Maladaptive Daydreaming: where wild minds come to rest
I didn't know MDD was a thing the first time I consciously decided to daydream. I was in elementary school and I'd been having problems falling asleep. I'd initially tried to think of a black hole that would swallow me up, hoping that sleep would take me like that black hole. It didn't really work. So I started reading the Harry Potter series before I went to bed, reading until I got sleepy, just like I'd seen my mom do before she went to bed. That just kept me up later because I didn't want to put the book down.
I remember the first time I made a conscious decision to daydream. I wanted to continue reading the Harry Potter books but I needed to sleep, so I decided to just create my own dreams out of what I thought would come next. It worked. I had fun creating fantasies and eventually would nod off to sleep. I remember when I told my mom excitedly about it, that I decided what I wanted to dream about beforehand. She didn't pay much mind to it and neither did I. Eventually, these daydreaming or pre-dreaming sessions got in the way of sleep. I was excited to create. To finish a story arc or avoid ending on a cliffhanger, I would keep myself up to finish. I would create and recreate scenes over and over until it was satisfactory in my mind. I started getting less sleep but I didn't mind and it didn't show in my school performance so nobody was the wiser.
Soon, it was too tempting and I started constructing my stories during the daytime too. I remember telling some stories to an eager kid who would always sit next to me on the bus. After about a year though, they weren't stories I particularly wanted to share with anyone, so no one other than my mother that one time and bus kid has ever known/been told about my daydreaming.
I started daydreaming in class, at first just when it was boring, and then when I knew I should be paying attention but what was going on in my head was infinitely more interesting than what was happening before my eyes. I was a good student and a good kid, however, so I justified it to myself knowing that I'd make up the time I'd missed in class by studying later. I disciplined myself. If I daydreamed now, I couldn't later. I did exceedingly well in school and still had fun with my mental stories whenever I could. I was very active all throughout school, joining a variety of sports, artistic, and academic clubs while keeping up with my piano after school. I had friends, was studious, and had plenty of extracurriculars. I honestly don't remember how I managed it all. If I could balance all of this while enjoying my daydreams, how could it be bad?
By the end of high school, I was burnt out. I was exhausted and didn't want to study for the sake of studying like I had been. I needed purpose now. I needed more. I got into my first choice which I decided based on feeling rather than solid evidence for the first time in my life, and it was one of the best decisions I've made. I made new friends with people who would make me want to change for the better. I craved self-improvement, but not as much as my daydreams yet. I had passively decided I wanted to become more extroverted, but that decision wasn't winning over my daydreams. As I grew and was positively influenced by friends and others around me, I slowly began to become less introverted.
The first major catalyst didn't occur until my junior year when I got accepted into a study abroad program in Japan. I'd been studying Japanese for 3 years and this was the last step I could take at my university towards improving my Japanese. I only had 1 semester of this rigorous language program, and I wanted to make the most of it. I promised myself before I left that I wouldn't waste any spare time at home, that I would get out there and learn and experience everything that I could in those short 4 months. It's only 4 months, so make the most out of it.
And I did.
I surprised myself. I became a completely different person in those 4 months. Sometimes it was hard-- I wanted to relax back home, but it was a lot easier to pull myself out and make myself go experience life when I was in a different country. I was excited to experience and explore. Everything was new. Everyone was so kind. I only had to focus on one subject, and it was one I utterly enjoyed. There were no dull moments and everyday was an adventure. For the first time in a long time, what was going on outside of my head was more exciting than what was happening in it. I wanted to be present, and I was.
Coming back was the hard part. I didn't experience culture shock in Japan at all, it was the reverse culture shock that got me. More than cultural aspects, I was overwhelmed again with stress from uninteresting classes. My memory generally isn't the greatest, but I do have a distinct memory from the semester after I came back to the US. I had a Differential Equations exam the next day. I did what I normally did to study, which was shut myself in my room for a couple days straight. If anything, I've always been disciplined in my studies. It was almost 11pm and I was done. Not actually, but mentally. I had a couple more chapters to go and there was just no way I was going to get it all down before the exam. I was studying so hard, but what was the point? I just remember this overwhelming feeling of disinterest, of not caring. I had never felt so little about something in my life. Normally I cared too much about studying and grades, but not now. After working some jobs in an industry I thought I'd wanted to enter and after enjoying myself so much in Japan, I'd come to a turning point where I realized a majority of the information I was being tested on in these classes, and this one in particular, was going to be useless. I would never use Differential Equations outside of school (unless I was bragging about taking it).
And in that moment, I gave up. I didn't care and I gave in to the urge to fantasize again. I'd been doing it more since I got back from Japan. And here we were again, but at a really distinct low point. I went into the bathroom, curled up in a corner, and just sat there fantasizing for 2 hours. Eventually I managed to pull myself out and at least skim over some of the other material. I don't remember if I passed the test or not.
Coming back wasn't just hard because of my newest realizations about school, but because of my friends. I had met some of the kindest people in the world during my time abroad and had constantly hung out with them. I'd been influenced so much by them and had decided to become kinder myself. I wanted to treat those close to me with at least half the kindness my study abroad friends had shown me. But when I came back, it was as if I never existed. I realized my friends weren't simply not communicating with me during those 4 months because of time zones, but because they had moved on. When I physically left, in many people's minds, I stopped existing. Now I was back, eagerly messaging people we should hang out with my newfound extrovert self, and people would never be available. I would hear about my friends hanging out together, but they would never remember to invite me because, and I quote,"oh, sometimes I forget you're here."
I was at a low. I'd never felt alone before. I tried to fill the hole with daydreaming, but it didn't quite do the trick like it did before. I'd experienced life now, and I was craving more. Everything was beginning to boil over as I came to more and more depressing realizations but had no one in my life I felt I could trust to tell them to, no one in my life I felt would actually want to listen to. I was crying every other day for about half a year. I eventually sought help at the on campus therapist because I desperately just needed someone to talk to. But after being given a new intern as my therapist, the session went disastrously and ended in me feeling worse and crying during my drive home. I tried to book another appointment via phone, but the receptionist said they weren't booking anymore appointments until the beginning of the next semester in 3 months unless it was an emergency. Was it an emergency? What a shitty question. My grades were good, I did well in my club, I was the team leader for my senior design team and we'd just won second place out of about 50 teams-- was this an emergency? I believe they meant, are you suicidal? To which the answer was no. So I never called again.
I had about one friend who I still considered a best friend. For a while, it seemed like it was just me and her. And then I met my boyfriend. We'd met as team leaders in our senior design class (my team completely obliterated his lol). We connected instantly and in just a couple of days we felt like we'd known each other for years. And that was it. I found someone I could talk to about anything, someone I could trust, someone who actively tried and wanted to participate in my life as much I wanted to in theirs. That's really all I needed because I could handle the rest.
I realized my daydreams, while I thought were just fun and harmless at the time, are really distractions from loneliness, uncertainties, and boredom. They were how I ran away. To this day, I don't think they were bad. I appreciate how creative they've made me and everything they did for me in the past. I just don't need them anymore.
I was and am currently happy. My boyfriend was the second largest catalyst in bringing me to who I am today. He initially made life more interesting than my daydreams, and still continues to do so, but I've continued the work by making sure I actively participate and face life head on rather than escaping from it. I broke down what made me happy and decided to focus on that. I would keep doors open to friendships but wouldn't waste my energy on empty rooms. I'd focus my time and energy on the people in my lives whose eyes don't gloss over as soon as I begin speaking. I decided to work in Japan for a year, which I'm about to finish up, before heading back and pursuing a career I think I'll have fun with. I'll be moving in with my boy. I'll be looking to get a Master's degree in a program that I feel the classes might actually help me in my career. I travel constantly and eagerly make plans for future travels for travelling by myself, with my boyfriend, and with my new found friends. There's so many things to look forward to that there's no time to daydream. Every now and then, late at night, I'll allow myself to fantasize a little. But now, it's usually more exciting to fantasize about my real life.
And that's just how I like it.