Maladaptive Daydreaming: where wild minds come to rest
This is an article I wrote for my writing class about MD.
Out of My Mind
Hundreds of people are struggling to break free from a fantasy world of their own creations. It starts as an innocent escape, but they quickly become trapped in a prison of their own minds.
By Cordellia Amethyste Rose
“Captain Mitty stood up and strapped on his huge Webley-Vickers automatic. ‘It's forty kilometers through hell, sir,’ said the sergeant. Mitty finished one last brandy. ‘After all,’ he said softly, ‘what isn't?’ The pounding of the cannon increased; there was the rat-tat-tatting of machine guns, and from somewhere came the menacing pocketa-pocketa-pocketa of the new flame-throwers. Walter Mitty walked to the door of the dugout humming ‘Aupres de Ma Blonde.’” (Thurber 3) So begins one of the most famous short stories in American history. In “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” James Thurber tells the story of a man who struggles to live dual lives. To the outside world he’s clumsy and forgetful. He almost gets into accidents and can’t remove the chains from his tires. On the inside, he’s a hero. He lives in a secret world of his own creation where he accomplishes amazing feats on an hourly basis. Walter Mitty is a hero….not because he fought battles and saved souls or because he bought dog biscuits and drove his wife to the hair dresser. Walter Mitty is a hero because he’s a famous icon who’s been studied in class rooms across America, making a clear cultural reference point for a unique condition that would eventually be called Maladaptive Daydreaming. One day doctors would study this at length. One day, hundreds of people would slowly emerge from their shadowy shame to admit they’re stuck in a prison of their own creation.
“It started when I was little. Actually, I don't know when it started, as I've been doing this as long as I can remember. I'd stare out into space & create a fantasy world, full of characters that were very real to me. It started with fairies, princesses, and other fantastical things. Then, as I got older, it developed, into lifelike human beings, with histories and well-developed stories. I'd do this for hours every day.....whenever I got a chance. It was an escape, which seemed harmless. The problem is I never grew out of it. Instead, it got worse and worse, and I'd develop the characters more and more. I had few friends and never spent much time with them or my family. I was so far into my own world that I never developed any empathy or connections with anyone.” (Anonymous) This plea was posted on a web site called Revolution Health by a girl who sat sobbing at her keyboard. Tears covered her puffy, red face as she sat on the verge of yet another nervous breakdown. She’d had enough and was once again at her breaking point. This time, she would tell. She had lived in shame for 27 years, afraid to tell anyone her deep, dark secret. She was already the fat girl who stared at people and had nothing to say when they spoke to her. She was already the clumsy, slow girl who couldn’t focus enough to get a driver’s license. Now she was going to admit the biggest secret of her life to complete strangers in a desperate attempt to find some answers. She was too shy to give her name, so she signed this plea for help anonymously. It’s impossible for the world to know for sure who she is, but I do. That sobbing girl was me. My name is Cordellia Amethyste Rose, and I’ve been living in a persistent fantasy world for my entire life. Walter Mitty’s life is an echo of my own. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of people out there who are scared to tell a story that I already know.
Maladaptive or Just Adaptive?
How does something as harmless as daydreaming become a real problem? What makes people start? First of all, Maladaptive Daydreaming is still an emerging condition. We don’t know that much about it. Most of our information is from personal accounts like mine. Fortunately there are hundreds of people online telling their personal stories. People start for a variety of reasons, and usually it’s completely accidental. No one intends for this to be a hobby, and they certainly can’t predict it’ll become an addiction. Some start later in life, when they’ve worked their fingers to the bone, and just need a break. Others start in childhood. Some wonder if it was because they were only children. Others just get creative one day and start imagining. Either way, they get used to the feeling. Somehow they discover a magical world where everything is better. It’s a heightened reality where they can think freely, endlessly, and there’s no one to tell them to stop. Some people see it just as a way to relax. Others see it as a reward.
On the web site, “Wild Minds Network,” Anna describes how she sees her fantasy world:
I use my fantasies as rewards. If the real world gets tough I slip into it, it’s like a drug,
my pulse gets higher and I feel more alive. When the ‘story’ gets boring the high stops,
and it feels like I’m coming off some drug. I feel guilty afterwards because I haven’t
interacted with the real world for sometimes three days in a row. Three days might seem
little to you but my fantasies become shorter and shorter, now they only last for maybe
two hours. When I was young it could go on for a week and then it would get boring so I
would find another ‘fantasy’.
Regardless of their motivation or when they started, the key ingredient is that at some point it becomes excessive. They go on daydreaming binges that can last hours or days. Sometimes they’ll hide away in their rooms, secluded from the world. In my case, it’s severe. I can’t stop, even for a minute. I’m constantly walking around in a dual reality, and it’s had consequences. “I'm like an alcoholic with an unlimited supply of booze everywhere I go. When I do it too much I feel sick and dazed, yet I can't stop. I've stepped out into traffic and almost gotten myself killed more times than I can count.” (Cordellia Amethyste Rose) This is not ordinary daydreaming. Not everyone has it as severely as I do, but at some point it becomes hard to manage, and if you’re not careful, it can take over your life.
After I decided to come out and talk about my condition, I set up a site so other people could do so as well. It’s called Wild Minds Network. As of today, it has 168 members from many countries around the world. People discuss how they started, suggest ways to cope, and discuss ways to tell friends and family. Most say they’re too shy to tell anyone, though some are slowly changing their minds. There are many lengthy blogs where people try to write as much as they can just to get out of their own heads for awhile. Some are organized, but many are completely free, with random punctuation. Here, the focus is not on grammar. It’s on breaking out for awhile. People respond with help or just to say they’re glad someone else said what they were thinking first. For such a diverse group, they all seem to have one sentiment upon arrival, “thanks God, I'm not alone...” (Szasz Orsi)
I thought I was alone. I thought no one could possibly be like me. I was afraid to speak up because I thought people would judge me. They already judged me. Why should I trust them now? They already thought I was making up the depression since the medications weren’t working. These are feelings that plagued me until I was almost 30. It was sad enough being as unproductive as I was. The saddest part was thinking I was alone and the ridiculous amount of guilt I felt. Guilt? For what? In hindsight it seems really silly. It turns out I wasn’t alone in that respect either. For some reason, Maladaptive Daydreamers carry with them a deep shame for their habit. Some profess guilt for working a real friend into their fantasy worlds. Others feel guilty just for their lack of activity and achievement. They daydream their life way until it hits them how much of their life has been spent in this alternate reality. It hits them how many holes are in their lives where real connections could’ve been forged. It hits them how much they struggle and how it’s not going to get better unless they confront it. It’s understandable to feel sad, but why do people feel such shame and guilt for a habit that mostly affects them selves? Of all the addictions in the world, this one hurts other people the least.
Knowing the sadness and shame that come with being alone, it’s still surprising how few are willing to talk openly about it. They’re so grateful not to be alone, but they’re afraid of telling people. They want to help people, but the fear of being judged is too unbearable. It’s a vicious cycle. Either way, many will agree that expressing it in some way, in a supportive community or elsewhere helps. "I recognized myself differently than ever before...not crazy!" (Libby) There are hundreds in online Maladaptive Daydreaming groups. I wonder how many don’t even know about it.
Now that I’ve broken down for you what it’s like to live with Maladaptive Daydreaming, let’s talk about what we know from a scientific standpoint. It’s one thing to ask each other, but what do doctors say? Unfortunately, not much. Chances are if you go to a doctor and tell them you can’t stop daydreaming, they’ll diagnose you with something else like depression. You might have that, or you might not. Many conditions are “co-morbid”, as in they exist together. Just like you can have anxiety and depression at the same time, you can have Maladaptive Daydreaming along with other conditions as well.
Why won’t a doctor just tell me I have Maladpative Daydreaming? It’s simple. Most doctors have probably never heard of it before. Doctors rely heavily on the DSM-IV, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, to diagnose patients with one disorder or another. It contains clinical definitions of all known psychiatric conditions as well as criteria for diagnosis. Understandably if it’s not in the DSM-IV, most doctors will not feel comfortable diagnosing you with it. While we hope one day to get Maladaptive Daydreaming in there, that can take many, many years. In the meantime, patients have to be their own advocates and do their own research. Make sure your doctor is willing to treat you as a partner in your therapy. Hopefully they’ll have an open mind and are willing to discuss emerging conditions such as this one. If you think you have Maladaptive Daydreaming, be prepared to tell them about it. Take in as much information as possible along with why you think it applies instead of something else like depression.
The term “Maladaptive Daydreaming” was first defined by Eli Somer in an article in the Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy as “extensive fantasy activity that replaces human interaction and/or interferes with academic, interpersonal, or vocational functioning.” (197) . He studied six patients and found five themes. “Recurrent MD themes were Violence; Idealized Self;Power and Control; Captivity; Rescue and Escape; and Sexual Arousal.” (197) All of his subjects had been victims of childhood abuse, so he concluded that “Painful interpersonal experiences encountered during a time when basic assumptions about the world and their self-images were developing, sent these young persons into their much safer imaginary world.” (210)
In a more recent study, Dr. Cynthia Schupak and Jesse Rosenthal discovered that daydreaming was not, in fact, the result of childhood abuse. In “Excessive daydreaming: A case history and discussion of mind wandering and high fantasy proneness”, they describe a thirty-six year old woman who has a healthy family background but still had similar daydreaming tendencies. (1) Dr. Schupak is currently working on a follow-up study that now has over one hundred participants. In her preliminary findings she found that instead of lying around daydreaming, most people would do some kind of movement. “89% of you reported preferring to enact some type of physical movement(s) while daydreaming (although you can daydream without these movements if necessary)” (2) Also, as previously discussed in my private research, “Approximately 90% of you keep your daydreaming private, discussing it either with no one—even your parent-or only with close friends/family or therapists.” (2) Due to the large scope of the study, her conclusive findings are not yet available.
In the end, living in two parallel worlds is an exhausting and mystifying experience. Daydreamers are torn. On one hand they have the desire to break free of their own minds and experience the real world joys that so many people take for granted, but on the other hand they need to feel the freedom and power that their internal world has given them. By the time they think it’s a problem, they’ve formed bonds in their inner worlds that feel real to them. Leaving them behind would not only be painful; it would feel disloyal. How can you abandon people who’ve carried you for so long? It’s a necessary release from a world that never seems to be as easy or fulfilling. You can’t just leave. You have to find the best of both worlds. 2,457 words
Do I have Maladaptive Dayreaming?
Maladaptive Daydreaming is not an officially recognized condition yet. We’re still learning a lot about it. Here are some of the main symptoms that seem to be emerging:
· * You daydream more often than you think is normal.
· * You’ve built up a character(s) that’s an idealized version of yourself
· * You feel more empowered in your daydreams.
· * You’re starting to enjoy daydreaming better than the real world.
· * Daydreaming is starting to interfere with your day-to-day activities.
· * You might enact some movement, like pacing or moving your hands, (though not everyone does this).
Anna. "Almost Chemical Addiction." Online posting. 3 Oct. 2010. Wild Minds Network .
31 Oct. 2010 <https://wildminds.ning.com/forum/topics/almost-chemical-addiction>.
Anonymous. "I've been living in a fantasy world my entire life, and don't know how to get out of
it. ." Online posting. 19 Oct. 2007. Revolution Health . 26 Oct. 2010
Libby. "Does Anyone Know?" Online posting. 6 May 2010. Wild Minds Network . 31 Oct. 2010
Orsi, Szasz. Wild Minds Network. 22 Oct. 2010. 3 Nov. 2010
Rose, Cordellia A. Wild Minds Network. 3 Nov. 2009. 31 Oct. 2010
Schupak, C., & Rosenthal, J. “Excessive Daydreaming:A case history and discussion of mind
Consciousness and Cognition” (2008), doi:10.1016/j.concog.2008.10.00
Somer, Eli. "Maladaptive Daydreaming: A Qualitative Inquiry."Journal of Contemporary
Psychotherapy 32 (2002): 197-212.
Thurber, James. “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.” 1930. 10/26/2010 Google.
Keyword: Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Last updated by Cordellia Amethyste Rose Nov 22, 2010.