a holistic approach.
--------------------- In response to someone else's (2019) post about what type of dissociation MD actually is:
I wonder if we’re de-subjectifying ourselves. Not sure how that would be different to dissociation/derealisation/depersonalisation. We aren’t saying we’re not ourselves, we aren’t saying the world isn’t real, we aren’t pretending no one else has feelings. We’re making ourselves not be the subject of our own lives. We’re concocting more ‘perfect’ subjects for our imaginary lives, and even if we give them awful trials and deep flaws or unrealistic successes we forgive them and believe in them, but not in ourselves.
One concept I've found the most empowering during my tribulations is ‘reclaimed territory’.
You're about to go through a break up with your daydreams. You might look at the world listlessly and see it as full of things you can't do anymore.
On the other hand you might realise every single thing you start to do again or place you start to go again or emotion you start to feel again is reclaimed territory.
You are not shutting yourself off from the infinite world of your dreams, you are about to start conquering your new kingdom. You will be so relieved when you meet yourself there again. It's really not scary to stop maladaptive daydreaming, because suddenly you'll have time to build some of the things you've been only imagining.
'Reclaimed territory' is an attitude adjustment that will help you focus on the progress you're already making, and not on how far there is to go.
When I wrote this long article on 08 Jan 2018, I hadn't written since 2014. I wrote 5120 words in half a day, despite being at my job for 8 hours, because I was finally writing about what mattered to me. I, finally, mattered to me.
It took another year, right up to today, to know that it had all worked and that I was 99% free of Maladaptive Daydreaming. To have the attention span to edit something a dozen pages long, and the self-esteem to believe it might help someone else.
Here's the good news. I cured myself of Maladaptive Daydreaming with no need for therapy.
I realise I didn't mention therapy before and I'm more likely to swallow a self-help book than speak to a counsellor. But I think it's good to know that this disorder can be overcome without professional intervention.
It felt so good to report back to my best friend, week on week - I’m still not daydreaming! I’m still cured! I dreamed a little, but only for plotting a story! I dreamed when I didn’t mean to, but I realised it was because I was tired! I can listen to music without falling into a coma for a week! I had a glimpse of normality, and it kept coming back. I went out and engaged with people all day and didn’t wish I was somewhere else in a fantasy. I feel present in my life, and my family have noticed.
The world has opened up.
My journey started with questioning why I was daydreaming (emotionally) and ended with finding out why I was daydreaming (physically).
I think the subject of the dreams is very important. Although they might have different surface disguises, they could be processing the emotions you struggle with in the real world. You might not even know what you’re struggling with yet. Because of my rich inner world, I didn’t understand that I was homesick on my year abroad. If I’d known, would I have reached out instead of closing up? If I knew my terrible self-esteem and perfectionism was unfounded, could I have calmed my mind enough to study all my life? It would be fascinating to know, but we can’t dwell on the past. That’s what got us into this mess.
I wrote before about my severe need for escapism - a year later this had faded. My job was still the same, my productivity was still inconsistent, but my self-hatred had healed. I had to wonder why I still chose to daydream so much.
Answer: Because there was so little else I could do. I was exhausted. It took all my energy to keep my job. I was the embodiment of a slump.
8 months ago it transpired that I still had a severe iron deficiency. I was constantly fatigued, but still had a need to be constantly mentally stimulated. So I had continued daydreaming.
After a month or two on iron tablets my brain started to switch on again. The daydreams started to switch off. After 6 more months on iron I feel the most well I've been in my life. Because aside from all the nice oxygen I'm getting, I've exorcised so many of my insecurities while learning to recover from…being me.
I know this won’t be the solution for most people but, I really had maladaptive daydreaming, for years, and nothing truly vanquished it until my body had enough oxygen to run my brain.
So in whichever way applies to your unique situation, take a look at your physical health. Work out what you're capable of, versus what you should be capable of. Try looking for reasons any gaps might be there. Make them smaller.
I'm cured to the point that I can sustain long complex thoughts without falling into the MD quicksand. I can look my MD characters in the eye and not get drawn in to their drama. I can think about anything I want to think about for as long or as little as I want.
My hobbies came back one by one in a reverse order to which they were lost. I think it correlates to how much investment they require, but also how important they were to me. The ones most tied to my self-esteem came back last. And now I can do them without the anxiety of school or the constant feeling of inadequacy I had all my life. Just last week I've felt able to revisit that heartbreaking university dissertation with a sense of calm. I’m writing stories again - so slowly - but not giving up.
I'm so glad to be through this and I encourage you to join me on the other side. I hope you can find something in my posts to help you get started. I did this without professional intervention, which means you might already have everything you need to be you again. And I could do this despite being at my mental and physical worst, which means you can change too. And it took time, which means you’re allowed to take your time.
I would rather be here on the other side of this, than back where I was before it all started - I had no self esteem. MD has cost me years of my life, but it also forced me to deconstruct all my false beliefs about life and rebuild myself as someone with self worth - because that was the only way I’d feel safe to leave my head again.
Dealing with an addiction that exists only in your own mind is not just a case of taking medication and hoping it blows over.
We decide how we experience the world and when it stops making sense our emotions get tied in knots. When we start to deny what is wrong or difficult we start to suffocate our own thoughts because we can’t bear where they’re going.
An anticipated problem is so much more overwhelming than a real problem if we don’t know how to take action against anticipation. Fears are easily magnified - the real world is more finite. But our true selves and our self-esteem, our will to keep existing, are very precious to us and that is why we are so insanely sensitive to threats against them.
Unlike alcoholics or self-harmers we choose to conceal ourselves in coping mechanisms that don’t cost money and can’t leave scars - crutches that outsiders can’t see and that no one else can take away. We know something is wrong, because we keep needing more of our ‘drug’. Yet we can’t switch it off because we can no longer tell which of our tangled underlying thought processes is causing the problem. Nothing in the real world is satisfying, because it’s out of our control.
It’s common knowledge that humans react to danger with one of three responses - fight, flight or freeze. In Maladaptive Daydreaming I felt as though my body was frozen, my mind was in flight and and my subconscious / dissociated emotions were fighting me every step of the way. Somehow that was more satisfying than being a person.
The first solution is listening. Listen to everything you have to say. It’s not the same as facing your fears, you don’t have to wrestle your exhausted brain into submission, you don’t have to have a solution today. Listening is a precursor to change. Once you stop running and listen to yourself, you begin validating yourself. By the time you understand why you made these choices, you won’t feel guilty and hateful for daydreaming. Eventually, when you start responding to your (real) needs, you won’t need your ‘drug’ anymore.
Hi Tichique thanks for replying.
The self-esteem is tricky to repair, because it feels counterproductive to aim lower instead of higher. But that's what you have to do to make your expectations normal again. To be honest, university made me so unhappy I stopped having any expectations at all. This wasn't a great place to be in, but giving myself credit for every tiny thing I managed after that was the correct way to get better.
Perhaps when you had a routine, it was easier to 'expect what you would achieve' more accurately. Personally I find routines very hard to stick to, would you try it again?
Reply by Tichique Luis 4 hours ago
Wow I understand what toi mean about self-esteem I have always felt the same way about things. I can't seem to see anything I do as an achievement. The most free MD period I had was 2 years ago during summer when I forced myself to follow a strict routine. Thank you for sharing your story.